6 Reasons Why Code Reviews Are Especially Important for Distributed Dev Teams

code review for distributed teams

There are a lot of compelling reasons to carry out code reviews for distributed teams. A regular review process helps you find bugs early, making rectification easier. It also ensures higher coding standards and consistency among your development software team.

In addition, peer reviews help to spot gaps in a developer’s training, and gives them the opportunity to learn from their colleagues. This process helps to build team cohesion and pride in the product they’re creating.

What Is Code Review?

To put it simply, a code review is a systematic examination of software source code. The aim of this process is to identify bugs and give a precise estimation of the code quality.

Generally speaking, the process of code review is used for:

  • Improving practices: Structuring more efficient ways to complete daily tasks.
  • Error detection: Finding logical errors and bottlenecks.
  • Vulnerability exposure: Isolating common vulnerabilities.
  • Discovering malware: Detect suspicious pieces of code, back-doors, or malware integrated into the software.

These code review stages are particularly helpful in distributed teams. Usually, Agile and remote teams work with little supervision, sharing tasks based on their skill set. Code reviews help combine tasks and skills without overlapping or misunderstanding. 

Benefits of  Code Reviews In Distributed Teams

We believe that code reviews are even more important when you are managing a geographically distributed team. Here’s why: 

code review for distributed teams

1. Catching Mistakes

If your developers are co-located and they run into issues, they can just turn around to a colleague and ask for help. If they’re working in a different time zone, the process can be more complicated. 

With code reviews, team members can share their knowledge without working at the same time. Your developers can balance their time off and ask for help when they need it, respecting anyone’s timezone. 

2. Staying Consistent

Coding standards are there for a reason. They make sure that your developers use consistent approaches, so that code is easier to maintain. Sharing knowledge is easier to achieve when the team works together in the same building. There, noticeboards and office dividers can hold handy reminders and you’re all from the same culture and background.

However,  for remote teams is all a different story – and that’s a huge bonus to creativity. But creativity and consistency aren’t always the best bedfellows. That’s why code reviews exist; to make sure that all your team is sticking to standards expressing their creativity finding unique and original solutions. 

3. Improving Performance

Code reviews in distributed teams mean having a second set of eyes (especially a more experienced one) to find better ways to complete the development project. 

Running through a remote developer’s code helps to ensure that everything has been done in the most efficient way. More importantly, you can ensure developers working on the same scripts rather than writing new pieces of code each time – and wasting time explaining what has been done. This brings us to the next benefit.

4. Training

Usually, office-based teams often have the same training. Whether it’s delivered in-house or subcontracted, your team attends the same or similar training courses to learn how to code. Developers who come from different parts of the world may not have the same opportunity. Of course, it doesn’t mean that training elsewhere is less good. Simply, people coming from different training and backgrounds can be equally skilled but with different methods. 

Code reviews in remote teams are an opportunity for your developers to learn from each other. The reviewer and the reviewee can both take something away from seeing the other’s code. Code reviews help to create a best practice, which can be included in your standards- and, in the long run, improve the quality of your code for the whole team.

Read more: Onboarding a remote developer

5. Asynchronous is Best

If you’ve ever done a code review, you’ll know that it’s not the easiest job. It’s easy to get fatigued, and to ‘zone out’ a bit and miss things. In fact, studies by Cisco determined that the best amount of code to review is 200-400 lines or around one hour time for each review.

The best way to get code reviewed quickly, then, is to have more than one person doing the reviews. Split the code between your remote team, and have them do an hour a day, and many hands can make light work. A lot of remote teams use Atlassian’s tool, Crucible, to manage their reviews. This has the added benefit of enhancing the relationships between your remote team. Once they see what each other is capable of, it will increase trust, which is vital in a remote team.

6. Fosters a Positive Environment

Of course, it’s possible to give a bad code review. There are thousands of ways when a bad review can happen. For example, the comments imply a critic of the coder, rather than the code. Or, the reviewer decides to be a back-seat coder and criticizes perfectly good code just because the colleague follows another method.  That won’t help.

