I have worked remotely as a Software engineer with several companies for over four years now. This article is a documentation of some of the things that I have learned and practiced that I think are instrumental in maintaining highly productive remote teams. It is worth noting that high productivity in any team is a function of the right people, the right practices and the right tools. The information explained below assumes that you have the right people within your team. Below are some of the practices that you can incorporate to increase productivity.
1. Invest in an intentional culture that is geared towards driving engagement and interaction between team members. Culture is something that each company should decide on but the general direction should allow for maximization of bonds and empathy between team members. Initiatives such as sharing monthly update photos about the lives of the team members can go a long way in strengthening bonds. Building bonds between team members is important as it sets a very good basis for collaboration.
2. Keep all conversations about the product in group channels where everyone can follow. This one is particularly important when you have some members of your team on-site and a few others working remotely. All product conversations must be moved to a common channel/group such that the entire team can easily follow. This ensures that the team maintains a shared understanding, direction, and context on discussions regarding the product. A lack of this could potentially lead to duplication of efforts or worse.
Don’t underestimate the value of putting in place a process that facilitates collaboration to drive the ever-necessary shared understanding of the team direction and goals.
3. A good internet connection is a must-have for people working remotely. The internet provides a platform that enables people to connect and work together irrespective of geographical location. This means that the quality of the internet connection directly affects the ability of people working together irrespective of location. A poor internet connection can be the difference between a productive meeting and an unproductive one.
4. Invest in a good video conferencing product that facilitates team meetings. One of the challenges of remote work is the lack of in-person communication. Much as we can’t fully substitute this, a good video conferencing tool such as Zoom can go a long way in bridging the communication challenge. I would recommend a tool that can provide HD video calls, high-quality audio calls, screen sharing, and whiteboarding at the very least. Screen sharing can be used during presentations or even pair programming sessions between colleagues.
5. For any meeting, if one of the teammates is working remotely then it makes sense for everyone in the meeting to join in on the call from their machines. This ensures that all the conversations are happening on a platform that can be accessed by all the members. This protects us from a scenario where some of the team members that are colocated engage in side-discussions that are harder to pick up by the person working remotely.
6. It is important to maintain some overlap hours where the entire team is online/reachable. This is important because it defines a time boundary within which any team member can reach out to another for assistance or even collaboration on a task. It is okay for team members to reach out to each other outside these hours but defining these hours helps set expectations for teammates. It also helps them plan their work and tasks around this. The number of hours can be decided on a company basis. From my experience, I have found 5hours to be a good start.
When the budget allows, plan for at least one company offsite in a year. Company off-sites are a good time to enforce culture and strengthen bonds within teams. The casual friendly atmosphere that off-sites create facilitates the strengthening of bonds that contribute directly to employee satisfaction, performance, and longevity. Off-sites have also been known to fan the creative flames within teams.
READ: How to manage communication as a distributed Product Manager