Organizing efficient work operations in a dispersed team is no easy task, especially if the shift to working remotely comes unexpectedly and catches you off guard. If you’d never worked in a remote setup but have recently been forced to start, or if you’ve already tried it and would like to upgrade your team's productivity, keep reading our guide to safe and productive remote work. It also features links to all the content on this very subject we've been delivering to our readers throughout recent years.
1. Make sure all team members have the necessary tools for remote work.
Check whether your remote team members have all the necessary tools for remote work. It's important to make sure that the tools are high quality. There’s no shortage of free goods out there, but we’d suggest that you opt for fee-based subscriptions — not only for the purposes of security but also in order to have access to higher quality too.
Paid tools have fewer distracting ads and provide a better quality of connection, thus lowering the number of interruptions you and your employees will experience.
Video quality is also higher compared to what free tools usually offer, so members of a dispersed team will feel minimal differences from communicating with their colleagues face-to-face in the office.
If you haven't developed rules and procedures for using these tools beforehand, it's the highest time to do this. Outline the responsibilities your remote developers have to take, starting from documenting their tasks to uploading reports.
We advise that you write a guideline in an email or create a document that will outline the rules of how all team members should use the tools.
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2. Find your "hideaway office."
Concentrating in the comfort of your home can be harder than you’ve ever expected. Who'd think that the constant nudge to water your plants, dust your furniture, or ruffle your dog might become major distractions from work?
To avoid getting stuck in household chores, try to find and organize a place in your home where you can concentrate and get into work mode effortlessly (if possible, stay away from kitchens and bedrooms).
No less important is a steady internet connection and a comfortable workstation in your home work zone.
"As for frequent communication, this one is obvious but easy to forget. No matter how large or small your team may be, regular communication is a key to success."
3. Track productivity regularly.
The role of management is crucial in ensuring the productivity of remote software developers. Managers not only have to make sure productivity stays on the same level after the shift to remote work, but also foster its growth.
In software development teams, these managers are usually Team Leads and PMs (or other professionals depending on the company's structure).
These experts will have to handle a higher workload than usual. With the change of work mode, they'll have to take care of additional operations' coordination and productivity control.
However, don’t think for a second that you should move to micromanagement — tracking people and pinging them every two seconds to ask whether they're still in front of the computer is not a healthy approach.
Instead, what you really should care about is whether the statuses of the tasks are renewed regularly in Jira (or your preferred issue tracking tool). Don’t hesitate to remind the more forgetful of your team members to keep track of their task statuses.
Knowing the current state of the project is always important, yet it becomes even more critical when the whole team shifts to working from home rapidly.
True, some small issues might get lost when you can’t communicate face-to-face within your team, but that won't take your business out of action if the key tasks are accurately tracked.
4. Arrange daily sync-up calls.
You might think that arranging sync-up calls daily is a bit too much, but we strongly recommend that you do it anyway. And if you already have them, maintain the tradition throughout the whole period of remote collaboration. If not, implement this practice as soon as possible.
Even if your team is well-coordinated, when the move to remote work occurs, daily sync-up calls are a must. In addition to daily voice calls, make video calls when there's a need for extra clarification.
Still, you'll have to try not to get off the point with the discussions of last night's football match, a great movie you've just watched during your work calls. You may be working in your PJs (also not advisable by the way), but times to work and times to play are still best kept apart.
Long story short, during working time, try to focus on work — after all, your colleagues’ productivity depends on how well you’re doing your part too. Remember that everyone is at home and has private matters to manage.
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"Lack of social interaction is no longer a problem if your (globally dispersed) teams are autonomous and empowered to work toward the goals of that ‘squad.’ If these goals are clear and have live metrics, the ‘squads’ can judge their own success."
5. Develop and introduce a service-level agreement (SLA).
Agree on the waiting time for a reply, for example, in Slack or Skype, all team members are expected to take no longer than half an hour to reply, and no longer than two hours (if an email is tagged #important, the reply is expected within half an hour).
If someone doesn't reply within the agreed time, you’re free to call them on their mobile phone (you can agree on alternative communication channels beforehand).
It's also important to agree on the course of action in situations when someone gets sick or can't work and needs to take a vacation. Make sure that each member of your remote team is well-informed in time.
Make a deal with your team members to be available within certain hours. For example, everyone starts work between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and is available for communication until 6 p.m.
For sure, some people feel comfortable waking up at 11 a.m., starting work at noon and finishing some time after midnight. But there will have to be compromises.
Such workers can become blockers — while everyone's working, they're resting, and when everyone's working day has already finished, they start to get on colleagues' nerves with work-related messages.
So a disciplined work schedule is necessary to ensure coordinated and fail-safe work.
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"The fact that our team members live in different countries also makes us more diverse and gives us an edge, as we have many different points of view in the mix. This is important for us because we have customers in 95 percent of countries around the globe."
6. Adapt your management strategy to the needs of the team.
The productivity of a team that works remotely will directly depend on its maturity. Senior professionals can manage their time more efficiently than juniors due to their experience in estimating task completion time.
Consequently, a team of juniors will require a more comprehensive management approach from the side of a PM or a Team Lead.
If you're managing a team of beginners, you'll have to check their issues more regularly and most likely over-communicate.
You'll also need to instruct them on any changes in team infrastructure related to the new way of working, and make sure the roles and responsibilities of each team member are clear and the contact points known.
This tactic is also relevant in teams that are currently in the formative stage.
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7. Provide regular feedback.
Providing reports and feedback is always crucial, and even more so when a rapid shift to remote work takes place.
Check how the team's progress is moving at least once a week and make sure it doesn't decrease after the move to remote collaboration.
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"The same rules you’d use for an office full of people should apply to your remote team. Communication. Accountability. Clarity of roles, responsibilities, and expectations."
1. Secure your home workstation.
Develop and implement a secure BYOD policy to avoid data breaches and loss of sensitive information.
Install a VPN or antivirus system on your personal computer if you’re going to use it for work to avoid contracting malware and counterfeit software.
Also, employees should follow the instructions of their IT department.
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2. Ensure a stable internet connection.
Before switching to remote collaboration, make sure your home internet connection is secure — using unclassified networks can harm the development of software that uses sensitive data.
Think of alternative ways to connect to the internet if your current provider fails to meet your needs.
For example, you could switch to another provider, change your subscription with the current internet provider to the best available, or find an alternative place for work (renting another apartment is an option).
Ideally, develop a plan B for each potential force majeure event before everyone switches to remote work. And remember that managers should take the initiative in the development of such plans.