So, it’s important that your team has a positive environment for constructive critique. Everyone needs to be open to having their work reviewed, and to deal positively with suggestions of change. A team that is thoughtful about the feedback it gives, and open to receiving it, is a team that will grow and learn, and that can only positively impact your end product.

To make sure that your code reviews solve problems rather than cause them, provide some guidance on how the process should happen. Firstly, ensure that the original developer revisits their code and comments on anything they’ve done that varies from standard, explaining why (bonus, your code then becomes easier to edit in the future) before it goes for the review.

Secondly, give your reviewers suggestions on how to approach the review. A simple change like asking, ‘What made you do things this way?’ rather than stating, ‘You didn’t follow standards,’ makes for a better experience all around. Your team will work better together, for being able to have frank discussions without causing or taking offense.

How Does Code Review Work for Remote Teams?

Any team can benefit from code reviews, regardless of the type of business or field. For remote teams, however, setting up a code reviews process can bring countless benefits to the workflow. When the team is decentralized, with this process your developers can work on the same tasks sharing the same knowledge – rather than waiting for the only person able to get the job done. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that the key to making it happen is communication. Solid communication is the foundation of remote teams. We won’t ever stop saying this. 

So, when you introduce your code review process, integrate each step in your current workflow and, more importantly, don’t forget to document. 

Take into account these steps: 

  1. Establish a clear workflow including the code review in your current workflow;
  2. Document and give as much as detailed information you can to support the code review process.
  3. Arrange regular meetings to align on goals and details, using screen share, whiteboard, or team-based tools.
  4. Adapt and adjust the process considering bottlenecks, necessary updates, and feedback. 
  5. Complete the code review process only upon approval.

To make each of these steps work properly, you must ensure a solid communication process. Don’t rely on email. Instead, establish clear guidelines, make visible different availability schedule, and set up an internal reporting system.

How to Perform a Code Review?

There are four primary strategies to perform code review in remote teams:

1. Over-the-Shoulder Code Reviews

Over-the-shoulder code reviews happen when the senior developer goes through the new script providing feedback and suggestion. This approach doesn’t require a pre-defined structure, just open conversation between team members. In distributed teams, you can use remote collaborative tools to ensure the same exchange of an office setting. 

2. Email Pass-Around

Email-pass around method is the most common strategy for distributed teams. Usually, a developer emails the edits to the development team through version control systems with automatic notifications. This type of email starts a conversation on the changes. After that, team members can request further changes, spot mistakes, or ask for clarifications. However, with the spread of remote collaborative tools, this method is integrating with other software. 

3. Pair Programming

We can say that pair programming is a spin-off of the code review process. Two developers organize their workflow to provide real-time feedback. This method can be very productive only if the two developers are suited to work together, otherwise, it can be a waste of time. 

4. Tool-Assisted

A tool-assisted code review process relies on specialized tools to speed up the process of code review. Specifically, these tools help: 

  • Organizing and displaying the updated files with edits.
  • Facilitating the exchange between reviewers and developers.
  • Assessing the efficacy of the review process with metrics.

These four strategies work with collaborative tools for remote teams. Here is a list of the most popular tools you can consider for your dev team: 

  • Review Board
  • Crucible
  • GitHub
  • Phabricator
  • Collaborator
  • CodeScene
  • Visual Expert
  • Gerrit
  • Rhodecode
  • Veracode
  • Reviewable
  • Peer Review for Trac

Team Up The Best Devs For Your Project 

As always, how well your team performs depends on whether you made good recruiting decisions or not. Need help with that? We spend our days finding the perfect candidates for remote developer roles. If you’re looking to add a new team member to your distributed team, get in touch or check our guide on how to hire a remote developer!

code review for remote teams

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Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon is a remote work advocate and thought leader and a specialist in persuasive writing. She has an MA in Creative Fiction, is a children's author, and a writer of award-winning short stories.