More and more software companies are embracing remote development. Startups that embrace a distributed culture from the beginning have a real advantage because changing established practices can be very difficult for companies with co-located teams. However, there is hope for co-located teams to begin to make the transition. Here are some tips that will help to make the change a smooth one.
- Have everyone work remotely some of the time. It is absolutely critical for everyone, especially leadership to experience what its like working remotely. This will help to quickly identify pain points, and the leaders will be much more motivated to solve any problems if they are experiencing the pain themselves.
- Put together a task force or an individual to identify the tools and best practices that will be implemented. There are a plethora of tools available and the number is growing constantly. It is important to make the best decision possible and then thoroughly implement the tools that have been selected.
- Have everyone use the same tools whether co-located or remote. Jason Zimdars of Basecamp has a great quote. “There are no advantages for people who come into the office, no disadvantages to staying home to get your work done.” It is very important that your remote team members feel just as important and valued as team members in the office. Additionally, they need to stay in the loop on key company information, so it is critical to use tools that will allow them to stay informed.
- Establish clear communication protocol. It is very critical to set clear guidelines and expectations for communicating with remote team members. It can be frustrating if you can’t get in touch with someone in an urgent situation, so plan for that accordingly. We also recommend requiring basic communication etiquette such as saying “hello” and “goodbye” whenever someone signs in and out for the day.
- Invest in good equipment. Good headsets, mics and webcams are critical. It can be annoying and distracting if its difficult to hear the other person or if there is a lot of background noise. Find some good equipment and make sure that everyone on the team is well equipped.
- Schedule retreats to bring everyone together. Running a distributed company can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. However, you simply can’t put a price tag on having at least some face-to-face interaction. Make sure to bring the entire team together at least one time per year.
- Schedule calls with remote team members. Whoever is managing the remote team members needs to schedule regular calls (ideally video) with them to stay in touch. Make sure to take some time for personal discussion as well and pay close attention to how they are doing. When a team member is working remotely you can miss some of the subtle clues that something is wrong that would easily be noticeable in the office.
- Create a virtual water cooler. One of the highly touted benefits of working in an office is the water cooler discussions. These serendipitous discussions are very valuable, but the great news is that with the right tools and a little encouragement, you can foster a culture of sharing that will be tremendously valuable. For instance, if you use Slack, set up a slack channel specifically for this purpose.
- Schedule a company-wide hangout when a new person joins. Even if your company is growing rapidly, it is important to make sure that everyone on the team gets to know the new team member. This also makes the new team member feel welcomed. Even if it is just a quick introduction at the beginning of a company-wide staff meeting, it is important to warmly welcome each new employee.
- Set up persistent links to an online meeting. Google Hangouts and GoToMeeting are some great tools for online meetings, but it can be annoying to have to schedule a meeting every time you want to hold a meeting. You can set up persistent links to each of them that will allow you to quickly start your meeting each time.
I hope you find these tips to be helpful. By implementing them you can avoid some of the painful mistakes other companies have made when seeking to add their first remote team member. Please share any additional tips that you think would be valuable for companies that are considering a distributed development model.