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Trying to build a remote development team for your business?
Even if you have experience managing a traditional in-house team, hiring and managing remote development teams is a real challenge.
We have years’ worth of experience managing development teams. If you are not lucky enough to have full-time dev teams and a unique agile software development process, you are in for a steep learning curve.
Developing a remote software development team: Should you do it at all?
While remote teams have become common over recent decades, they don’t fit all situations. Should you build a virtual team? Consider the following before doing so:
What kind of projects do you execute? If you predominantly execute Agile projects, then think carefully before you build a virtual team. Agile projects require very close collaboration between team members, and more Agile experts prefer collocated teams.
We have explained this in our guide “How to build an Agile development team?”.
Are you executing a “First of a kind” (FOAK) project? You can categorize a project as FOAK due to various reasons, e.g., new technologies, a use case that’s entirely new in the target geography, etc. FOAK projects require a very high degree of collaboration, and remote teams might not be your best bet.
Are you executing a complex project? A project can be complex due to complex technology, e.g., blockchain. You could also consider a project as complex if addresses a very complex use case.
You need a very high degree of collaboration in a team that executes a complex project. For such projects, a remote development team may not be suitable.
Are you executing a project for an industry that’s subject to stringent data security and privacy regulations? Certain regulatory mandates prohibit using cross-border teams, which limits your options to use remote teams.
Think carefully before developing remote teams. They don’t always benefit you!
How do you make a remote software development team?
Have you decided to build a remote team? Take the following steps to make a remote team:
1. Onboard a competent PM before you build a virtual team
Software development is complex enough even with collocated teams, and this complexity increases if you use a remote team. Find a competent project manager (PM) to manage this complexity. You need a PM that can do the following:
Keep the remote team focused on delivering value to customers. A successful organization needs to put the customer as the highest priority, and this culture must permeate the organization. Even remote teams must subscribe to this value. The PM plays a key part in ensuring this.
Listen to customers. This might seem elementary, however, it’s not! Managing a remote team keeps a PM busy enough. The PM could find it very hard to keep in regular touch with customers. Onboard a PM that puts customers in the center.
Apply project management processes, guidelines, and best practices diligently. Once again, this might seem elementary! It’s not though. Managing a remote team can be stressful enough and the PM could find it hard to apply the PM’s best practices.
Communicate effectively. Communication is important in every project, however, it’s doubly important when you lead a remote team. Regular and meaningful communication with customers, internal stakeholders, and the remote team enhances the overall trust. If you have led a remote team, then you know how important trust is!
Hire a competent PM before you build a remote team. Read “10 biggest challenges when developing an app” to learn the importance of such a PM.
Key competencies that a PM leading a remote workforce needs
When hiring a PM to lead a remote and distributed team, you should look for the following competencies:
A. A proactive approach
Both co-located and remote workers face work-related challenges. Co-located workers can take the advantage of face-to-face meetings to communicate their challenges.
Remote workers can’t have such person-to-person interactions face-to-face. They could find it harder to communicate their challenges. The PM should take proactive initiatives to find the challenges faced by the remote team.
Participants find a face-to-face meeting far easier to conduct than a virtual meeting. Video chats improved the experience of virtual meetings, however, communication is easier face-to-face.
The PM should demonstrate empathy when conducting team meetings or one-to-one meetings with remote workers. This helps the PM to overcome the barriers of physical distance and different time zones. Remote teams find it easier to communicate their challenges to leaders that demonstrate empathy.
2. Onboard competent team members when developing a remote software development team
Competent people do matter everywhere! They are even more important in a remote team. Look for the following when you identify such team members:
Professional ethics: Working in a remote team can be challenging. Trust matters and people with strong ethics can build and sustain this trust.
Decision-making capabilities: A remote team is physically far away from customers and the senior leadership of the organization. Sound decision-making capabilities are important any day, and they become more important in this scenario.
Technical skills: You don’t need us to explain its importance! You need to onboard people that know the fundamentals of computer science. They need sufficient skills in the technologies you use, which could include cutting-edge technologies like “Artificial Intelligence” (AI), blockchain, etc. You also need to onboard skilled business analysts (BAs), UI designers, testers, and DevOps engineers.
- Software engineering knowledge: You need team members with sound knowledge of SDLC models. In “What is software development life cycle and what you plan for?”, we explained its importance. You also need to onboard team members with software engineering knowledge.
The knowledge of development best practices: You need team members that know how to deliver software development projects successfully, e.g.:
- They should know how to mitigate key application security risks;
- Team members should know about the importance of the right software architecture;
- Developers you hire should know how to code scalable apps.
The knowledge of cloud computing: You have probably embraced cloud computing like many other organizations. You need to onboard people that know sufficiently about cloud computing platforms.
Familiarity with development tools: Onboard people with knowledge in important development frameworks and other key development tools.
Industry knowledge: Depending on the industry you target, you might need team members with in-depth industry knowledge.
