Best Practices for Managing Remote Teams

Even in the months before COVID-19 turned everything upside down, there was no shortage of “think pieces” and industry reports predicting that “the future of work” would be remote. Remote work, as predicted back in 2017, is now the default.

For a lot of people, remote work requires little more than a laptop, a WiFi connection, and a handful of tools like Zoom, Slack, or even just email. However, for organizations, the abrupt move to remote presents some significant challenges.

In this article, we’ll look at some considerations for maintaining productivity, preserving company culture, and coping with a new set of challenges while managing a remote team.

Understanding How the “WFH Movement” Impacts How Teams Work

Increased Consumer Demand Accelerates Digital Transformation

Now that everyone is spending more time online, engaging with brands more via online channels as well as working from home, the demand for better virtual services and experiences, as well as features and tools that meet the needs of the current situation, has increased.

This means that organizations face pressure to bring innovative solutions to market faster in response to changing needs. As a result, development teams must look for opportunities to establish a faster release cadence, whether that means using automation to eliminate repetitive tasks or outsourcing certain development projects to increase capacity.

As remote work becomes the norm long-term, and many predict that it will, organizations will need to embrace DevSecOps tools, improve existing Agile strategies, and potentially develop a more robust outsourcing strategy to remain competitive in this fast-paced digital landscape.

Cybersecurity Presents New Challenges

Many organizations were forced to pivot to remote work before they had a chance to prepare.
They’re now scrambling to get ahead of potential threats that weren’t a concern before. These threats include infrastructure weaknesses as well as phishing and malware schemes.

According to a Forrester report, there’s a real disconnect in the way businesses understand and respond to security risks. The report notes that fewer than half of security leaders actually frame security threats within the context of specific business risks.

And while 96% of respondents say they’ve developed COVID-19 response strategies, few say those strategies are closely aligned with their business. Only 75% report that strategies were “somewhat” aligned.

What’s more, 41% of decision-makers report that their firms had experienced at least one COVID-related cyberattack related since April 2020. To keep up with new threats, organizations must look toward solutions like automated testing and tools with machine learning capabilities to scale up development efforts. As development cycles increase, the potential for errors and vulnerabilities increases, too.

Productivity

There’s no shortage of studies coming to the conclusion that remote workers are, on average, more productive than their office-bound counterparts.

If your organization isn’t used to working remotely, it’s pretty common for workers to go through an adjustment period as they navigate new norms and figure out to structure their workday. A few things to consider:

  • Offer an interactive onboarding experience to introduce them to their new “space.”
  • Create documentation outlining new processes
  • Develop a schedule for collaborative work/1:1s/daily standups
  • Clarify expectations around measurable goals and how they align with organizational objectives and each person’s role in contributing toward making progress.
  • Define the core hours during which the employee should be available for work. This will help prevent employees from working late into the night or clocking overtime. Long-term, either may have a negative impact on productivity and code quality.

It’s also worth noting that employees’ network infrastructure also has an impact on team productivity. If an employee has a poor internet connection, it can make it difficult to collaborate in real-time. In this situation, consider prioritizing tasks that employees can work on independently, along with documentation and communication methods that support a more asynchronous approach.

Finally, don’t take advantage of WFH as a way to cut your costs.

Employees shouldn’t have to foot the entire bill just because they’re no longer in the office. If possible, consider re-investing any savings into new productivity tools or learning opportunities that can help your team be more successful at home.

Create a Culture of Support

Research shows that remote work offers employees several advantages, including increased independence, flexibility, productivity gains, and no more long commutes. However, there’s also a dark side to all that alone time. Workers can become isolated and disconnected if you don’t make an effort to keep them engaged and aligned as a team.

Here are a few best practices for distributed teams as they redefine their company culture:

  • Focus on creating a new culture that reflects the current reality. Reframe your company mission and values and align them to your current efforts when it makes sense, develop new collaboration processes to keep the connection alive. Tiempo’s Paul Estrada recommends that organizations include outsourced teams in all communication and meetings related to your product/project. This helps increase awareness of the company’s mission and goals across the whole team.”
  • Build planned casual time into the day. One of the toughest parts of working from home is replacing spontaneous interactions with colleagues that just “happen” in a shared environment. Consider scheduling team-building exercises, games, 1:1 check-ins, virtual standup meetings, etc.
  • Consider how you can support morale and mental health and create a sense of psychological safety. Beyond the office-to-home adjustment, factors like helping kids with remote learning, caring for family members, or sharing a makeshift workspace with a partner who also has calls, meetings, and a new set of weird WFH habits throw several wrenches into the mix.

