#Agile

Do remote teams work? Tips and tricks to make it happen!

Rohit Waghachaure
September 9, 2020

“Someone once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”― Warren Buffett

When hiring for a tech role besides sound technical knowledge, a few key skills businesses need are:

  1. Good communication skills.
  2. The ability to elucidate trust amongst the team and the stakeholders by taking ownership of work.

How does one still expect these skills to be showcased when part of the team is working remotely? Here are a few questions you may think of:

  1. How well will both the in-office and remote teams work?
  2. How will different timezones affect the velocity of work?
  3. What about security and compliance? Am I introducing a mole in the basement?

Okay, before you start googling these symptoms which most likely will pronounce this as cancer, let’s take a look at some tried and tested remedies.

1. Communication is key

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Managing a remote productive team begins with a strategy for communication.

  1. Agree on and set an appropriate number of weekly sync ups.
  2. Set daily deliverables and chalk out a release calendar.
  3. Stay alert! Silence can get louder and you’ll find people wandering aimlessly (metaphorically speaking).

At the workplace, teammates are approachable and constantly interact with each other, have coffee breaks and eat lunch together. Since remote people miss this, give remote teams as much access to you and in-office teammates as possible.

Slack channels are a great means to bridge this gap. Not only do they ensure that requests or queries are answered promptly but also pave the road to online casual office banter.

Use a Slack channel to bring in all the project related conversations at a single place. You may also create channels like #designer-news for designers to share new ideas and collaborate, or an #announcements channel to broadcast any updates throughout your organization.

What if your teams work in different timezones? Try following these three practices:

  1. Adopt one timezone. This would mean everyone in the team will use that timezone as a reference to set meetings and deliverables.
  2. Use Outlook or Google calendar to schedule meetings. This will automatically adjust the meeting time for each participant as per their respective timezone.
  3. Learning your coworkers’ schedule can go a long way in good remote workplace etiquette. Whether you’re a manager or coworker, knowing people’s schedules will help you know when they’re available for meetings, general chit-chat, or assistance. Slack statuses are also a good way of doing this, one can configure working hours in Slack and set appropriate statuses to indicate availability. You may also use Google or Outlook calendar to check the availability or schedule of a remote team or member.

Here is a pro tip: Keep communication verbose. Even if no one is listening on the other side write down exactly what you’ve worked on and what you’re blocked on in the public slack channel.

2. Create a single source of truth

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As commonly believed “what you hear is an opinion, what you see is a fact”. A simple way to ensure all the stakeholders are on the same page is to have extensive documentation. This acts as a single source of truth for the team while guiding you in planning and aids in resolving queries.

Create a folder on Google drive or you may use Confluence to create a project that contains all the project related documents and share access to all stakeholders on the project. Some documents which help are meeting notes with stakeholders, user personas, design documents, scope of work, timelines, project roadmap, sprint plans, and sprint retrospectives. For a remote team, this plays a crucial role when a query becomes a blocker and you aren’t around the corner.

Changes are inevitable hence document all stakeholder communication, new project requirements, and keep the scope of work updated. For a remote team, this will help understand new requirements better and cope with the changes.

3. Set clear expectations

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Make sure you set the expectations right. An easy way of doing this is to conduct a sprint planning and backlog grooming session to get your team on the same page.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind while sprint planning:

  1. Create tickets that include detailed acceptance criteria. These should be written verbosely such that you cover all user and business scenarios.
  2. Schedule a huddle over a video-conference to brief the teams on all the deliverables/tickets that need to be completed in the sprint. Sandbox this meeting to a max of 45 mins.
  3. Explain the complexity of each task and let the teams come up with an estimate while you play the moderator.
  4. When the smoke clears, assign the ticket to a member with an estimate that was decided by the team.
  5. Use tools like PokerBot by Slack for estimation. Trigger PokerBot from any channel to ask your teams for their estimate. Members will get a private message to give their votes. Once all votes are collected, the points are revealed.

This exercise will help you set expectations right and also accommodate change requests better (this is inevitable!).

4. Trust your remote team

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Sometimes businesses are not willing to embrace a remote workforce because there’s uncertainty about whether or not the work will get completed. To combat this belief, set up work guidelines, such as emails must be responded to within a certain timeframe, use appropriate channels for urgent matters, and no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock.

Keep the remote teams inclusive and communication open, try using reminders by SlackBot to alert remote teams on events and to-dos. Share updates on a daily basis and appreciate efforts using Slack channels. Building a solid communication and trust among the in-office and remote team can go a long way in creating a cohesive and productive team.

It is as easy as we make it sound. At the end of the day, the majority of the play is in trusting your teams and in building a sense of accountability towards work. So, if you’ve been managing a remote team or are exploring to onboard one, consider implementing these strategies to make them a valuable asset for your business.

Wednesday has been working as a remote team for the past 7 years. We’re a group of makers who have built digital products on a global scale.

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