The ability to collaborate: Collaboration is the key to the success in a remote team, therefore, onboard people that demonstrate this competency.
You need the right people to build a virtual team. If you need help with this, then read our guide “How to find a good software developer”.
Key considerations when hiring remote developers
Keep the following important considerations in mind hire remote software developers:
- Evaluate a broad range of hiring options: It takes time to hire competent software engineers to build a remote team. You might need to evaluate different hiring options. These include software development companies, job boards, LinkedIn, etc.
- Relevant experience: Technical skills alone don’t give the true picture of the capabilities of a programmer. You need software engineers with experience in delivering complex projects. Evaluate the relevant experience of candidates during the interview.
- Competencies: Delivering complex projects in a remote team environment requires hard work. A remote software team needs to collaborate with many stakeholders. Competencies like teamwork, passion for excellence, listening, etc. are important. Evaluate this aspect when interviewing the shortlisted candidates. Ensure that the developers fit in with your company culture.
3. Set up the systems and structures when you build a remote software development team
Among the steps to making a remote team, setting up appropriate systems and structures is an important one. Do the following:
If you are building a remote team for the first time in a location/geography, then set up the necessary organizational structures/systems. This could include functions like business operations, legal, finance, business continuity, human resource management, etc.
If you already have a development center in the given remote location, then you don’t need to do this.
Build an appropriate project management system. Define policies, standards, and processes.
Choose an appropriate project management tool. Read our guide to Agile project management tools for insights.
Establish the necessary IT infrastructure and provide the required access to your team members.
Introduce productivity solutions that would suit your remote team. An example is “Skype for business”. Read our guide to enterprise productivity solutions for more examples.
Build appropriate hiring and onboarding processes.
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Create a communications management plan for your remote team.
Establish the right metrics and put in place an appropriate measurement system.
Create a quality management system that your remote team can use effectively.
Prioritize the professional development of your remote team members and put a plan in place.
Plan for the success of your remote team and don’t leave it to chance.
Tips and traps when setting up systems and structures for remote work
Consider the following best practices when establishing systems and structures for your remote team:
- Stress on shared team culture: The remote team isn’t a separate remote company! It’s your team, therefore, foster a shared team culture.
- Build trust: You need excellent communication when you have a remote team. However, that isn’t enough. Your remote team members must see you “walk the talk”. Your actions should consistently match your words.
- Offer flexibility: Your remote team might do a few things differently from your co-located team. If these differences don’t adversely impact the shared vision, mission, and goals of your organization, then you should offer flexibility.
Avoid the following:
- Micromanagement: Micromanagement can impede your efforts to build a successful remote team. A strong team needs empowered team members. Micromanagement diminishes initiatives, and it reflects a work culture without mutual trust. Empower your team vs micromanaging it.
- Process overheads: Process overheads are unnecessary processes in your work environment. Unproductive meetings and other overheads reduce productive time. Remote teams find them more challenging since they don’t have immediate and direct access to the senior leadership to talk about overheads.
4. Communicate effectively to build a virtual team
You need to communicate effectively in a remote team. Pay attention to the following factors:
Communication with customers: Software development has a degree of abstraction. Developers need to interact with users regularly to understand what customers want from the software. This can be a challenge when the software development team works remotely. Use technologies like video conferencing to facilitate interactions between customers and the remote team. This motivates the team too, which is another advantage.
Cultural differences: Words and expressions can have different meanings in different cultures. Value cultural differences while communicating with a remote team.
Project-related communication: Plan project-related communication to ensure sufficient communication. Ensure that you don’t take too much time away from the team with unnecessary communication.
Organization-related communication: Ensure that the remote team understands how its work aligns with the overall mission, vision, and strategy of your organization.
One-to-one communication: Individual team members might need guidance and help with various matters. Respect personal sensitivities and set up one-to-one communication to provide this help and guidance.
Read “10 essential tips to managing remote employees” for more insights. Communicate for success.
Communication tips in the context of remote work
Consider the following best practices when you have a remote team for software development:
A. Arrange regular interactions like virtual meetups
You need your co-located and remote teams to interact regularly. These should include all of the following:
- “Daily stand-up meetings” to discuss project status using real-time dashboards;
- Virtual brainstorming sessions for problem-solving, rapid prototyping, etc.;
- “Virtual water-cooler” meetings to have fun or share knowledge;
- Virtual team-building exercises like “happy hours”;
- “Virtual off-site meetings” to discuss the strategies and plans of the company and team;
- Virtual meetups to introduce the new hires;
- Online meetings to appreciate key contributors.
Plan team-building activities involving the remote team. These improve team bonding.
B. Invest in communication infrastructure
Communication in a remote team is crucial, and the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that even more. Take a proactive approach and invest in high-quality communication infrastructure.
Consider leading apps like Zoom for video calls. Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are great options too for hosting video conferences. Analyze their features first before focusing on their pricing plans.
