Remote work is an increasingly popular workplace trend for workers in every industry, including software developers. Stackoverflow’s 2019 survey of nearly 90,000 developers found that:
- 25 percent work remotely a few days a month
- 15 percent work remotely one or more days per week
- 12 percent are fully remote
While the majority of developers are still in-office, remote work is on a steady increase, according to the previous year’s surveys. What’s more, developers value the opportunity to work from home. When asked where they prefer to work, 33 percent said at home, while 35 percent said the option to work remotely is an important job priority.
This means, as a tech leader, you need to refine your management skills to cater to the needs of your increasingly distributed workforce of remote employees. Whether your team is partially or fully remote, use these strategies to ensure you create a cohesive team of developers in the new year.
Host Virtual Team Building Events
Remember that people are people first—it’s easy to forget that when you’re constantly connecting over email or text message. That’s why you need to intentionally schedule time to connect with your remote employees, but not just about work. Talking with them about non-work topics allows you to foster the same kind of relationships you’d create by talking with them at the coffee machine or in between meetings.
More importantly, this is critical for their success as employees who operate alone on a daily basis. Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse, explains to FastCompany: “Since they are not able to participate in the casual conversations that naturally occur in a workplace, remote employees can feel socially isolated, anxious, and out of the loop.”
Extend your 1-on-1 connecting to virtual group events to ensure your team feels like a team by giving them a chance to connect personally with one another as well. Boyce explains of his remote team, “Company culture doesn’t translate virtually, so [we] set up virtual, team-based activities to ensure remote workers are in touch and collaborating with in-office teams.”
Host monthly video happy hours or even play a digital game together. A team that knows each other, both personally and professionally, will better work together, especially when you don’t have a physical workplace. A scientific study even found that teams that have positive relationships with one another are more effective, a concept known as prosocial motivation.
Make Time for Group Learning
Your developers are “constant learners” and “self teachers,” suggests the 2020 Develop Intelligence Survey. The survey explains, “They love to learn new coding languages and tools. They habitually pick up new skills by reading, watching videos, and perusing docs.”
To bring your team together, offer group learning opportunities, which serves the dual purpose of team cohesion and learning. When choosing which learning areas to focus on, consider that Develop Intelligence found developers are motivated to learn for four main reasons:
- Completeness: Deepen overall knowledge and abilities.
- Curiosity: Understanding the latest technologies.
- Current or future needs: Preparing for upcoming projects.
- Specific need: Learning how to fix something or understand a particular challenge.
Use this data, along with team polling, to choose the best and most useful learning opportunities for your team.
Clearly Outline Roles and Project Expectations
Expectations, deadlines, and responsibilities are always a critical aspect of project success. However, with remote teams, goal-setting is even more imperative as a tool for keeping everyone on the same page and ensuring that the team in fact feels like a team—with shared goals, everyone can articulate what they’re working towards and how they play a role within the team as a whole.
To reap these benefits, you need to properly set goals and expectations. Teamwork experts at Hubgets explain: “If people don’t understand or misunderstand requirements and tasks, setting things straight on the go could mean a loss of hours, or even days, of work. That could set back the entire team and lead to conflicts and frustration.”
To counteract any potential issues, clearly outline everyone’s roles and expectations for each project and err on the side of over-communicating. Then leave room for questions and feedback. Travis Kimmel, CEO of GitPrime, puts it well: “No matter how well you think you may have communicated the specifications, developers will still have questions. Development is an iterative process.”
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Increase Connection with Better Communication
Communication is the glue that holds your remote team together. Talent experts Erica Dhawan and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic discuss the challenges and pitfalls of remote communication in their Harvard Business Review article. According to their findings, digital communication leaves room for interpretation because it excludes body language.
Delays in response—different than the normal pace of conversation—also lead to issues. Dhawan and Chamorro-Premuzic explain: “Misinterpretations create an anxiety that can become costly, affecting morale, engagement, productivity, and innovation.”
Here are the key actions these experts recommend if you want to level up communication with your remote team:
- When possible, switch meetings to video calls for more face time.
- Don’t confuse brief communication with clear communication. Staff will waste time trying to interpret concise messages.
- Don’t bombard employees with messages via different platforms, I.E., email, slack, and phone call.
- Establish communication rules like how long response times should be during the workday or no texts on the weekend.
- While verbal and visual meetings are beneficial, don’t neglect the opportunity of written communication, which could allow an introverted employee to present new ideas in a less-intimidating manner.
Level Up Your Remote Leadership for a Cohesive Team in 2020
Remote work has both advantages and challenges, especially for managers. This year, focus on honing your remote leadership skills to both engage and evolve your team of developers. With these strategies, you’ll find your team works more cohesively and effectively.
Jessica Thiefels is the founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, an organic content marketing agency. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. She also regularly contributes to Business Insider, Glassdoor, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.