14 Dec 2018

Having teammates spread across wide geographies and different time zones has its challenges, and there are strong opinions, both pro, and con. With the speed of the highly competitive software development market and the need for continuous improvement in application development, trends are pointing towards companies trying to find and retain the best talent, wherever they may be.

As a software engineer and technology consultant, I have been working with distributed teams for close to 18 years. If you or your company are already in a model of distributed agile development teams or are considering the approach, here are some of my recommendations to support success for agile remote teams.

Set Clear Expectations

Start by defining project goals and addressing how the team will communicate throughout the project. This standardization is crucial for setting a strong foundation for your team. Agile/Scrum Project Management has been proven to work well with distributed teams, despite the Agile movement having been conceived in a closed space. Agile team communication and goal reviews (backlog grooming sessions, sprint reviews) can also support a friendly atmosphere. Stick to the Agile script and follow the ceremonies.

When defining tasks, set an expected date for completion with as much detail as possible. Avoid terms open to interpretation, like “well” or “soon.” Say exactly how and when to complete tasks.

Have Open Communication

Since you can’t bump into each other or show up at someone’s desk, you need to have reliable communication channels. Slack, and Microsoft’s Teams platforms continue to increase in utility and popularity. These are great for day-to-day conversation and moving project work along its timeline.

I always suggest having an open chat room and, depending on what client you are using, having specific channels or groups for different project topics. If it doesn’t affect productivity, consider having a social channel to “hang out.” Message boards can help the team bond and promote the company culture to remote staff.

Answering any messages as soon as possible supports open communication with the team. Team members can’t physically pop-in to catch up with you, so delays in conversation can give the impression that you are distant or unreachable.

Treat Remote as Local and Local as Remote

Remote workers can feel shunned and left out for reasons pointed out in a 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review. I agree that this is a possibility as I have seen this happen, time and again. Consider, as well, that if your company’s website or social media platforms are promoting social events that remote team members are not available to attend, the feeling of exclusion will escalate. Encourage your extended team to take some social time when appropriate.

Give your remote team members the same level of access and permissions as on-site resources. Documentation and announcements should be shared digitally and not in a physical file bin or a bulletin board.

Assume that all meetings are remote and schedule in advance as much as possible on a meeting platform that works for the entire team and provides call-in numbers as a back-up for any tech issues. Doing this will present the team as a cohesive, well-organized unit which is good for morale.

Always be on time on time for meetings. Five minutes can seem like an eternity for a team to wait in silence. If you are running late, tell someone. We discussed message boards earlier in this post. Use them to communicate if you are behind schedule and expect the same courtesy from your team members.

Co-Locate

You can work efficiently from home or a remote location, but it can be a lonely activity. When the time and budget are available, meet face to face with your team to boost integration, trust, and an understanding of company culture.

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