The concept of “remote work” has changed drastically in the past years. In many scenarios, working from home has become an unavoidable or even the best possible solution rather than a strange idea or an employee’s whim. Restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as complete lockdowns, brought business owners and employers to review their work processes and adapt to new conditions.
IT businesses are no strangers to remote team management. It’s not always easy to find a good fit in your own city or even country, so hiring tech talents from around the globe is a common practice for many software development companies nowadays.
Communication is a cornerstone of effective team management, and this is especially true for remote teams. Mad Devs has extensive experience in managing distant developers, and we know how to do it successfully. In this post, we’ll provide insights on how to improve communication with a remote team and make distant workers feel highly engaged, even if they are miles away.
Communication challenges and how to face them
It’s obvious that communication gets more complicated when people do not share the same office and, what’s more, timezone. Indeed, the time difference is a major concern for companies working with remote developers. The other serious concerns include misunderstanding and lack of engagement.
Challenge # 1: Time difference
Hiring engineers from different parts of the world means they can be hours ahead or behind your time. In the worst case, your working hours can’t overlap in any way.
How to deal with it
First off, when hiring a developer, make sure you choose a responsible, self-organised person who doesn’t need constant supervision. By providing the necessary instructions and utilising effective communication channels, you can eliminate the need to have all of your team online at the same time. For example, instead of participating in stand-up meetings, remote teams can write daily stand-up reports asynchronously, providing as many details as possible.
You can make the best of the time difference by distributing tasks properly among developers and establishing a seamless workflow. For example, an engineer residing in a different time zone can complete a task in your non-working hours and get this task reviewed and commented on by the next day already.
In case you need to arrange an online meeting, you can use calendar services to pick time slots that will be acceptable to the attendees. We at Mad Devs respect our remote team’s time and never bother them with calls at inconvenient hours. We use Google Calendar to create events and schedule meetings, keeping time zone differences in mind.
Challenge #2: Misunderstanding
Well, this can happen between team members sitting side by side. However, the chances to misunderstand or to be misunderstood get higher when people are separated by many miles and may have cultural and language differences.
How to deal with it
It’s important to choose effective channels, tools, and modes of communication to convey information in a distinct and simple manner. Every task assigned to a developer should be clearly articulated to avoid misinterpretation. In their turn, developers should give straightforward feedback and directly report any problems arising in their work. Here is how Mad Devs handles remote team communication to prevent misunderstanding:
✔ We use shared communication channels for instant messaging and real-time interactions to clarify things on the fly
✔ We write brief daily stand-up reports on tasks completed yesterday, work to be done today, and problems that block the work
✔ We set up regular online meetings to give updates and exchange thoughts
✔ We arrange retrospective meetings and feedback sessions to share opinions, ideas as well as positive and negative experiences
✔ We advocate the principles of open feedback and telling it like it is. We at Mad Devs encourage developers to fearlessly speak their minds and break bad news. Both misunderstanding and miscommunication vanish once a developer starts speaking without disguise.
Challenge #3: Lack of engagement
When people are not physically present in the office, there is always a risk of missing out, be it some information, news, or events. Distant workers may feel estranged, isolated, and uninvolved, which negatively affects the work environment and, consequently, the performance of the team.
How to deal with it
It’s crucial to engage remote teams not only in the work processes but in the life of the company in general. In other words, wherever people are working from, they should be part of the family. Involving remote developers in all company’s Q&A sessions, events and activities, such as programming challenges, coding competitions, and hackathons, will help them to feel engaged. Creating a responsive, transparent, and trustworthy environment is the formula for success in remote team communication.
We set up regular sync meetings and one-to-ones to get every voice heard. The Mad Devs C-suite holds AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions, during which all team members can ask any questions either openly or anonymously and get them answered live. In addition, we carry out surveys to measure employee satisfaction and morale to improve engagement and productivity. Remote teams are always welcome guests at the Mad Devs office, so we try to bring everyone together at annual corporate events.
Remote team communication tools
There are plenty of helpful tools out there that can make remote team communication smooth, erasing the boundaries between distant coworkers. Here are the tools that we use firsthand and thus can confirm their effectiveness. In fact, we apply most of the tools not only for internal communication but also for our interactions with customers, which makes things clear and transparent for everyone involved in a project.
