What is the secret to building a distributed team of remote developers? Andela onboarding specialist Divya Gunasekaran shares three tips for success.
Organizations that rely on engineers and embrace distributed teams gain a competitive advantage in filling essential positions faster, simpler, and with a much more diverse group of candidates. But in order to realize the full benefits of this type of working relationship, teams need to be mindful in how they onboard their remote developers.
Consider that nearly 33% of new hires look for a new job within the first 6 months of starting a position, and 23% of new hires turnover before their first anniversary. At Andela, we believe the right onboarding process for remote developers is essential to reducing employee turnover and accelerating productivity and collaboration.
So what’s the right strategy to onboard a remote employee? Based on our experience, here are three key steps to success:
We believe that your engineering team can solve your business’s most challenging problems, but only if they are empowered with the knowledge to do so. Many teams fall into the unhealthy pattern of throwing work “over the fence” to their remote teammates, and this leaves remote developers feeling disenfranchised and underutilized.
Invest in the time to provide your remote developers with a full understanding of who your users are including their goals and pain points, what your business objectives and priorities are, and how the developer can make an important contribution to the company’s success. Doing so will enable your developers to better analyze requirements, flesh out features, and implement designs that take into account future functionality. This approach also helps instill a sense of ownership and increases the personal commitment of each team member right from the start.
6sense, a predictive intelligence firm, works regularly with remote developers and believes in the value of this approach. Viral Bajaria, 6Sense Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, added the following advice: “Remote developers can sometimes be introverted. With onboarding, it’s critical to set an example with your own social skills to show a new hire how to engage with the entire team. Also, make sure they have a constant mentor, regardless of what project or team they’re working on. That consistent contact will be a significant help to them over the long run.”
Some hiring managers still cling to the old adage of “sink or swim,” often throwing their developers into the deep end without any assistance. While your remote hires may make it through the fire, it may take a longer time for them to obtain critical knowledge that other team members have. By providing guidance and assigning targeted work, you will not only enable your developers to get by, but you will also allow them to thrive.
We have found that conducting an architectural overview of your system will make it easier for developers to orient themselves. At Andela, we recommend walking remote developers through the different components of the code base, highlighting technologies, preferred patterns, and the team members that can provide further guidance for specific areas. A great way to add value while also facilitating your developer’s ramp up is to assign small, non-critical tasks — such as well-contained features, bug fixes, test coverage — that touch different areas of the code base. Thoughtfully introducing different parts of the system this way will give your developers a deeper understanding through firsthand experience and increase their exposure to the overall system.
Yusuf Simonson, Chief Technology Officer of The Muse, explains his team’s approach to getting developers up to speed: “Our go-to strategy with onboarding Andela developers – and developers in general – has been to tag tickets that are relatively simple, but span broad aspects of our architecture as learning tickets. Onboarding developers are then free to choose from those tagged tickets.”
At Andela, we also utilize and promote a technique known as pair programming to speed the acclimation of new developers. By having a set of developers work on the same code together in real-time, incumbent team members have the opportunity to discuss decisions and receive feedback. This enhances the quality of the product earlier on, and new developers benefit by hearing explanations in context and learning about the underlying decisions made by the team. Pairing also acts as a form of cross-training that liberates knowledge from the silos of experience that can exist in a team.
“Out of sight” should not mean “out of mind” for distributed teams. Your remote developers should be included in the same discussions as on-site team members, even those that may start out as impromptu hallway conversations. To facilitate these interactions and foster regular collaboration, you can leverage a range of tools intended to make remote work more seamless.
An important aspect of joining a new organization is also embracing its culture. We believe that culture should be a 2-way street, with all team members encouraged to participate and provide feedback. When remote employees feel like they are contributing to the success of an organizational culture, their loyalty to that organization will continue to grow.
Sarah Salenger, a web developer and analyst at 2U, describes the importance of fully embracing remote developers as team members: “For my team, it was important for us to treat all members of the team as equals, and to do everything we could to foster friendly relationships among all members. With our Andela developers, right away, we encouraged full participation in team meetings — like standups and retrospectives — and the use of video during calls as much as possible. Since our engineers pair most of the time, we embraced tools like Slack, Screenhero, and Google Hangouts to allow all team members easy communication no matter their location or timezone. Even before we had met them in person, we had established strong working relationships with our remote developers Isaac and Oluwafemi. To Andela’s credit, all of the developers that I’ve worked with have understood that they are meant to be part of the team and they do not hesitate to provide input and ask questions the way any model team member should.”
The positive impact of a remote workforce is clear. While 32% of employers report having a difficult time finding qualified employees to fill jobs, only 1 in 10 are implementing alternative work models. These employers are getting left behind in the race to build a competitive workforce. With these guidelines, you can better integrate remote developers into your team and reap the rewards in productivity, cost savings, scalability, and time savings that a remote workforce has to offer.
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