How to Effectively Manage Your Remote Development Team in 2018

Daniil Kopilevych
Daniil Kopilevych
Marketing Manager
Apr 16, 2018 9 min read
Team Extension
Team Extension Apr 16, 2018 9 min read

When you need to develop a product for your startup launch or broaden the functionality of your custom software, today, in 2018, hiring costly in-house developers is not the most effective solution. Unnecessary team overheads adversely affect the company’s budget and demand considerable resources.

Going the distributed route is the most appropriate alternative to hiring in-house. The economy is going global, and you can find teams with highly-skilled people in different parts of the world.

Dedicated teams help bring necessary resources onboard, while at the same time cut costs on office space and appliances, project management and communication software, medical insurances, free lunches, and other perks office teams enjoy.

Benefits of hiring a remote development team:

  • Keeping costs down
  • Possibility to choose the best talents, no matter the geography
  • Remote teams simply spend less time chatting, socializing and discussing trivial matters
  • Dedicated teams are extremely easy to scale, adding more developers or shrinking the team according to the project goals
  • Remote teams definitely require less management and less of your time

Still, some companies have significant concerns about hiring remote development teams:

  1. “Is it possible to cooperate productively while living in different time zones?”
  2. “How do I know that the team is really working?”
  3. “How can I articulate my ideas and concerns when I don’t see the people?”
  4. “How can I ensure transparency and properly manage the work processes?”
  5. “What if the team fails to meet my requirements or misses a deadline?”
  6. “How will members of the remote team integrate into my company’s culture?”

However, transparent communication practices and a well-structured workflow help address these challenges.

Though the majority of remote development teams have their own project manager, who will free you from the necessity to control every team’s step, some areas will still need your attention.

Managing a remote team is a daunting task, but obviously not unsolvable. Undoubtedly, some management things that work in an office will not always translate precisely to remote employees.

In this article, we collected a comprehensive guide on how to properly and effectively manage your remote development team. Below are listed the key tips and areas to concentrate on to bridge the distance between your in-house and keep your remote workers accountable, efficient, productive and satisfied.

These practices will help you to:

  • Build a strong rapport with every individual member of the remote team
  • Monitor the team’s performance
  • Be sure the team understands your strategy and knows what to do
  • Keep goals and objectives clear and top-of-mind

Tools

When you have a sudden brainwave, you can just take everybody into the meeting room and discuss your idea. What’s to be done with your remote development team when you need to share some important information?

Today every, or almost every issue can be solved with the help of technology. There are plenty of communication tools over the Internet which can help you organize the whole project and keep up with communications within a team.

1. Collaboration tools

These are tools for storing, editing and sharing documents by many people at the same time. They come in handy as you don’t have to send files back and forth.

Google Drive

Image source: Google Drive

Dropbox

Image source: Dropbox

2. Screen sharing tools

They will be of great help when giving instructions or discussing some project specifics, and showing another person exactly what you are doing on your screen.

TeamViewer

Image source: TeamViewer

Join.me

Image source: Join.me

3. Project management tools and task assignment

These tools will help you manage the productivity of your remote team, track the time spent on tasks, and assign tasks to all members of the team.

Basecamp

Image source: Basecamp

Jira

Image source: Jira

Asana

Image source: Asana

Trello

Image source: Trello

4. Videoconferencing tools

Video tools give the feeling of sitting in the same room and working in the same space. As well, they help you grasp non-verbal communicative information.

Appear.in

Image source: Appear.in

Google Hangouts

Image source: Lifehacker

5. Corporate messengers

Instant messengers are far quicker and more convenient than email, as they provide the possibility to share thoughts and ideas in seconds.

Slack

Image source: Slack

Skype

Image source: Macrumors

6. Calendars and to-do lists

Calendars keep the dates of the scheduled meetings, send notifications and keep the to-do lists in order.

Google Calendar

Image source: Google Calendar

Time zones

It can be challenging to communicate the usual way with the team on the other side of Earth. You may feel uncomfortable to have your remote team sleeping while you are in full play.

However, the solution to this challenge lies in the maximal utilization of so-called “golden hours”. They are the overlapping hours of your time zones when your in-house and remote teams are both up and working, and instant communication is possible.

Even if they are only 2 or 3 hours a day, that’s your high time. Use these hours to schedule meetings, discuss daily plans and progress, fix bugs, review the work done.

Image source: Time Temperature

In any case, as the time zone difference is around 5-6 hours, you’ll have enough overlapping work time to stay in touch and communicate all the important issues.

Communication

Whether we speak about in-house or remote team, the most important thing is to build a solid rapport with every team member. Everybody should be exactly on the same page. Regularly keeping in touch with your dedicated team will help them feel like an integral part of your company.

Schedule weekly and daily meetings,  and monthly “all-hands” with the whole team, as well as regular one-on-ones to avoid the communication and interpersonal gaps. These meetings are invaluable for thoughts and accomplishments sharing, getting to know about blockers and bottlenecks, and staying accountable and aligned with each other.

Also, keep minutes of your regular meetings and send them as a follow-up email to all participants. They will serve as to-do lists and ensure all the relevant details about personal responsibilities are well saved.