This is a feature-rich messaging platform that enables users to communicate and cooperate effectively with each other. In Slack, you can create multiple feeds and channels, exchanging messages either in a group or one-to-one chat. Slack is loved by many development companies, and Mad Devs is no exception. By integrating it with other software tools, we use Slack as a workspace for fast and effective collaboration.
Google’s video conferencing tool allows for arranging meetings with dozens of participants. This is an easy-to-use service where you can share screens, exchange files and messages, and store sessions in Google Drive. We use Google Meet for sync-ups, Q&A sessions, retrospectives, and meetings with customers.
Miro is a collaborative platform that can be used by remote and distributed teams as an online whiteboard. It offers a variety of tools for meetings, project planning and management, brainstorming, product wireframing, and anything else you can think of. Among other things, Mad Devs loves to use Miro for retrospective meetings by adding colourful digital sticky notes to the boards and sharing positive and negative experiences, ideas, and acknowledgements.
Drive is one of the most popular cloud-based document management systems designed to create, share, store, and access files from anywhere once you have an internet connection. In Drive, documents are backed up automatically and stored in secure data centres. Mad Devs makes the most of Google Drive for remote team management and communication. For example, team members can share their work and get real-time edits and feedback.
Jira is a great solution for remote agile teams that facilitates project management, issue tracking, and communication. This product developed by Atlassian is used by tens of thousands of IT companies that can customise it to their own needs. Jira is a handy tool for Mad Devs, too. Among other purposes, we utilise it as a time tracking tool. Our remote developers’ time tracking reports serve as an essential mode of communication that can uncover real roadblocks and bottlenecks in their workflows. The integration capability allows for sending Jira notifications directly to our Slack channel.
This is another useful solution created by Atlassian, which aids companies in sharing knowledge and data with their remote teams. Confluence is a corporate wiki that can accumulate and store a wealth of information on a company’s projects, workflows, culture—the list goes on and on. Confluence is a source of knowledge for Mad Devs as well. It helps us to onboard remote developers and keep them involved in the company’s life. Also, it optimises communication—comprehensive information removes the need for frequent calls and meetings.
Strategies to improve communication in a remote team
If you try your best but still feel a lack of communication on your remote team, it’s the right time to apply strategies that can improve the situation.
✔ Diversify communication channels (use different types of communication, including texting in group and private chats, audio calls, and video conferencing)
✔ Use remote communication tools (try various solutions and see what works best for you)
✔ Keep in touch daily (use reports and stand-ups to get daily updates and feedback from remote teams)
✔ Let every voice be heard (conduct regular employee opinion surveys, set up one-to-one meetings, and let everyone speak out at group sessions)
✔ Respect personal time and space (take account of time differences, allow for flexible work schedules, choose overlapping hours for meetings)
✔ Remember to praise (motivate remote teams and boost their morale through words of encouragement and praise)
✔ Share knowledge (in addition to sharing the company’s news and information, facilitate knowledge sharing among development teams, for example, between senior developers and juniors)
✔ Foster transparency (build trust through honesty and apply the “tell it like it is” approach)
✔ Promote an open feedback culture (get and give feedback openly to grow and let grow)
✔ Nurture team spirit (organise team building activities and corporate events; support team learning, workouts, and wellness checks)
On top of the above strategies, it is worth paying special attention to asynchronous communication as the most effective and convenient way to communicate with remote or distributed teams. Now, let’s figure out what is so great about it.
Why switch to asynchronous communication?
While synchronous communication means interacting in real-time, asynchronous communication assumes that people exchange information sticking to their own schedules and without the need to be available at the same time.
It’s no surprise that synchronous communication becomes an issue when you work with remote teams that are based across different time zones. In this case, switching to asynchronous communication can be the most sensible solution, and here are the reasons why.
- Asynchronous communication promotes time management and performance
First of all, asynchronous communication minimises distractions. While communicating asynchronously, you don’t have to respond straight away, distracting yourself from the task you’re currently working on. Instead, you can prioritise tasks, take your time, and give an answer in order of priority. This enables effective time management and, consequently, increases productivity.
- Asynchronous communication allows for a thoughtful approach
Real-time communication requires immediate responses, causing much stress that comes with distraction. When interacting out of sync, you have enough time to think things over and focus on the information you are asked for. As a result, you can provide a well-thought-out answer, covering every possible detail.
