Managing remote development teams isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Having a team across different locations and possibly even time zones comes with its own set of challenges.
These include communication problems, trust issues, cybersecurity risks, and quality control.
But we can’t deny the benefits of remote teams as well. Indeed, statistics showed that companies
could save $11,000 per year for every remote staff they had.
So, how do you make remote dev team management work?
Start with knowing these dos and don’ts.
We’ll begin with the positives–the things you absolutely must do to make remote developers more effective.
DO: Design an effective onboarding process
One of the biggest challenges of having a remote team is integrating them into your existing processes and workflow.
This task is made more challenging if they need to work alongside your in-house developers as augmented additions.
This is why onboarding is so crucial.
A proper onboarding process introduces the remote team to the vital information they need to work efficiently.
It also lets your existing team members meet the remote team, which could help foster cooperation and teamwork.
The goal is to remove as much friction as possible so the remote team can become
And studies support this notion. They show that onboarding done right can
improve employee performance:
So, how do you design an effective onboarding flow?
The first step is to
list everything the remote team needs for their tasks.
This includes account logins, coding standards, best practices, and work-in-progress if you’re transitioning work to them.
It’s also essential to lay out
communication tools and protocols for the team. This helps smoothen collaboration from day one.
Ideally, all this relevant information should be placed in a
centralized repository that anyone in the team can access easily. Knowledge base tools like Stack Overflow are invaluable here.
It’s also vital to determine the
key metrics you’ll use to measure the remote team’s performance.
This gives the team a standard to aim for and helps clear any misunderstanding later during performance reviews and billing.
We’ll talk about team metrics a bit more later in the article.
Finally, our advice would be to
schedule a Zoom meeting to welcome the remote development team formally. This is also a great opportunity for them to meet your in-house developers.
DO: Use Agile project management
From our experience, the Agile methodology is one of the best approaches when managing remote development teams.
If you haven’t used it yet, Agile splits the development into phases called
sprints. Each sprint is like a mini-development cycle that includes all the steps from building to testing.
This approach enables the team to work on the product incrementally.
One of the main requirements of the Agile approach is to set clear milestones at every sprint.
This reduces confusion among remote teams as they always have an idea of every task’s schedule and expected output.
Agile also requires teams to hold regular meetings (called
This naturally forces members to communicate with each other more often, fostering a more collaborative environment.
As you can see on the infographic above, one of the ceremonies is the Daily Scrum.
This is a 15-minute standup meeting where team members catch up with everyone else’s progress or discuss a pressing concern.
Doing this ensures that the whole team is always aligned.
Finally, the Agile methodology also encourages members to reflect after every sprint. This can help remote teams refine their workflows, leading to better performance on the next sprint.
DO: Promote a positive work environment
A positive work environment is still important for a remote team, even if they’re technically not working on-site. And it’s your responsibility to foster this.
clearly defining goals and roles for each team member. Not doing so can cause confusion, which leads to disengagement and lower productivity.
When doing so, use the famous SMART framework to make goals as concrete and actionable as possible.
You should also encourage team members to
participate in team discussions.
Promote a culture where it’s okay for anyone to give suggestions, bring up problems, or even challenge an established process. And they should never be penalized for speaking up.
This will lead to collective knowledge sharing and can significantly improve your processes and products, on top of creating a positive work environment.
Last but not least method of creating a positive workplace is to
give recognition when team members do something remarkable, like solving a difficult problem or suggesting an innovative solution.
Studies have shown that being recognized is the top driver for high-performing individuals, as the chart below shows:
Great Place to Work
Verbal recognition does the trick in most cases, but it’s also good to have some incentives.
They don’t need to be monetary – read
this thread about how to incentivize software developers if you need a better sense of what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, make it a point to
have regular non-work events like teambuilding or Zoom game nights. This allows your team to bond on a different level.
DO: Measure the remote team’s performance
As mentioned, measuring your remote team’s performance is vital.
Metrics give you the concrete data to optimize your remote team’s performance objectively and not just act based on a gut feeling.
Fortunately, you won’t run out of metrics to use. The real challenge is identifying which ones are relevant to your situation.
3 Pillar Global
One of the metrics you’ll often use is
cycle time. This measures how long a developer completes a task, such as writing code or testing a component.
It’s a fundamental measurement that helps you gauge a developer’s productivity.
Related to cycle time is
velocity, or how much work the development team can finish in a set period.
Measuring velocity trends is useful because it tells you if the team’s overall performance is improving or dipping. This could alert you to potential problems that need resolving.
Additional two good metrics to consider using are the mean time between failures (MTBF) and the mean time to recover (MTTR).
These will let you gauge how well your QA team can respond to product failures.
Again, this is just a small sample of the metrics at your disposal. To learn more about this topic and see what would work best for you, you can
read our excellent article here.
DO: Ensure data security and compliance
One factor that turns some clients off from remote work arrangements in software development is security.
outsiders to your network is a potentially dangerous situation. All it takes is one malicious member to steal and leak sensitive data.