By the way, never cancel one-on-ones with your team members. In case of urgency, postpone or reschedule a meeting. In case of regular cancellation of one-on-ones, members of your remote team may feel neglected or less important.

It’s too easy to quickly discuss the work-related issues and then get back to executing. But, rapport doesn’t come when talking about the work only. The emotional distance between remote team managers and their subordinates will not have a positive influence on the work.

Do not underestimate the importance of building personal connections with all the team members. When videoconferencing or skyping with your remote team, always find some time for small talk. Ask people about their lifestyle, hobbies and what they are into, and you will be surprised how many things you may have in common. Talk freely and give enough space to build a healthy relationship.

Show people that you genuinely care about them, and they will want to work more and bring you more value. Extra points when you remember team members’ birthdays and local holidays. These personal communications are of great help to build trust, team cohesion and boost morale.

Live face-to-face meetings play an important role in building a solid rapport.
At least once or twice a year you should bring all your teams together, both in-house and remote, for a team building activities. 
These may be annual all-teams meetings in headquarters, New Year corporate party or an internal conference on company’s achievements – these events will enable members of your teams to get acquainted in person, have fun together, and, what is the most important, work more productively together in the future.

Your remote team will be happy if you send them branded t-shirts or corporate gifts you usually provide to your office workers once a year. This small gesture will help them build a sense of “corporate belonging”.

Tracking

In virtual environment it can be difficult to understand what is going on, how long each person worked, and what they are working on right now?. Thus, all basic metrics of productivity should be tracked: hours worked, statuses of tasks, team’s productivity. This data will help you see the team’s progress in numbers, and will become a solid foundation for your future management decisions.

As well, utilize performance review systems, so you and the members of your remote development team can clearly see their strong and to-improve areas. Hold monthly or quarterly one-on-ones to discuss the accomplishments and drawbacks of the dedicated team. These meetings will foster their commitment to your project, as well as show your care about team members’ professional development.

Transparency

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about people you don’t see every day in your office. Out of sight – out of mind. It’s harder to keep the remote team informed of what is going on in the company.

Still, everybody should be aware of the company goals, some critical decision taken, changes in the company’s strategy and other news. In order not to forget to inform your remote team about the news, you’d better document the information and send to everybody on the team.

Transparency helps your remote team understand what success means for your company and what exactly should they do to help you achieve it.

Hiring

Pick your remote development team wisely. Not everybody is self-organized and dedicated enough to be suitable for a remote job. Members of the remote team to hire should have above average level of self-motivation and be ready to work independently rather than need constant encouragement and attention to get the job done.

Look for the following soft skills in the first instance:

  • Communicative
  • Organized
  • Reliable
  • Result-oriented
  • Independent
  • Tech-savvy
  • Self-motivated
  • Able to prioritize
  • Honest

You should carefully interview members of the remote team, and find out whether they are motivated enough to earn your trust. Also, ask specific behavioral questions to gain insights into how the team members approach the remote work.

As well, read reviews and feedbacks from their previous clients on Clutch, browse the team’s activity on Quora, Dribble, GitHub, and Behance to find out whether the quality of their work meets your expectations.

And, after you make your choice and hire a team, trust them. A problem of mistrust towards remote teams still exists, and you may end up wasting brain power on constant worries rather than your key focus.

The best thing is to hire a team who have worked remotely before.

Process

It’s highly unlikely that if you gather random people from around the globe in a virtual environment, they will directly start producing for you something outstanding. To make this possible, you should set up processes. A process-oriented approach to managing a remote team is crucial for your project.

Core principles of the Agile Manifesto can definitely be applied to distributed teams. “Software over documentation”, “responding to change over following a plan”, and “quality interactions over tools” are highly applicable while managing remote teams. Leverage continuous integration, encourage knowledge sharing, and prioritize communication to foster Agile development methodology with your remote teams.

Image source: Number8

Processes provide structure and direction for getting things done. Establish daily or weekly report submitting in order to gain better control over the working processes.

Do not utilize a complicated project management and reporting system. First of all, automate everything that can be automated.

Avoid micromanagement how the devil avoids holy water. Many managers find it hard to let go of their responsibilities. Instead of communicating the project goals and pain points, they find solutions to these problems and provide implementation details.

Instead of tracking every step and giving away minor tasks, accustom members of your dedicated team find solutions and organize their work on their own. Also, focus on long-term goals rather than on day-to-day goals, and clearly set defined priorities.

Closing thoughts

In those far-off times, before the Internet era, teams needed to work in the same physical location in order to work together efficiently. But those days are long gone.

Also, no country has a monopoly on the best engineering talents. Teams of great developers are dispersed all over the world, and the quality of work is never determined by a geographical location.

Today, hiring a remote development team is quite a typical move for companies of any types, from startups and mid-sized companies to large-scale enterprises. When properly managed, a remote team can do wonders for your project. Thanks to collaborative software, video conferencing tools, and project management SaaS, there are no longer barriers that once required the team to be on premises.

Despite different geographic locations, there are many possibilities to utilize best practices of management, establish quality performance standards and build trustful relationships with any team from any part of the globe.