Tech companies have conflicting visions when it comes to employee productivity. Some offer benefits like free lunch and gym membership while others offer remote working options. While industry giants like Google and Facebook like to keep their employees in-house, others like Mozilla and GitHub prefer a remote approach.
Both models are proven to work, but for startups, in particular, the distributed option probably works best. When you’re just starting out, your budget isn’t going to allow free lunches or large office spaces with the best new technology. So it makes a lot of sense to take advantage of the remote working phenomenon.
But it’s not just startups as it seems like remote work will soon be the norm. According to a survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London (a few years ago), 34% stated that more than half of their full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020 (with 25% stating that more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office).
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When it comes to software development, in particular, you also get the advantage of accessing talent around the world cost-effectively without having to deal with all the headache that’s associated with immigration.
But how do you build a highly productive remote development team that will continue to deliver like a well-oiled machine?
1. Make an Effort to Hire the Right Individuals
Whether you’re building a team in-house or remotely, the priority to hire the right employees will be the same. It’s vital to find the right people for the job. Not only should they have the right skills, but they should also be able to communicate and work well with others in the team.
It’s not going be easy to achieve this, so it might be better to outsource the hiring process to an outsourcing agency that has also right protocols in place to identify the right fit for your company. This approach can also save you a lot of time.
2. Be Crystal Clear with your Development Approach
Not all developers will follow the same approach or use the same project management tools, so it’s imperative that you get everyone on the same page right from the start. Further, it’s also important to note that even if the developers that you find share the same approach, there will be different variations of it (for example, agile).
So right after you put your software development team together, clearly define the rules that they have to follow. This can save you a lot of trouble a few months down the road.
3. Take Advantage of Collaborative Tools
There are plenty of collaborative tools out there that can help enhance your team’s productivity. Many developers are known to focus on tasks without communicating much, so it will be up to the project owner to develop a good level of communication within the team.
This can be done through virtual meetings and project management tools like Teamwork, Trello, and Asana (my favorite one). To communicate, you can always use Skype, Google Hangouts, and Slack.
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While these collaborative tools are available, it will still come down to how you manage your project (like you would in-house). If the project manager isn’t on top of things, you might find team members working on areas of the project that currently don’t make sense. So it’s always important not to take your foot off the pedal and focus on the task at hand.
For agile software development frameworks, you can use Scrum to manage your project. The key here is that this tool recognizes that the customer can change their minds about their needs mid-way through the development cycle.
As it adopts an evidenced-based empirical approach, you can enhance the team’s ability to deliver. However, the choice of the best tool for any particular project will depend on the methodology. For example, if you’re running the project on Scrum, you can use PRINCE2 to manage it.
4. Foster a Culture of Continuous Integration
Developing a culture of continuous integration within software development teams can pay off in the long run, especially for projects with extended deadlines. Further, it will also make it easier to divide the work among team members along technical boundaries.
At the same time, even if the team is divided as front end or backend for the task or even database and services layer, security concerns might make it difficult to move forward. Further, you may not want to release intellectual property on cloud-based platforms like GitLab.
Although you might have the temptation to maintain two sets of source code repositories with a commitment to merge them at a later date, don’t do it. More often than not, this will lead you to waste an enormous number of man-hours to fix the fractured code.
It’s far less time consuming to increase communication within the team to maintain just a single code repository and work on the same code base. Further, those successfully managing remote software development teams will begin to see evidence of implementing a positive working culture in daily communication and developer behavior.
5. Hold Team Members Accountable
When you have a remote or distributed team, there is always the potential downside of people taking advantage of the situation and slacking off. So it’s vital that you lay down the rules, set project goals, and ensure that each employee is meeting these goals.
However, this doesn’t mean that you need to micro-manage each individual. If you have communicated your expectations and you’re not getting the desired results, check the VPN logs and other available data before deciding to make a drastic change (and sometimes you have to fire people).
Remote workers are the happiest and also feel the most valued, so it can be a rewarding experience to build remote teams and work with them on development projects. Further, not having to deal with the daily commute and fighting traffic can also make team members much more productive when compared to those coming into the office.
Finally, regardless of whether your development team works in one place or is spread out across the planet, always foster a culture where there’s equal respect for the company, colleagues, and assignments. This will go a long way to help you build and maintain a healthy software development team.
And always remember - your remote team shouldn't be cheap, it should be cost-effective and efficient!