The growing need for software developers, paired with the increase in remote work due to the pandemic, has made businesses hire and manage remote developers. The benefits of working with remote developers are clear; however, managing them is challenging for most companies, especially with a hybrid workplace structure.
Through years of experience guiding companies to hire, onboard, and manage tech professionals, we’ve learned how to manage developers in partially or fully remote teams. Although it all starts in the hiring process, other aspects, such as onboarding and the remote workplace culture, can greatly impact your development team’s performance.
Seven Strategies to Successfully Manage A Development Team With Remote Staff
1. The Importance of Hiring Remote Developers That You Trust
Finding software developers is “easy.’’ After all, there are 26.9 million of them in the world. The challenge is not finding one but it’s finding the right one. The right developer does not need to be a perfect one, but the one that fits the current needs of the required position.
If you want to learn how to manage a development team successfully, my first and most important advice is to hire someone you trust. While remote work can increase productivity, reduce stress levels, and even help your company save money, it can also become a nightmare in disguise when you hire candidates you don’t feel have the right skill set and abilities.
Remember that you’ll not be in an office overseeing what your team is doing or inquiring about a project. You’ll have to believe and trust they are working and that they will give the results they promise. And if you hire someone you don’t think has what it takes, you’ll feel the need to constantly bug them over Slack, Zoom, or whatever tool you use, making them feel even more pressured or, in the worst case, pushed over the edge.
All this impacts the performance of a team. Make sure to build an effective hiring process that will help you identify which skills a candidate needs to have for you to go forward with them.
Besides the technical skills, abilities, and knowledge, always evaluate their personality and how they interact with other team members. Don’t know where to start? Check our guide here on how to hire a remote developer, or simply leave it to us.
Some skills to seek in remote developers are:
- Good communicators: Evaluate how they express themselves, how they write, and how eloquent they are. Remember that they will become part of your development team, which means they need to know how to explain processes and, in some cases, explain it to clients and other interested parties.
- Autonomous: A remote developer can’t be constantly supervised by a manager. They are not in the same physical space, and sometimes they work in different schedules because of time zones. They need to have self-motivation and determination to fulfill their tasks without someone constantly reminding them.
- Team players: You could have the most talented programmer in the world, but if they can’t work in a team and can’t let others do their job properly, give them time to adjust and evolve, or just don’t hire them. Instead of bringing solutions, they’ll focus on problems, which eventually will cost you and your team energy and motivation. Focus on hiring developers who like to work in teams and know how to interact respectfully with one another.
2. Properly Onboard Remote Developers
If you want to have an engaged remote developer team, onboarding is one of the first steps you need to consider. Research by Glassdoor reveals that great employee onboarding can improve employee retention by 82%. A different study conducted by Digitate discovered that a negative onboarding experience results in new hires being 2 times more likely to look for a different opportunity.
Read more: How to retain software developers in your startup
Imagine hiring a talented developer who quickly looks for something else because they can’t engage with your company.
At DistantJob, over the course of 10+ years of managing remote teams, we’ve learned that onboarding should take at least a minimum of 7 days. During these days, besides focusing on paperwork and documentation, your objective should be to show the new hire how your company works. Not only in processes and workflows but also regarding your beliefs, the culture, and the remote environment.
Onboarding your new remote developers gives you the perfect opportunity for them to know your expectations and goals and for you to know what they are expecting from your company.
Besides the usual aspects of onboarding, you, as a remote manager, need to think outside the box and go beyond the usual onboarding procedures. It is important to show them around the virtual office and explain your vision and mission. But you can do more things to make them feel welcome. Here are some tips that will help you get your new remote developers engaged:
3. Ways to Boost Your Remote Developer’s Productivity
Studies and surveys have already proved the fact that remote employees are more productive than on-site employees. Yet, this doesn’t mean that ALL remote employees are productive. This is why the hiring process is so important; you grasp the soft skills they might have. Still, when you hire the right people and have your team set up, one of the main goals is to keep improving and boosting everyone’s productivity.
If you have no experience managing software engineers remotely, one of our main recommendations is to set up a project management tool. Tools like Asana can give you space to manage all the tasks, due dates, and documents for the developers to have. With this, you will be able to get a sense of how they are working and managing their time.
Also, you need to keep in mind time zones if your developer team is distributed all over the world. You can always message and email them, but when you don’t get to see each other physically, video calls are the best way to connect with one another. Tools like worldtimebuddy help visualize all teams’ different time zones to schedule regular meetings at a comfortable hour for everyone.
