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Engineering leadership | Blog Post

10 Best Practices For Remote Team Management – Part 2

Wes Mitchell-Lewis

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This is Part 2 of our 3-Part Series – Continue your learning and check out Part 1 & Part 3.

This is your one-stop-shop for insights covering everything from interviews, onboarding, async communication, learning & development and so much more. We’ve compiled the top tips, tactics, best practices, and real-world examples of remote team management.

Let’s recap –

Part 1

  1. Run The Best Remote Interview
  2. Start Things Off With Outstanding Onboarding
  3. Set Clear Goals & Expectations

Part 2

  1. Nail Your Workflows
  2. Empower Your People
  3. Balanced Communication

4 – Nail Your Workflows

Without the ease of in-person conversations, it’s common for “information flow” to become a major challenge for your team. The last thing you want is to endlessly ping your team for updates.

Luckily, putting strong workflows in place – for project updates, code review, and other tasks – will not only build your trust in them but will likely increase the productivity of the team overall.

Master Remote Code Review

Code review can become a bottleneck if it takes too long to complete, but doing reviews across

time zones doesn’t have to slow you down.

  • Fewer, More Detailed Comments. It slows down code review considerably when every comment requires a response. In a remote work environment where you can’t walk through the code in real time, one quick comment can quickly turn into a long thread. Take the time to provide thoughtful input and ask detailed questions. In return, code owners should provide substantial background on the pull request.
  • Leverage Other Communication Channels. It could make sense to hold async conversations about code in a tool like GitHub if that’s where your developer team does most of its work.
  • Schedule Sync Time. Introducing new stakeholders can draw out the review process by several days as code owners wait for new reviewers to come online and leave feedback. Consider scheduling a sync meeting two or three times a week to batch pull requests and run through all the feedback.

Make Agile Development Work For Remote Teams

Agile is all about quick execution, quick releases, and short feedback loops. Sprints should be planned in advance and have a daily or weekly sync scheduled for progress check-ins. Develop habits around short cycles, with mini-deliverables and daily goals.

Your remote team might have to work on communication hurdles to keep things running smoothly, but by building clear steps toward milestones and using project management tools like Jira and Confluence, agile processes can keep things moving forward. Don’t forget the power of reflecting on how your team works after the project is released – tools like Retrium and Scatterspoke offer great platforms for retrospectives.

Document Everything

It’s impossible to over-communicate with a remote team. One good habit is documenting within code and generating the documentation at build time. Consider also having one documentation source for company information.

Gitlab, for example, has a comprehensive remote handbook that documents everything from which individuals to contact for software access to when recurring meetings take place. Dozens of merge requests are approved by employees and managers throughout the day.

Keep Process Simple

Remote teams can default to the established routine because changing it requires additional communication. Check-in to improve your team’s approach and ensure that it’s working, versus just carrying out “business as usual.”

5 – Empower Your People

Managers are on the front lines, driving productivity and job satisfaction among teams. This means that the success of remote teams may depend largely on the guidance they are getting from their direct supervisors. Are you putting serious thought and energy into empowering your people? If not, it’s time to take action. Here’s how.

Build a Consistent 1:1 Structure

The 1:1 meeting can vary between casual conversation, status updates, or rigid check-ins on progress. They should be more than just a status update because it’s an opportunity for the remote employee to be heard: Have them add agenda items to the meeting and check in on them personally.

Institute 360-Feedback Reviews

Build a continuous feedback loop from your direct reports, and peers into your regular (annual, semi-annual, quarterly) review process. Feedback from remote employees on their managers can be awkward, but the “safe space” can also reveal glaring issues you weren’t aware of.

Use Your Travel Budget

It’s likely you have money set aside to visit your remote teams on a regular basis. Use it because it’s important to foster a tight relationship with your on-the-ground team.

Make Yourself Available

As a team lead, you do not have daily interaction with each developer. But, it can be highly motivating for everyone to feel you know them and understand their work. Run monthly office hours where your team can pop in to chat or try scheduling a “virtual coffee” with a few developers where you can get to know them personally.

Don’t Ignore The Red Flags

No one wants to deal with management issues, but the longer you let things go, the worse it may be. Look for red flags, such as workers not hitting goals, and disconnects between HQ and remote teams. By getting involved early, you may be able to quickly remedy the situation.

Hire Remote Developer Leads

Hire a lead in each market where you have a team – they can be ‘on-site’ for both direction and camaraderie. For example, given their large team in Kitchener-Waterloo, Bluescape Software has managers to help guide the team directly from the ground.

6 – Balanced Communication

The average user spends 90 minutes of active time on Slack per day. That’s a lot of time spent in communication versus productive work.

Async communication seeks to solve the time we spend in this distracted conversation. For example, if you send a message without expecting an immediate reply, it allows people to respond when it works for them, and it’s a critical component of remote team communication.

While concurrent collaboration is ideal when it can happen, different time zones or working schedules may make this problematic. So learning how to do async right is a top skill for remote leaders.

Build Intentionality Around Where And When For Async

Different channels may serve specific needs, and as a rule, it’s best to keep async communication in transparent channels that anyone can see, versus private messages. Tools such as Tettra offer a knowledge base where people can track important information without having to ask repetitive questions (and potentially wait for a response).

You could also utilize an internal wiki or blog that can help centralize larger organizational conversations. Zapier, for example, hosts an internal blog appropriately titled Async to gather feedback and share context to keep projects moving.

How To Do Async Right

Imagine how long it might take to accomplish something if you have to send a message and wait 8 hours to get a reply. Sounds painful, right? That’s why there’s a skill to async, and it starts with knowing how to frame an update or question so that it doesn’t require a lot of back-and-forths to be productive.

Here are a few critical elements of an async question or update:

  • Context: Messages should include a recap of the project or situation, along with any useful background on the situation. If sharing a status update, flag any blockers to moving forward.
  • Deadline: Set a timeline for when you need to hear back. Project management tool ToDoist goes so far as to require 24-hour response time for all employees.
  • Action needed: Be clear about what you are asking for, whether it’s direction, feedback on a specific area, or approval.

Create Ownership

Be sure there are decision-makers identified, whether that’s a developer or team lead so that projects won’t get stuck in limbo over ownership.

Balance Async With Human Connection

Leaning too much toward written communication can isolate remote teams – it’s important there’s also the opportunity for face time with teammates.

Build in 1:1s, team offsites, and team meetings to continue driving connection. Take time in meetings for personal banter. When updates are shared asynchronously, consider using tools that put the person in the center – such as the video platform Loom.

It’s in the balance between async and sync where you’ll find productive, happy employees, it just might take time to fine-tune your channels and see what works best for your team.

This concludes Part 2 of our three-part series. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 3!

We hope you were able to learn today! Keep exploring the rest of Terminal’s content offerings and if you are interested in learning more about how we can help you accomplish your growth goals, please

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