< advice / Tech leaders’ top tips to manage remote teams effectively

Tech leaders’ top tips to manage remote teams effectively

Author: Nicola Lumb | Date published: 31/07/20

Tech leaders’ top tips to manage remote teams effectively

With many employees now working from home (WFH), for some, this is a completely new way of working. Managing a remote team, particularly in these circumstances, requires team leaders to adjust. So, to help you, we asked tech leaders (some of which already manage employees WFH) for their top tips for effectively managing remote teams.

Working from home is hard… there’s no way around it. With everything that’s happening in the world, more and more employers have shifted to remote working quickly – some for the first time.

It seems like there is a flurry of new WFH content online and while everyone seems to be an expert, there is no definitive right answer to successfully manage a remote team. We’ve spoken to technical leaders in our network and asked them to give their tips and advice on how to manage remote teams effectively. Here’s what they recommend:

Flexibility and time to adapt

“People have different home situations, especially with schools being shut, potentially vulnerable members of the household or partners that are key-workers. In these circumstances the usual rules about how much notice people must give for time off goes out the window. We’re also giving individuals in the team some time to find a balance at home, it sometimes involves difficult conversations with their partners, and a balance of home and family responsibilities.”

Elwyn Malethan – Director of Platform Development

Work life balance

“Encourage a decent work life balance. Delineation between work life and home life can be very hard when working remotely. The need to check emails and messages outside of general working hours is bad enough when we’re all in the office. If your home is your office, then it can very quickly start to feel like you are always at work. You don’t have a train to catch, traffic to contend with, so why not just do an extra few minutes at the end of the day?! Fine, but when it’s the third day straight that you’re wondering why it’s dark outside already, you may be losing the balance.

“A good recommendation is to encourage “leaving the house” to go to work. This doesn’t need to be physically, but showering, getting dressed and getting to work a few minutes early sure beats rolling out of bed in your pants to just about make the 10am stand-up. Your team will thank you too.”

Joe Mathews – Technical Leader

Rely on the right tools

“As a manager, your job is to keep your teams connected. I’ve found it easier to manage 100% remote teams than when just some of them are WFH, and there are a few simple ways to keep everyone engaged. Lack of communication leads to poorly organised projects from start to finish; it’s all about good tooling! Slack, Zoom and virtual whiteboards are a great way to keep everyone engaged and to make sure your remote teams keep high levels of communication and collaboration.”

Andrew Lammiman – Agile Delivery Manager

Good news is a tonic

“These are worrying times. Most companies will be adversely affected by the current crisis. We’re honest and transparent about how that is affecting our KPIs and revenue. But we’ve also asked the sales team to broadcast their wins to the whole company, as they happen. The stream of positivity from them is a good tonic for the worry that many must feel at times.”

Elwyn Malethan – Director of Platform Development

Organisation/Planning

“Ensure the team continues to uphold the agile process. So, regular daily video stand ups, adherence to keeping tickets fresh and updated, and adherence to clearing down work in sprint. On this note, I’m flexible about how people get this work done in sprint (i.e. I don’t care if they want to walk the dog at 10am) just as long as it gets done.”

Andrew Jones – Development Team Lead

Unencumbered communication

“We started a Discord server with an open channel (no need to start a conf. call or explicitly call someone to talk to them). This means if someone wants to “talk to the room” they can at the press of a button. We have other named channels on there for virtual private collaboration spaces. It’s not a replacement for being together, but it does mean that conversation are more natural and we can keep some of the camaraderie of the shared space.”

Elwyn Malethan – Director of Platform Development

Interruptions

“Interruptions are expected in the office. From random office outbursts to colleagues walking over to ask questions, they are a fact of life. When remote there are no real visual clues as to availability for interruption. Encourage things like setting slack to ‘do not disturb’ to give team members the space they need, when they need it, but ensure that team members “come up for air” and make themselves available to the team at regular intervals.”

