Building an in-house development team is a long and often pricey process. IT skills shortages often require firms to look abroad to hire a remote development team. This offers considerable savings and flexibility, but working with outsourcing companies also poses unique challenges. Here’s how to get the most out of working with a remote development team from anywhere in the world.
If your company has never worked with outsourcing companies, the first weeks can be a shock for you and your employees. Since a part of the project team does not share the same room with you, it’s not possible to simply walk to them, poke them on their shoulders and ask questions. You can’t control their work directly.
However, in the long term, you will likely notice that having a remote development team increases productivity overall. You get better quality work delivered in less time. How is that possible? Let’s see how you can make this happen.
How to make a great product with a remote development team
Table of contents:
1. Give your remote development team time and space, avoid context switching
Developers need time to focus deeply on their sophisticated mental work. They deliver the best results if you schedule meetings upfront and communicate asynchronously via messaging apps or email. In other words, you may have to wait 5-10 minutes for an answer.
From our experience, it turns out that most questions don’t need an immediate answer. Of course, you’ll also benefit more from a thoughtful answer if you wait a little. Some outsourcing companies rush to find an immediate answer which causes problems later. Most IT systems are so complex that it takes time to get to the bottom of something and give you a straight yes/no answer.
Our clients have acknowledged great communication and expertise from our remote development team, despite the physical distance between offices. We encourage product owners to participate in short daily meetings with developers where everyone discusses their current work and asks questions. Moreover, product owners stay online for the rest of the day in case of any other questions. This creates a valuable connection between people, yet it leaves enough space for everyone to work efficiently.
Compared to talking to employees in person, how many times have you seen a surprised face of an expert? Most likely you don’t receive a proper answer to your questions instantly. Also, it can sap productivity for your employees to switch back to what they were working on before.
If your developers avoid distractions and switching contexts, they do more quality work in the same amount of time.
2. Encourage everyone to post a status online
Both in-house and remote teams should set an availability status. Like many software outsourcing companies, we use messaging platforms such as Slack every day. Everyone sets a status that says “In the office” or “Working remotely 9-5.” They use the “away” mode when having a break and “do not disturb” when they need to focus really deeply on a particular problem.
While using messaging or project management software, it’s good to upload avatars. But instead of putting pictures of funny cats, let everyone post a photo of themselves. Having real pictures is a good way to integrate people, especially when those working remotely visit your office from time to time. That way, remote people are not strangers anymore.
3. Improve conference calls
We often have calls where one group of people is sitting at the office and another group is remote. The biggest challenge is to create equal participation opportunities for everyone in the project team.
Both office and remote people must have a good internet connection and a good microphone, so everyone can understand what other people are saying. The best practice is to have everyone talk through a headset mic. This removes the difference between office and remote people.
However, if your in-house team prefers gathering in a conference room and dial into the remote crew, spend some time to set the call up properly. The office group can have a shared microphone on the table with an integrated speaker. You can find it for around $100. When you plug the device into your laptop, make every participant maintain an equal distance from the mic, so they can be heard equally loud.
When the office team joins a meeting, they share one user account. Remote people do not know who exactly is present in the room. The solution is simple: turn the camera on! The best way is to have an external camera with an overall view of the conference room.
Any new people should introduce themselves, like “Hi, I’m Mark, I’m responsible for X and I joined the meeting because …” It’s good to know who’s joining us and why, and it’s nice to see people smiling! Remote people should launch their cameras too.
4. Share valuable information hanging on your office walls
Sometimes people at the office find it convenient to draw things on a whiteboard or stick some cards here and there. A remote development team does not see these walls. You should at least share a picture of any diagrams you made on the board. Make sure remote folks are somehow able to contribute to those drawings.
Of course, it is up to you to decide what to share and what should remain confidential to your company. However, consider sharing as much business information as possible, such as release roadmaps, business initiatives, success stories, and so on.
Developers love knowing the business context, not just a list of issues to work on for the upcoming weeks. They feel great hearing that the product sells well and it brings value to your customers.
5. Meet in person from time to time
You should arrange an in-person meeting with your remote team and have some fun together. Team spirit is much stronger when people can share memories from crazy trips and parties. This is something many outsourcing companies forgo. You can facilitate this by organizing different events, such as team-building retreats, workshops or conferences.
Of course, in-house and remote employees can have their own initiatives. They will likely discuss private matters, joke together, and hang out outside of work. And it’s okay – we’re all human, after all!
6. Create a community and bridge the gaps
Mixing office and remote teams can bring a lot of fun. It increases diversity because a company does not limit itself to hiring only talented people available in a specific location. It increases productivity because people work best when you give them a little more space.
However, it takes some practice to do it right and get rid of any communication obstacles. For sure, the benefits are well worth the effort!