Angel Almada advises managers to “be close to your teams. Work-life balance is becoming more important due to COVID and the move to WFH. We need to ensure the engineering population maintains a healthy routine. HR and management need to create different events to motivate them outside of work (online).”

He adds, “engineers don’t have a standard preference on anything; we should work on creating different activities and stop looking for one-size-fits-all events that appeal to everyone.”

The point is, give workers some flexibility to deal with these challenging circumstances, be transparent about expectations, and find new ways to engage teams and individuals alike.

Establish New Rules Around Communications

One of the biggest “cons” of working remotely are all of the interruptions that come with synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. In a recent survey of our clients, 26% said their biggest challenge in managing outsourced teams was making external developers feel like “part of the team.” 25% cited cultural differences as their biggest challenge, while 20% said collaboration and communication were the most difficult aspect of managing distributed teams.

As such, one of the best tips for managing a remote team is acknowledging that establishing new communication norms requires deliberate planning. Communicating your expectations about communication is the first step toward WFH success.

This means that you’ll need to take stock of your tech stack and make sure that you’re equipped with the right tools to support your distributed team.

  • Instant messaging—instant messaging apps are essential, especially for teams requiring continuous collaboration and communication. Chat apps make it easy to ask questions/share ideas and also make it more likely that you’ll receive an instant response. At the same time, these apps can feel invasive to workers who are trying to focus on writing code/other activities that require their full attention and focus.
  • Email, phone—Consider the appropriate turnaround times for email/calls. Workers may not have these open all day—which could cause delays in development. Video conferencing/phone calls may work best when scheduled in advance. For urgent matters, workers should reach out via chat first.

Ultimately, you’ll want to set clear expectations—by channel—for how often remote workers need to check in, as well as any times when they’re expected to be available.

Tiempo’s Francisco Ponce recommends that managers “be clear on what time will be used for meetings, so they can be short and focused. Also, focus attention on the quality of deliverables instead of how the team spends their time. This can be achieved by using project management tools and keeping track of the right metrics.”

As an example, metrics should be tied to outcomes like customer satisfaction, profits, number of bugs/code errors, not the number of hours worked.

Does Remote Work Make Outsourcing Software Development More Difficult for Companies?

In many ways, managing outsourced teams looks a lot like it did when in-house staff was, well, working in-house.

Francisco Carvajal advises, “when considering remote work, don’t let old paradigms get in the way. Teams and individuals have been successfully working remotely for a while now. Avoid allowing resistance to change to cloud your judgment, and trust that any team, regardless of location, has—and will continue to—strive to maintain high performance standards.”

Assuming the two teams were working collaboratively from different locations before the mandatory stay-at-home orders, your internal developers were likely better prepared for the transition than software teams that haven’t worked this way before.

Additionally, your outsourced developers may likely have more experience working on distribution and can provide valuable guidance and support to employees as they adapt to new norms.

That said, there are some new challenges that you may need to address in your outsourcing strategy. When everyone in the organization abruptly starts working remotely, the development strategy, workflows, and processes immediately become more complex.

For example, more planning is required. Organizations now need to create processes and documentation outlining expectations for internal and external developers, as well as stakeholders from other departments that may be involved in the project.

They also need to make sure new processes comply with regulatory requirements such as HIPAA, GDPR, or CCPA, and ensure that team building remains a priority, despite the distance, providing tools and creating processes to support the new reality.

Wrapping Up

Managing a remote team isn’t easy, especially if it wasn’t initially part of the plan.

Partnering with the right outsourcing provider can help you address new challenges. This holds true whether you’ve finally decided to go all-in on digital transformation or need some extra support keeping your newly-distributed network secured.

Tiempo’s high-performing teams can help you rise to the new demands of managing remote teams and consumer expectations. Contact us today to learn more about our process, services, and the advantages of our nearshore business model.