You can use Slack for messaging. It offers powerful features like Slack channels, furthermore, it supports video calls. You can integrate Slack with other key tools. E.g., you might use Wrike for project management and workflow management. Slack integrates very well with Wrike.
C. Demonstrate sensitivities towards cultural differences and privacy
Communication can be hard even in face-to-face scenarios. Remote teams find it harder, and misunderstanding is common. Demonstrate cultural sensitivities. Respect privacy, especially with employees working from their home offices.
Communication “traps” to avoid when working with a remote team
Avoid the following pitfalls when communicating with remote teams:
- Too many “check-ins”: You need check-ins with remote teams, however, avoid too many of them. A remote team needs time to work too!
- Long meetings in late hours: Long meetings during late hours can sometimes be unavoidable. Avoid them during normal circumstances though. Time zone differences can make such meetings hard, therefore, plan well.
5. Set up appropriate metrics when developing remote teams
Establish appropriate metrics and a system of measurement when you build a remote team. Do the following:
Think of metrics that align with what your customers consider as “value”. Establish those metrics to manage remote workers.
Involve your remote team while choosing the metrics and setting up the system of measurement. Your team should know how it’s performing even without you telling the team members.
Don’t rely only on metrics like the number of hours worked to ascertain the productivity of your team. While the number of hours worked may be useful in some circumstances, it often doesn’t indicate how much “value” you deliver to customers.
Read “7 tips for building a remote team (and why they’re good for your business)” to learn more about this. Measure what matters.
6. Focus on leadership when you build a virtual team
Your actions as a leader will determine whether your remote team shares the common values of your organization. Do the following:
Uphold integrity at all times.
Demonstrate through your actions that you sincerely want your customers to be successful. Depending on your organization, your customers could be consumers of your software products. If you’re in a government organization, then you are delivering value to citizens.
No matter which type of organization you are in, serving your customers remains your primary responsibility. Your team will see in your actions whether you live up to this value.
Set measurable goals that align with your organizational strategy. You need to set clear goals that require smart and hard work, however, don’t set impossible goals.
Motivate your team members to relentlessly innovate. As a leader, you need to remove the roadblocks so that they can innovate.
Reward good performance demonstrably and celebrate success. Manage sub-optimal performance by giving honest and caring feedback to the underperforming team member.
Read “The definitive guide to building a remote team” for more insights.
Leadership is the key to the success of a remote team, therefore, invest in it.
What else should you consider while building a remote development team?
Consider the following aspects before building remote development teams:
A. Turnaround time for work items
When you have a work or change request for your in-house team, you can expect a quick turnaround. You are talking face-to-face with the development team after all.
Furthermore, members of such a software development team have face-to-face communication between themselves. Speedy communication always helps development teams.
Communication can often be slower in the case of remote software development teams. Such teams might need more time to complete a work item. Factor this in when you hire remote development teams.
B. Remote dedicated teams vs part-time remote developers
Remember that several software development companies offer part-time team members. They often refer to this as “fractional FTE”. Such developers simultaneously work on multiple projects. E.g., they might work 20 hours a week on one project and balance time on another project.
You might think of this as a lucrative option when you hire developers for remote work. Part-time developers could result in some cost savings. In practical life, this isn’t easy to manage. Tracking the work of remote development teams can be hard, and part-time developers make it harder.
We strongly recommend you hire remote dedicated developers if you want remote development teams. Your project manager will find it considerably easier to manage remote dedicated developers than part-timers. You can implement fractional FTE-based solutions if you have an in-house team.
C. Team building with in-house developers vs remote developers
A remote software development team can save office space costs. However, this won’t translate to any real savings if the development team can’t deliver the project! You want the entire team to be productive. This requires the right team spirit.
Building a cohesive team with in-house developers is easier than building one such team with remote programmers. Team building activities tend to be easier with in-house dedicated teams.
It’s harder with remote teams even if hire a dedicated team. You might have already thought of a few best practices to foster teamwork in a remote dedicated team. Let us add one! Find a noble meaning of the work you do and integrate that into the mission of your company. The remote dedicated team should get an uplifting feeling of doing something meaningful and useful.
Explain your uplifting vision to the development team. Describe your strategy and explain how the team fits into it. Do this regularly and not just as a one-time activity. The feeling of being a part of something noble improves teamwork.
As you can see, you undertake nothing short of an organizational transformation effort when you bUild such a team. While you execute this transformation, you could need help with your existing software development projects.
Contact us at DevTeam.Space if you don’t have all the required skills and expertise for your project and we will get back to you to answer any of your questions.
Frequently Asked Questions on how to build a remote software development team
The key to building a positive culture is communication. By establishing a good relationship that is based on trust and clear goals, any manager can create a great culture in their team.
Be sure to nail your interview process and you will be assured to get the best developers. For more information read this article.
Slack is a much-loved communication tool that allows for multiple channels to be set up. This allows the most optimum possible communication.