Productivity-boosting tools are also invaluable when you want to coordinate and stay on top of things in a remote team. Popular examples include:
4. Get Rid of Your Inner Micromanager
If you want to be an effective remote leader, don’t be a micromanager. Usually, in the first days, you’ll want to make sure everyone understands the tools, the working procedures, and the basic guidelines. But don’t over-monitor your devs’ work and try to make them do things your way. Keep in mind that:
- YOU hired them (trust your decisions that they will do a great job)
- They cannot work if someone is constantly monitoring them
- Your team will feel undervalued and stressed
- Everybody is productive in a different way (some are night owls, others are early birds)
- Micromanaging will eventually lead to employees quitting their jobs
Trust is the master key to successful team management. And how to start trusting your employees? By letting them handle projects and responsibilities.
All employees love being recognized and feeling they have done an excellent job. But as a manager going beyond simple praise is what matters—making your team understand that it’s never about the projects only. It’s about achieving a bigger goal that is only possible if everyone contributes and works as a team.
5. Learn How to Communicate in a Remote Environment
Never assume, always ask, and in case of doubt: talk.
Keep this as a golden rule, and you will never have communication problems in your team.
Misunderstandings are quite common, especially on remote teams. And in the worst cases, they might lead to incomplete projects and a waste of money. That is why it is important to start giving clear guidelines regarding communication.
For example, at DistantJob, we are all aware that meetings or special events (like birthdays) are attended on Zoom, quick reminders or general announcements are made on Slack, documents are shared via Google Drive & Coda, etc. Many cool tools will help you get set up and reduce troubles with communication.
Also, keep in mind that regular video conferences are the best way to connect with your team members and foster teamwork. Discuss how projects are going, weak points to improve, if someone needs help with specific tasks, or to catch up on personal matters. These are things that help to build not only trust but transparency in communication.
But something to highlight here is that over-communication is not exaggerating and asking your developers how the project is going 24/7 (this is lowkey micromanagement).
Over-communicating in remote teams is being as clear as possible and double-checking if everything is understood instead of getting into endless meetings or emails during the workdays. Development teams need special focus hours to get work done, so instead of doing random work meetings, build a process.
For example, set specific days and hours to have a meeting; that way, everyone can organize their time better.
6. Build an Agile Team
If you’re wondering how to manage programmers, we have the right answer for you: Agile.
One of the most effective management approaches for IT teams is, without a doubt, the Agile Methodology. It’s not even just about how to do projects; it’s also why you do them. When you manage remote devs, being Agile will help you improve how you communicate, work together as a team, and deliver projects based on market feedback.
What techniques does Agile use that makes it so effective?
- Agile works in a horizontal team dynamic (removes hierarchy).
- Define viable features of the software you want to build (based on use-case scenarios).
- Organize short daily meetings, called stand-ups, where everyone on the team has a voice.
- Make a team review of every update on the project and decide what to improve, add, or remove.
- Planning and developing happen side-by-side to launch the Minimal Viable Product as early as possible
Want to learn more about how to build an Agile remote team? Download our free ebook.
7. Focus on Building Team Spirit
Defining a company culture in a remote environment is challenging mainly because we all have this idealization of coworkers singing happy birthday with a cake in the office. Or of colleagues drinking beers on Fridays after work. But all these onsite workplace activities have in common is that culture is built not in the activities themselves but in what these activities bring upon a team: connection.
One thing is to focus on the professional aspect of getting work done and achieving results, but another thing is to encourage building strong relationships in the team. Managing software developers remotely is not only about having a dream team of talented developers who knows what they’re doing. You should build a team spirit that boosts everyone’s morale. And how can you do this while working remotely? By being more conscious about it.
Here are some ideas:
- Always encourage face-to-face interactions, or in other words, cameras on.
- Have feedback meetings in which you can learn more about how employees are feeling individually in the company and areas that you can improve as well.
- Create your own version of happy hours or birthday celebrations virtually. Or, in other words, get inspired with different virtual water cooler ideas for your dev team.
- Make your team feel appreciated and cared for. Asking them, ‘’how are you doing’’ it’s a start.
- Recognize your employee’s hard work.
- Sometimes all you need to do is just listen.
