Remote work might be the best thing you can do for your tech company
Choosing the members of your distributed team wisely and making them feel close even when they’re thousands of miles away can help you win half of the fight. The other half is a well-designed management plan that works both for you and your team – at least this is what worked for the team at Sematext. Here’s how you might want to go about it.
The decision to build a fully distributed team for your tech company is not an easy one but, if you do things right, you might find yourself with a great, close-knit team, even if they’re physically in different corners of the world.
Many entrepreneurs planning on building a remote business can’t help but have their doubts, especially since many giants of the IT world have tried and failed. However, does this mean that all companies who hire a remote team are doomed to the same fate? Of course not.
Choosing the members of your distributed team wisely and making them feel close even when they’re thousands of miles away can help you win half of the fight. The other half is a well-designed management plan that works both for you and your team – at least this is what worked for us at Sematext, a globally distributed organization that builds innovative Cloud and On-Premise monitoring solutions that bridge the gap between infrastructure monitoring, tracing, logs and real user monitoring.
Here’s how you might want to go about it:
First: Consider the challenges of a remote team
Before going into creating a remote team, make sure this is the right fit for your team. It’s not uncommon anymore to work remote and asynchronous and it might actually be second nature to some people. But if that’s not the case for your industry, the adjustment period might be tough.
There are also an array of challenges. Having a remote team may increase productivity, offer a wider pool of applicants as more people will want to work in a flexible environment, and save a lot of time typically wasted on commuting.
On the other hand, you may find it harder to offer a sense of community or find it difficult to manage and maintain accountability.
Communication is one of the most sensitive aspects of remote working. Having people working in different time zones and English as their second language makes understanding each other more difficult. For example, if you need your non-English speaker team to provide written content for your blog, someone who knows English very well, ideally a native speaker, might have to edit that text. Every such small detail translates into additional costs in time, effort, and finally, money.
Micromanagement: Don’t fall into the trap
When you’re used to an “in-office” management style, not seeing your team work next to you may tempt you into getting more hands-on and interfere with their autonomy and flexibility – core traits of working remotely. If you don’t give people what they came for in the first place, chances are your virtual working model won’t live long.
That’s why for companies with fully-distributed teams trust, transparency, and accountability on both sides are critical. At Sematext we do it by practicing clear, ongoing, and mindful communication. It’s especially difficult with a fully distributed team where you’re relying mostly on asynchronous means like email or Slack – you need to learn when to switch from async to sync methods like voice or video calls.
We also favor a relaxed atmosphere with flat hierarchies to one dominated by politicking and bureaucracy. In addition, we steer away from complex coordination of development and even deployment among individual team members, by forming small teams, each owning only one or two chunks of work from design to shipping it to production.
Have light & automated processes in place for your tech team
When it comes to remote tech teams, you need to make sure your engineers coordinate their work – because they are the ones leading the whole process – without overstepping their autonomy and local limitations. One way is to build light processes around tools that facilitate an asynchronous workflow and automate as many of them as you can.
Sematext engineers, for instance, often start by brainstorming on Slack, our internal collaboration tool. Once the idea takes shape, the team moves to more synchronous methods such as group (video) calls. We follow Agile principles, meeting every two weeks to do sprint planning and instead of daily standups, we write a status in a #sync Slack channel and hold 5-minute-per-person demos at our weekly status meetings.
Furthermore, the tech team automated their deployment process. There is a prioritized backlog from which each member picks tasks that they will own until deployment within the next two weeks. Developers work on separate branches, pushing them regularly to Github from where the automated CI/CD system kicks in and ensures that tests are run and that the branch is deployed to our Test environment. When finished the feature is often submitted as pull request before it’s merged to master.
SEE ALSO: Behind the scenes as a remote worker
Involve the team in all key developments
Instead of trying to control your team, give them the freedom to be more involved even in aspects that don’t necessarily involve their direct tasks, to have a better understanding of all aspects of the company.
Over the years, at Sematext we noticed that keeping product development and product marketing too isolated from each other didn’t work. Keeping the non-engineering part of the company aware of all key product developments needed for marketing has proven extremely effective. Similarly, the marketing department tries to involve engineers and get their input.
Align the team to a strong company culture
Although this aspect has proven difficult for many companies, organizational culture can exist even in an officeless, fully distributed setting by emphasizing trust and honesty through direct, but mindful communication.
It is always helpful to have a team-based culture with employee participation on all levels, not only because you’re a fully distributed team, but also because it will make everyone feel like they are a part of a small company with an informal atmosphere. This leads to stronger relationships that make people feel they’re part of a team, as opposed to feeling like a freelancer.
People choose to work remotely to have more flexibility at work. The secret to making a fully distributed team into a success story is giving your team exactly what they wanted in the first place: the freedom to do their job, while still having the sense of being a part of a tightly knit team.
However, building a cohesive team is harder when physical distance and possibly different cultural background and timezones stand in your way. In our case, what helped was respecting each member’s cultural elements, such as their national holidays, along with making a habit out of sharing important events from our daily lives. It increases job satisfaction.