Remote work is the future. The current global COVID-19 pandemic has made that clear. Millions of workers are being forced to work from home.
But even before the pandemic, remote work and software project outsourcing was becoming increasingly popular. More workers prefer the convenience of staying in the comfort of their home over commuting to an office. Some even find they are more productive at home. Plus, technology increasingly allows for remote collaboration, making the traditional office less necessary. As a result, remote software development teams are on the rise.
Web searches for “Remote work” have increased steadily over time. And this trend is not going to stop anytime soon.
What are Remote Software Development Teams?
To be clear, a remote team refers to a team that works together from different geographic locations. Those locations can be homes within the same city, or they can be locations spread across the globe. Either way, remote work does away with the traditional brick and mortar office.
Advantages of Remote Software Development Teams
The rise of remote software development is due to its unique advantages over inhouse software development. Consider just some of the advantages remote software development:
- For one, remote work allows software project managers to pull from a larger pool of talent. Employers are no longer limited to developers who live within close proximity. Now they can hire the best software developers for the job no matter where they live.
- Remote teams tend to waste less time. Without the traditional office, developers spend less time commuting, chatting with coworkers, and have fewer distractions overall.
- Since remote teams often include members from different cultures and backgrounds, they benefit from diversity. Diversity fosters originality and innovation. Multicultural teams tend to bring more ideas to the table and avoid groupthink. By transcending language and cultural borders, a diverse team can be a strong asset to your software development project.
Challenges Faced by Remote Software Development Teams
Though they have many advantages, remote software development teams also face unique challenges:
- The physical distance between team members can lead to poor communication. Without in-person contact, you lose the ability to read body language, which sometimes creates misunderstandings. So make sure to communicate as clearly as possible.
- Remote communication makes having personal connections harder. Yet personal relationships are still important and necessary in remote work. To maintain a human touch, try to talk outside of work. Even if separated physically, ask team members about their day. Have a #watercooler channel on Slack or your team group chat.
- If team members live in different time zones, you may have trouble finding a good time for everyone to meet. And if you don’t meet, otherwise brief discussions can be drawn out over days of back and forth messaging. So be creative with scheduling.
How to Manage Remote Software Development Teams
The success of your remote software development team relies on how well you manage it. The following tips will help you create the best remote software development team and teach you how to manage it:
- Hire the right people. A team is only as good as its members make it.
- Have a detailed project description ready for job candidates. This should include the project background, plan, and goals. Describe the position clearly, and define work procedures.
- Hold personal interviews. Wherever possible, you want to interview software developer candidates in person. Even if they work remotely, they may live close enough to interview in person. If you cannot meet in person, always choose a video chat over a phone call. That way, you can get a better overall impression of the candidate.
- Look for remote experience. Developers who have worked remotely before are better equipped for the remote work environment. They are used to remote collaboration. So always hire developers with remote experience if you can.
- Look for candidates who are self-disciplined. Without a manager present, remote workers need to stay organized and motivated on their own. They won’t have someone there to remind them of tasks and deadlines, so they need to have good organizational habits.
- Look for trust and accountability. Hiring a remote developer can be riskier than hiring someone on-site because they are distant. You want to ensure you can trust your remote team to work without supervision.
- Make sure candidates are a good fit for the team. Every team is different, and it is important that the team has good chemistry. So make sure the developer you hire will mesh well with the rest of the team. You might even consider hiring a full-stack team over multiple engineers. That way, you know the team works well together because they have done it before. An established team will streamline a lot of the collaborative process.
- Provide good onboarding and training.
- Getting off on the right foot is key to your remote team’s success. So develop training that introduces new team members to the project and their role. Consider making a getting-started guide. Automate the setup process for new team members.
- Consider having a trial period to observe how new team members code and work. Then provide constructive feedback. But don’t require unpaid test projects. Nobody wants to work for free, and you want to encourage a positive work culture.
- Offer your help. Answer questions and make sure new remote developers feel comfortable asking them. Introduce them to other team members. And make sure they have all the resources they need to get started.
- Be a good manager. If a team is only as good as its members make it, this is especially true of its leader. A team without a good leader and manager is doomed to failure. So learn to manage your team well by following these simple guidelines:
- Be engaged. Stay involved with your team as much as possible. Though you want to give team members space to work, you don’t want to be too absent. Provide frequent project updates and let them know you are there for them.
- Meet in person where possible. Obviously, if you have a remote team, you are less able to meet in person. But try if you can. If a team member lives reasonably close, there is no reason you cannot meet up from time to time. Make a business trip out of it. At least try to meet over video chat every once in a while. This will help relieve some of the impersonality that comes with the physical separation in remote teams.
- Create a good work environment. Even if your team works remotely, a good work environment is important—both the physical and the cultural environment. Encourage remote workers to have clean, organized, and quiet work spaces, where they can be free from distraction, and lead by example. Foster a good team culture by encouraging engagement and showing genuine interest in team members. Appropriate work jokes and rituals can all be part of a healthy work culture.