- Asynchronous communication is mindful of time difference
In asynchronous communication, it may take hours to get a reply or feedback, so it’s a perfect choice for working with people in different time zones. You just keep your remote teams’ time zones in mind and do not disturb them during their non-working hours. To make the best use of your time, you can ask some questions well in advance or switch from one task to another while waiting for the answer.
- Asynchronous communication contributes to transparency and visibility
Since asynchronous communication takes place in the form of written text or recorded audio and video, it ensures that everything is fixed. In other words, you have all the information documented, and you can always refer to it when needed. You can also share the data granting access to the entire team or the people concerned.
Tips to use asynchronous communication smartly
Asynchronous communication can be a helping hand for companies that work with remote or distributed development teams, however, this is not a cure-all solution. There are cases when real-time interaction is a must for a project, so the more options you use the more collaborative and effective team you can build. As a big family with a large staff of remote developers, Mad Devs has long adopted the principles of asynchronous communication. Here are our hands-on tips on how to use it smartly.
✔ As the question, so the answer: The “hey, what’s up” questions are time-eaters that make no sense. Conversely, well-articulated questions can save plenty of time. So be explicit, avoid ambiguity, and say what exactly you need, how it should be done, by what time, and so on. Adding relevant links or attaching files will also help.
✔ Reduce self-distraction: The risk of getting distracted is much higher for remote teams, especially the ones that work from homes. The idea is to increase focus and concentration by getting rid of possible triggers. Turning off or muting notifications on all of your devices is one of the proven methods.
✔ Stay tuned: Being asynchronous doesn’t mean falling out of sync completely. It’s still important to stay in the loop and be available for urgent communication so that the rest of the team could get in touch with you when absolutely necessary. It’s good practice to check relevant communication channels several times a day or forewarn about your unavailability and its time limits.
Don’t forget to facilitate
Whatever type and mode of communication you choose, develop a habit of facilitating.
Facilitation is the art of organising group communication, and a facilitator is a person whose task is to make communication efficient. That is to say, a facilitator should arrange a meeting or a discussion in such a way that every participant could express an opinion, understand the common goals, and achieve them by the end of the meeting. If you still have doubts about whether or not to facilitate, we’ll give you more pros. So, a facilitator can:
- keep the group focused on the task at hand and thus help to find the solution
- create a positive climate and friendly environment
- elicit the group’s full potential by engaging everyone in the discussion
- boost teamwork by helping people to connect with each other
Misconceiving the role of a facilitator will bring no results, and you’ll get another meeting that leads nowhere. So to facilitate a training, meeting, conference, presentation (underline as appropriate) in the right manner, you can stick to the following rules:
✔ Dig to the roots: Investigate the process, subject, or problem by asking questions, and getting feedback from everyone in the group.
✔ Be open and honest: Every attendee is important and must not be ignored, so encourage everybody to participate and speak their minds.
✔ All participants are equal: Create an atmosphere of equality and give attention to all attendees irrespective of their position in the company.
✔ Everyone can be a thinker: Regardless of their background knowledge, skill level, and experience, everyone is capable of thinking and generating ideas, so your task is to release each person’s potential for the common good.
✔ Know the goal: Knowing the goal of the meeting or event is key to successful facilitation, so know your goal and make sure everyone knows it as well.
✔ Avoid going around in circles: Don’t let the meeting get stuck and propel the discussion by asking relevant questions.
✔ Record the meeting: It’s essential to fix the results of the meeting, so make sure to create artefacts, such as notes or summaries (Miro’s whiteboard can come to your help).
✔ Draw conclusions: Summarising is instrumental in ending the meeting, so give the bottom line, articulate the lessons learned, plan the next steps or encourage the group to do it together.
Working with remote teams has become second nature to IT companies, and undoubtedly, it has either gains or pains. Streamlined communication is a major factor that can lay the ground for productive distant collaboration.
There are several important rules that can help to effectively interact with remote teams and meet the challenges caused by this type of cooperation, such as time difference, lack of understanding and engagement. Among these rules are:
- promoting openness and transparency
- using diverse communication channels and tools
- arranging regular meetings
- respecting personal time
- sharing knowledge
- organising team building activities
Building bonds is one of the top priorities for Mad Devs. We constantly seek new ways of improving remote team communication and successfully onboarding new members in our big family. A family of happy developers that make customers happy by delivering great results.