Managing Software Teams With Remote and Onsite Staff
If you have a remote development team (or plan to have it) while continuing to work under an onsite structure, here are 5 tips that will help you increase collaboration between teams:
Have Transparent Processes
When managing developers both onsite and remote simultaneously, you need to implement processes that will help you encourage transparency in the team. It often happens that remote developers feel left out or not part of the conversation when they are discussing things with the onsite team they have no idea about in meetings. Therefore, make sure that every decision or relevant conversation is discussed as a team.
Make everyone in the team, both onsite and remote, do their daily check-ins on the platforms you use. This way, everyone will know what’s going on and what everyone is up to.
Encourage Constant Communication
Interpersonal communication is massively important for keeping remote developers integrated with your local team. Almost every tip for engaging these employees is either directly or indirectly related to effective communication.
Let’s start with the most obvious: you need a good way to communicate. Yes, there’s email, but if you’re trying to fully integrate a remote employee, you should look at some other options, such as Slack and of course, Zoom, Skype, or Google Teams, that will allow your remote team to feel more connected.
Sometimes, it’s possible to forget to inform your remote developers about small updates relevant to them–out of sight, out of mind. Instead, if they have already joined your company’s messaging application or business communication solutions, they’ll be updated at the same time as the other employees.
Set Ground Rules Among Both Teams
Establish the default timezone you’ll be using. If you have multiple remote employees worldwide, keeping track of everyone’s different times can be very difficult. Instead, establish that you’ll be using the local time of the main office (e.g., Pacific Standard Time).
This will help mitigate any potential problems with deadlines, meetings, or acceptable message times. On that note, discuss when it is acceptable to message or email other employees and when it is required to reply.
If you don’t care when your remote workers actually work (as long as they meet the deadline), but you need them to be available to their team members in case anyone has questions between, for example, 1 pm-3 pm, Monday through Friday, make this clear.
If, instead, a quick response isn’t important the majority of the time, but you need them to be available 9 am-5 pm the week before you push out an application, tell them this at the beginning. If these times aren’t possible because of incredibly diverse time zones, work this out from the start.
Essentially, you just have to be clear with exactly what you need from your remote employees. If this is discussed initially, you’ll avoid any potential arguments or negative feelings between workers.
Make Your Remote Dev Team Part of Any Celebration
Do you have any traditions in your office, such as bringing in a cake for each birthday or celebrating certain work anniversaries? Or are some people in your company fanatics of any movie or celebration in particular? Don’t leave your remote workers out of this!
While, of course, it is much more simple to bring a cake into your office than order and ship one in a different state or country, other options will help your telecommuting workers feel like part of the team.
For example, you can get the office to sign a birthday card and send it to the remote employee. While this isn’t quite as delicious as a cake, it will make that distant worker feel a sense of camaraderie with their fellow employees. Or even send them a cake, why not? Or something they particularly enjoy.
They will certainly appreciate the gesture, feel like they’re more integrated with your team, and know that they aren’t left out of office traditions, even if they’re remote.
While managing remote workers has great benefits, and remote work is something most employees want, sometimes the teams’ spirits need to be lifted and strengthened. And what about a better way to get the gang together than with company meetups?
Company meetups can be oriented into work activities or fun and adventurous activities to get to know the team. This depends on your needs. But one thing is for sure when remote employees meet with each other, productivity and engagement levels increase.
We’ve all seen the stats about how remote workers are more productive, happier, less stressed, etc., but the dark side of working remotely is that it can be isolating, and employees can get burned out. Especially when working with both types of teams, onsite and fully remote, there’s a gap that is more challenging to fill virtually.
By doing company meetups, the team can get to know each other personally and have a stronger interaction with all the people they regularly talk to via a webcam.
Start Building Your Remote Dev Team Today
If you still haven’t found the talented developer you are looking for, take a minute to answer these questions:
- Are you searching for local talent instead of remote talent?
- Are you tired of dealing with freelancing websites?
- Is none of the candidates a good cultural fit for your company?
- The candidates that might have a good shot at fulfilling your technical requirements can’t speak English?
If most of the answers were yes, you need to change your recruiting approach.
At DistantJob, we’re experts and headhunting talented technical professionals. We are aware most of the best developers are busy working for companies, so we make them better offers they can’t resist – such as working from home.
We can help you to hire a talent that will not only exceed professional expectations but also will make a perfect fit for your company’s culture. Oh, and by the way, we do all of these in just two weeks.
If, however, you don’t need developers right now but are still looking for people knowledgeable of software development team management best practices, DistantJob also offers HR services to counsel you and your team on how to approach this complex topic. If you want help managing your developers so you can focus on delivering the best product possible, get in touch with us, and we’ll sort it out!