- Define Expectations. Every remote software development team deserves clear objectives and expectations. So clearly define and organize project work processes. Be straightforward and don’t leave things open-ended. Agree on requirements, targets, deadlines, and deliverables. Consider adopting a management methodology like agile software development, which involves working in iterations. Ultimately, clear expectations will benefit everyone and foster accountability.
- Trust your team. While you want to keep your remote team members accountable, don’t micromanage them. If you do, they will come to resent your lack of trust and confidence. Micromanagement stifles innovation and initiative. By withholding trust, you relegate remote developers to mere machines performing routine functions. Let your remote team be creative. Don’t give them busywork. To avoid micromanaging, agree on mid- to long-term goals instead of daily goals. You don’t want to overburden your team with constant supervision. Your team will be much more effective when you trust them.
- Communicate clearly. Make sure everyone on your remote team is on the same page. To do this, you must have effective communication channels. For example, if email is not working well, consider using a group chat channel like Slack. Also, stay transparent. Everybody should be aware of project goals, decisions, changes, and news. Keep everyone up-to-date on the project details, while protecting yourself from intellectual property fraud with non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) where necessary. Only send group messages that apply to everyone. Otherwise, you risk spamming your entire team unnecessarily. If you have an individual assignment, send it as a private message. Keep your communication clear and frequent.
- Make meetings count. Don’t schedule too many meetings and avoid meeting for meetings’ sake. If you don’t, you risk overburdening your remote team with routine meetings that aren’t worth their time. When scheduling, find the golden hours that work for everyone. If team members live in different time zones, this can be difficult. If no good time exists for everyone, find ways to use different time zones to your advantage by assigning tasks and reviewing work while other team members are sleeping. Work up a written communication plan. Though written communication lacks important face-to-face contact, it is more easily referenced and forces concision. However you choose to meet with your team, make sure to record and save the communication, even video conferences.
- Conduct one-on-ones. Meet with each team member individually on a regular basis. Avoid meeting weekly as this can be too frequent; Twice a month or monthly are good intervals. One-on-ones allow you to keep a pulse on team members, their progress, and their overall well-being. Welcome their feedback. Be receptive and open-minded to constructive criticism and suggestions. Make your own suggestions for improvement where needed.
Ultimately, being a good manager means being a good leader. Lead by example and make your project a rewarding experience for everyone. You want each team member to feel proud of their role and contribution to the project.
- Reward team members. Show team members your appreciation for a job well done. This can take the form of raises, spotlights, gifts, or cash bonuses. If you need to fit rewards into your project budget, do it. Expressions of appreciation can go a long way, especially in encouraging hard work. Nothing destroys motivation faster than a lack of appreciation.
If nothing else, always be polite. You cannot say please and thank you enough. Such expressions are especially important to remote work as the frequent written communication can come across as cold and demanding. Craft your communication in such a way that you always ask for assignments to be completed politely and express sincere thanks.
Tools for Managing Remote Software Development Teams
Beyond the habits of a good manager, there are several software tools that make managing remote software development teams easier. The following list gives examples of popular software for different managing tasks. Exploring these and other collaborative tools are well worth your time.
- Text communication: Slack, email
- File sharing: Google Drive, Dropbox, Bit.ai
- Video/Audio communication: Skype, Zoom, UberConference, SocialChorus, Google Meet
- Bug tracking: TrackJS
- Time tracking: Jira, Asana
- Project management: SaaS
- Information system: Redmine, GitHub, Youtrack
- Pair programming: TeamViewer, screen sharing
- Design and prototyping: InVision
- Project management: Trello
- All-in-one solutions: Troop Messenger, BasicOps, TipHive, Hibox, Paymo, Hive
Many of these tools will improve your remote team’s workflow, not to mention save you a lot of time. Experiment with them and see what works for you. You won’t regret it.
Market for Remote Software Development
Since the early 2000s, the market for remote work has been growing. It’s grown at a steady pace and then skyrocketed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some expect remote work to ease off again once COVID-19 has subsided. But the reality is people like remote work. Many companies, like Twitter, are continuing to allow employees to work remotely even after stay-at-home orders end.
The market for remote software development is growing in step with remote work generally. Because developers only need a computer and a good internet connection to work, software development is especially suited for working at home. As a result, the future of remote software development is bright, and COVID-19 has only accelerated the shift from inhouse to remote software development.
Find a Remote Software Development Team
Finding a remote software development team can be hard. With all of the options among established agencies and freelancers, finding the right fit can be a daunting task. But your ideal remote software development team is out there.
Find an established remote team that is used to working together or assemble your own remote team by hiring the best candidates and bring them together.
In every case, you want to manage well by leading well. Provide all the necessary objectives, structures, resources, tools, and direction, and you will be on your way to the successful completion of your next software development project. If you are looking for custom website or software development, be sure to get in touch today!