By Anton Dzyatkovskii, CEO & co-founder of Platinum Software Development Company
While the world is fighting the battle with the coronavirus, enterprises are urgently shifting to adopt remote working models so as to minimize business disruption. Businesses with virtual teams, by default, continue to work as efficiently as before. Here’s why such companies choose to be remote-first and how to orchestrate a high-performing, distributed team.
Recently, Twitter, JPMorgan, Apple and Google urged its employees to test remote working. When the situation around coronavirus gets better, they will likely return to the usual working model. But for our company, a virtual team lays at its core and is the key to our success.
When I and my co-founder started Platinum Software Development Company 5 years ago, we initially took up the remote concept – it was too difficult to find professionals with blockchain development experience in a single location. Now we have more than 100 employees dispersed across every continent, except Antarctica. Many colleagues have not ever met each other in person. We speak different languages, live in different time zones and have so far, organized only one all-company offline summit.
Despite everything, we delivers first-class software to its clients, onboards new members to its global team and out-races many ‘office-based’ competitors.
The benefits of remote work are not just theory – they’re real for both employees and the businesses, especially in software engineering. Our company grows by 20 percent annually and even now, whilst giant corporations are experiencing a collapse, our customer base has increased by 25 percent since January.
Remote work has contributed much to our overall great performance. Our clients are based in different regions from North America to Asia. The virtual team gives us the capability to effectively distribute workloads across various time-zones while our back-end engineers in Asia have late hours, their colleagues continue to work in Europe and North America. As a result, we get a streamlined delivery process and can release projects much faster.
Owl Labs research says that 71 percent of remote workers are happy in their jobs, while companies that allow remote work have 25 percent less employee turnover than companies that do not allow it. With an opportunity to work from anywhere in the world and enjoy more flexible hours, remote work builds efficient, productive and healthy teams.
However, if you manage international distributed employees, you should be prepared for challenges related to project management, communications, employee experience and performance. It’s essential to understand that a virtual team in IT is not a random group of freelance developers, test engineers, project managers and UI/UX designers who work on the same product – it’s a company that shares its mission, values, goals and its corporate culture.
Here are 10 tips that shed the light on the challenges you may come across and can help to create a remote team that cultivates a strong ‘company feeling’. These nuggets of advice are based on my experience building the software development company – from zero to over 100 talents worldwide, working together as one.
- Brush up on your talent search and HR skills
The HR Department, Employee Experience Department – whatever you call it – must be the #1 focus for going remote. Searching for candidates around the world is not that difficult, hiring the right ones however, self-motivated and driven to work independently, is a harder task to achieve.
HR’s must organize onboarding, employees’ workflow and clearly defined requirements and expectations. Moreover, the HR Department is responsible for setting productivity monitoring and KPI’s. So make sure your HR’s arrange a rigorous and thorough hiring process and know the aspects of managing virtual teams – otherwise, you might end up with high employee turnover or poor performance.
- More communication? Say it again!
When your employees don’t sit in the same building, collaboration may require extra effort. As management, you need to establish non-stop, transparent and most importantly, meaningful communication. Thankfully, there are hundreds of tools on the market to support remote workers: video-conferencing software such as Skype for Business or Zoom; collaboration applications like Slack, MS Teams, or Trello; instant messengers and chats. All of these are available on desktops and mobiles, empowering employees to stay connected and ready to work on-the-go.
Still, it’s not enough to have a means of communication – teams must work efficiently, establishing when and how to use particular tools. We organize a daily video sync-up for the whole company and have smaller stand-ups, where departments share updates, progress status and voice out problems, for example, a DevOps call or a Front-End Dev call… etc. Also, we actively use messengers, chats and collaboration apps to manage tasks.
There is a very fine line between under-communication and over-communication at a remote company and a balance must be struck. Do not overload your teams with dozens of apps and calls – stick to the most effective ones and always turn on your video during calls!
- Manage, don’t micro-manage
What’s a manager’s major concern with remote work? That employees don’t actually work but sleep or watch movies instead. Of course, you should manage team-mates’ productivity and track their performance but freedom and flexibility are what defines remote work – you can’t take those away. Checking on your employees every 15 minutes is a path to nowhere; better to empower teams to be responsible for their own working hours and results. At our company, trust is everything. Employees at all levels from junior engineer to me, CEO and co-founder, are accountable for their results.
- Meet halfway and be ready to relocate
Your business analysts in the US wake up when the core development team in Asia goes to sleep? You clients won’t buy into such a delivery format, since lagging communication over distance affects time-to-market, cost and quality.
Thoroughly consider time differences when building project teams. Make sure there is an overlapping period when everyone is working and organize virtual meetings with clients, important sync-ups and planning sessions during these times. If there is no such opportunity, you can either hire new employees in the key time-zones or relocate your existing ones to more suitable locations.
- Publicly recognize achievements
Working remotely, employees may lack engagement, an understanding of “their place” and their value in the company as well as their loyalty to it. So, take the time to make your people feel appreciated and acknowledge their work.
Bonuses, salary rises and other tangible benefits are not the only options. When it comes to gratitude, even words of recognition can go a long way. Share clients’ feedback to the services your teams deliver and express public appreciation during video calls or in chats. A QA engineer will be glad to know that thanks to his efforts, there are no bugs in the application. Similarly, the digital marketer will be pleased to learn that his texts attracted new leads to the client’s website. A genuine “thank you” is always good practice in remote teams.
- Seek opportunities to meet face-to-face
Video conferences and communication in chats are necessary but they can’t beat meeting colleagues in person. To create the connection and boost the feeling of belonging, organize team buildings in real life, no matter how far away your employees live.
Be ready to allocate enough budget to arrange offline meetings and no-work activities for colleagues living in the same city or country and organize at least one huge gathering for the whole company.
Last year, we had an offline celebration and team-building event – almost every colleague came to meet their team-mates in person. We discussed plans, shared visions for the future, held brainstorms and most importantly, got to know each other better.
The more international your team is, the more money you’ll spend on face-to-face meetings. This is life – but such expenses will pay off in the long-run, for business and for employee experience.
- Mind the cultural differences and embrace diversity
In developing a global team, sooner or later, you’ll come across cultural obstacles. If managers don’t address their team in a correct and timely manner, matters can escalate and lead to misunderstandings or conflicts that cause divisions.
To avoid such situations, HR’s and unit heads should set up an open, transparent working environment, promote a mindset that embraces diverse landscapes and be respectful of national holidays and traditions. We also practice cross-cultural workshops where employees can explore not just our differences but our similarities as well.
- Nurture a true team spirit
Any company has a corporate culture, no matter what working model its employees practice. To succeed as a business, the team should align with core values, a mission and a vision that contributes to its success. Be sure to incorporate the company culture into hiring practices, onboarding, standards, daily communication and overall business processes.
We live in a world where remote work is quickly becoming the ‘by default’ option. Still, it is impossible to take a random group of people from all around the globe, give them a common project to deliver and expect immediate success. Virtual teams offer a lot of flexibility and freedom but also require a lot of responsibility. Attention and effort is needed to optimize your remote team; to bring together the right people, to set up the right processes and grow a remote culture, day by day. Hopefully, these tips and best practices will help you to overcome the most common pitfalls and build a high-performing, engaged and happy global team.