Joe Mathews – Technical Leader

Connect the team’s goals with the company’s

“We regularly work from home and have done over the past few years; now, the world is shifting quickly and it’s easy for staff to become disconnected. I take a personal interest in my team’s learning and life goals, then, in our meetings I’ll take a moment to connect their interests to the goals of my company – be it more responsibility, new tech or new project work, I’ve found engagement and performance stay much higher that way.”

Director of Engineering – Insurance focused technology company

Effective communication

“Communication is key regardless of whether you are working on-site or remote. It just may need more encouragement when working remotely as a team. Decide, as a team, how you are going to work. Working asynchronously allows the greatest flexibility but requires the most individual effort. Everyone needs to know exactly what they are expected to be working on at any given time, and what is expected to be achieved before everyone meets next.

“Working synchronously, keeping the same core hours as onsite, may appear to work well initially, but requires a lot more structure. What time must everyone start, finish, take lunch etc. Especially in the current circumstances whereby many people may not be home alone, how do you deal with disruption to the day? If you think you’re fine working synchronously but end up partly asynchronous then expect to lose productivity without planning.”

Joe Mathews – Technical Leader

Motivation

“Keeping people motivated is important because we’re in isolation, so I tend to ensure stand-ups and meetings aren’t too tunnel vision on the business problem. Essentially, do the work but also have a bit of a chat around things to keep it more light-hearted. I also regularly touch base with the team through the day on video call to keep the impetus going.”

Andrew Jones – Development Team Lead

Meetings

“Meetings are as important if not more so when remote working but may require more thought and structure. Lack of meeting discipline may become more obvious. If attendees are losing focus from the meeting, then do they really need to be there? If so, then why are they not focused?

“Remember your team is still made up of various different personalities. Some team members may not like being on camera, they may not speak up in meetings, they may talk over everybody. Being remote won’t have changed this. Set the rules for video conferencing early on. Be on time. Mute if you’re not actively talking. Get a decent camera angle. Don’t pick your nose. Make sure the software works *before* the meeting starts.

“When everyone is remote, meetings start slowly and end abruptly. Attendees join as they individually connect, but generally leave as the meeting is ended. No longer will the “post-meeting meeting” happen as everyone walks back out the door and to their desk. This is a good thing, just make sure everyone is clear on what was just discussed.

“As with any meeting, someone should be nominated to take notes on what is discussed and what actions come out of a meeting. These should be circulated after the meeting to ensure everyone left on the same page. Try taking it in turns capturing minutes. Large meetings do not work well over video conference. Keep meetings small and focused.”

Joe Mathews – Technical Leader

Trust your team

“Sometimes companies are not willing to embrace a remote workforce because there’s an uncertainty about whether the work will get completed at the same level as if they were in the office. Remote work, by its nature, lends itself to goal-oriented not activity-oriented management, and to combat this belief I’ve set work-from-home guidelines with my team, so as a manager we’re all on the same page and focus less on how much time employees are spending on tasks and more on their deliverables.”

Delivery Manager – Software House

Stand-ups

“As ever, stand-ups are an opportunity for the team to report and update on progress being made towards communicated goals. Ideally these should not be updates to management, but between team members. Keep them on track so they don’t unnecessarily waste time, but maybe try encouraging lingering for a few minutes at the end for general chat.”

Joe Mathews – Technical Leader

Development doesn’t change much when working remotely

“With a bit of luck your engineering processes are robust enough to easily handle the remote aspect of work. Product features and technical architectures need to be defined, discussed, and agreed upon as ever, and there should now be plenty of space for individual contributors to get their head down and get on with what they do best.

“If you don’t have a robust process in place, then now may be when that becomes obvious. Don’t panic but acknowledge and improve. If you are introducing a process, start simple, then iterate and build on what works. Change doesn’t usually happen overnight, but you do need an end goal to ensure it is achieved effectively.”

Joe Mathews – Technical Leader

Being the manager of a distributed team certainly comes with its set of challenges, however, while it may seem like you need all the tools and processes established already, the big thing to remember is that there is no one right way to manage remote teams, everyone struggles and you need to do what’s best for you and your team.

If you’d like to chat further about remote working, the market at the moment, or just generally about plans for the future then please get in touch.

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