5 Tips to Align Your Remote Engineering Teamsby@alexharris

5 Tips to Align Your Remote Engineering Teams

by Alex HarrisJune 20th, 2022
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Over 60% of developers surveyed in Terminal’s [State of Remote Engineering Report 2022] already working fully remote. With only 4% working full time on-site, more and more companies are moving forward with fully remote work models. Check out our tips below to help boost your WH performance, with some hints from top companies working with remote developers. One of the main drivers for productivity is shared trust. A good worker never blames their tools, but a remote developer probably has a good case to do so.

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With over 60% of developers surveyed in Terminal’s State of Remote Engineering Report 2022 already working fully remote, and with only 4% working full time-on-site, it’s easy to see why more and more companies are moving forward with fully remote work models.

New to working fully remote as a developer? Check out our tips below to help boost your WFH performance, with some hints from top companies working with remote developers.

  1. Resist micromanagement

A lot of managers might have the instinct to double down on micro-management when it comes to remote teams, especially if moving to a remote model from one that was previously office-based. But you only have to look at a few case studies from the world’s biggest remote companies to see that one of the main drivers of productivity is shared trust.

Take GitLab as an example, a giant in the developer world, and a company who have worked fully remote from the start. Chief executive Sid Sijbrandij emphasizes the importance of allowing remote workers to complete tasks in the way that suits them, shifting the value onto the finished result rather than the journey there. “We measure the results people achieve,” he says, “And don’t measure how long you work to achieve them.” In fact, constantly expecting your development team to check in with progress reports and updates can be counterproductive and demoralizing; just let them get on with it!

  1. Find the perfect software fit

A good worker never blames their tools, but a remote developer probably has a good case to do so. If you are expecting your remote team to deliver work reliably, efficiently, and sustainably then you need to provide them with the correct tools to do so, some of which should be tailor-made for remote teams; Zapier, for instance, has a host of functions to automate workflows for remote workers.

There’s an almost overwhelming variety of options when it comes to choosing the correct combination of software to use for your unique team, and there’s no one-size-fits-all option. Trello or Jira? Slack or Discord? And of course the age-old question: GitLab or GitHub?  Employ a degree of trial and error, and encourage some feedback from the team actually using the software, and you’ll have found the perfect fit in no time (before you change your mind with the next update), easing the burden of remote work in a myriad of ways.

  1. Document, document, and document!

However long you take to decide on the above tools and software, and however strong your communication processes are, at the end of the day you’re still not sitting next to each other. Keeping clear, consistent, and up-to-date documentation and embedding this directly into your development process can make a world of difference by creating a culture of shared knowledge, and taking the strain off of those communication channels by reducing unnecessary queries.

Mattermost baked documentation into the onboarding process for new staff; making a change to the handbook is a prerequisite for any new starter’s second month, ensuring the onus is on the team to own their own knowledge and contribute to the shared information. With tools like Confluence making it easier to include collaborative documentation in a team’s workflow, there’s plenty of scopes to make thorough reporting just another step in the cycle.

And for what it’s worth, the DORA State of Devops report found that a focus on documentation can play a vital part in achieving Elite team status.

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

  1. Culture is for life, not just for Christmas

Creating and maintaining a team culture can feel like herding cats if you’re new to remote working, but once you have a consistent calendar made up of both social events and daily non-work-related drop-ins, you’ll quickly see the positive effect that makes it worth building up.

In their 2021 Remote Work Report, GitLab found 33% of remote workers enjoying virtual tea breaks along with 27% clinking their glasses (through the screen) during online happy hours. These small, everyday interactions can go far in building a team culture, which can translate into a stronger collaboration between developers. Buffer found that reducing social events like Zoom hangouts and speakers directly affected employee engagement, highlighting that culture should be a priority for remote teams as much as in-person – you might just have to try a little harder to build it.

The good news is that remote socials open up the floodgates for more niche events that people don’t have to feel obligated to join, meaning almost anything can be an excuse for a meet! Why not take a leaf out of Zapier’s book, which organizes knitting meets, video game groups, and even special online events for team members’ kids to meet each other!

  1. Challenges = Opportunities

You’ve built the culture, you’ve got the software, and the documentation is doing its job: it’s all coming up roses! Until you realize you’re going to have to wait eight hours for a reply from Suzanne in Florida to find out how to get access to that all-important prod environment.

Yes, there are some obstacles that even the best remote teams can’t avoid and time is a good example. Working asynchronously as a remote team across different time zones brings with it another layer of challenges when compared to a more local remote team, but rather than give in to the frustration of delayed responses, it’s possible to instead seize an opportunity to strengthen your team.

Having to wait for the other side of the world to wake up before you get an answer does wonders for improving the communication between remote team members, as every interaction becomes suddenly more valuable. Questions should lose any ambiguity and instead make clear and direct requests for specific information, negating any chance of misunderstanding and future clarifications, and answers are sure to cover all the bases. As Jared Brown, co-founder of Hubstaff points out, asynchronous remote working “initially looks like a disadvantage, but it quickly turns into a superpower”.

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