Or, they might unknowingly become someone’s victim and also compromise your system.
Thus, you should prioritize data security and compliance when managing remote teams.
Start with a strong access control system such as RBAC (role-based access control).
An RBAC system gives members access permissions only to assets required for their tasks. Everything else is locked out.
Here’s how that looks:
RBAC is useful for isolating sensitive information from third-party contractors.
Even if their account gets compromised, a hacker would have limited movement in the network, thus restricting the damage they can do.
Since you’re constantly sending data to and from your remote team, you must ensure your communication lines are safe. This can be achieved through data encryption.
Many collaboration tools encrypt their data. For example, Slack, which is a popular tool among developers, has many security measures in place.
Finally, if you feel it’s needed, train your remote team on security best practices you’d like them to follow.
Gergely Kalman, Toptal.com Engineer and IT-Security specialist claims all developers should learn about cybersecurity, and you can read his post about the topic
So, we covered the dos. The following don’ts are the practices that could ruin an otherwise great team if you stick with them. Avoid them at all costs.
DON’T: Use a complicated information system
A remote work agreement lives or dies by the effectiveness of your information systems.
Remember that this is essentially your virtual workspace – if it’s complicated, so will your development process be.
Indeed, one Mobility, Performance, and Engagement Report shows how easy access to information is key to
Fortunately, there are numerous platforms available that can help you do this.
One great example is
Jira, a project management solution designed specifically for software projects.
Not only does it let you track tasks and bugs, but it could also be used to store project details and information.
The key here is to use the least number of tools possible to get the job done.
If you can combine several functions into one (such as bug tracking and project management with Jira), it’s best to do so.
Keeping your information system as simple as possible will enable your developers to focus on more productive tasks. Plus, it helps avoid information silos, which is our next topic.
DON’T: Create information silos
Information silos describe the tendency of knowledge to stay only within a certain department or sub-group of people.
Silos can be useful to a degree. It makes sensitive information harder to access or leak out.
Plus, developers might not need to know everything from the HR realm, or accounting, as not all information is pertinent.
But the bigger problem with silos is that they hinder the flow of information, which slows down collaboration, as this funny (but accurate) illustration shows:
The best approach to breaking down silos is to be transparent with information. Unless it’s a secret, you should share it freely during meetings and huddles.
If you’re worried about members leaking information, you can combat this with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This allows you to sue any member that shares details outside the project.
DON’T: Micromanage the remote team
Micromanaging is one of the worst things you can do to your team.
That’s because it could quickly reduce your team’s morale and productivity. It shows that you don’t trust their abilities, causing resentment and disengagement.
Furthermore, you end up spending time away from your core tasks. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.
In fact, a
study by the National Library of Medicine even claims that micromanagement can burn out the manager himself.
Fortunately, it’s possible to correct even the most habitual micromanagers with a few simple strategies, like shown in the following infographic:
Harvard Business School
One approach we find effective is the buddy system.
In the buddy system, two team members are paired together. Each person is responsible for keeping their partner accountable, as well as for relaying information or reviewing their work.
And since every pair is basically managing themselves, it gives you less incentive to do so yourself.
Aside from micromanaging people, there’s also another form of micromanaging that you need to be aware of – micromanaging the project. Let’s discuss that next.
DON’T: Focus too much on short-term goals
Short-term goals can be useful to any project. However, over focusing on them can be risky.
Dictating goals down to the minute-level is another form of micromanagement. Instead of giving your developers the freedom to execute tasks as they see fit, as long as they keep the big picture in mind, you rob them of the chance to exercise their creativity and their own time management skills.
This can be detrimental because the developer tends to know more than you. Chances are, you
don’t have the same skills and experience in handling the technical details.
Thus, setting short-term goals could do more harm than good.
Instead, a manager role should be to focus on the long-term goals and the project’s general direction.
Then, just ensure the team accomplishes these goals within the budget and a realistic timeline.
DON’T: Neglect the time zone differences
The time zone difference is a constant
challenge for managing remote teams, especially when offshoring.
If you don’t take that into account when planning things, you could severely limit your team’s productivity.
The fact is, the time difference is actually beneficial since you can keep your pipeline running consistently 24/7 (your time). Once you realize this, you can use it to your advantage.
For example, you can review a piece of code during your working hours, then hand it off to the remote development team.
They can tackle it during their work time – essentially while you sleep.
Done this way, you can potentially have the revised code for review the next day – with no time wasted!
Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you plan for such things, and to see overlapping hours.
But to achieve this, you must design your pipeline with the remote team’s schedule in mind. You’ll probably need to find and schedule a common meeting time in advance.
And you’ll need to set your communication protocols to adapt.
If you do this right, time zone differences should have a negligible impact on your team’s productivity.
The best strategy for remote team management
The best management approach is probably hiring
the right team from the get-go.
See, even the best manager in the world will struggle if their development team is incompetent, unprofessional, or lacks communication skills.
Conversely, a world-class team can be effective without any management!
Thus, it pays to optimize your hiring process.
And if you don’t know how,
check out this excellent article.