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Engineering Team Forced to Work Remote? It Doesn’t Have to Slow You Down

Arpan Jhaveri
By Arpan Jhaveri
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The coronavirus outbreak is accelerating a trend: distributed engineering teams are becoming the norm rather than the exception. For businesses suddenly forced to contemplate 100% remote teamwork for the first time and on short notice, the idea can be daunting. This article shares three best practices to make a successful transition to all-distributed engineering:

• Communication

• Collaboration

• Culture

We go into more detail in these best practices in the recorded webinar, “Are You Ready for Remote Work? How Engineering Teams Can Thrive With or Without the Office,” held March 19, 2020, as the crisis unfolded. Experts from Andela and GitHub VP of Engineering Sha Ma shared from their experiences managing successful all-distributed teams. 

Communication

Communication in this context is about how your team shares information. It is important to have ground rules for how the team communicates and for how communication tools are used. For example, many teams use a combination of email, instant messaging platforms like Slack, and video conferencing tools like Zoom. Guidelines about how to use them streamline expectations. For example, you can agree that different tools are used for different types of communication, like email for is only for non-urgent messages. That way all team members understand the expectations for responding.

Additional best practices apply to specific types of meetings like standups and all-hands—more on this in the webinar.

Collaboration

Collaboration has to do with how the tools and processes you use to work together. If your team is working across time zones, for example, Spacetime is an excellent calendar tool that makes it easy to view schedule overlaps and to schedule meetings without counting on your fingers to determine the time in other zones. Shared project management tools like Trello can also help teams stay on track when used properly.  It is vital to use tools in ways that are inclusive in planning and decision-making. One big challenge remote team members face is isolation. Over-inclusion should be the norm. 

GitHub is another critical collaboration tool for developer teams and Sha Ma will share best practices for using it in the webinar!

Culture

Culture is the shared values and team strength. This should be fun. You can replicate office culture- and team-building exercises online. Like having personal one-on-one’s with teammates, even sharing lunch and happy hours over Zoom. More seriously, it is important to establish a culture of transparency and accountability. This means, among other things, ensuring everyone has the resources they need to be successful, and that team members are empowered to and have the channels to speak up when they need something. There are ways to build transparency and accountability into your teamwork.

Another best practice is to recognize and reward great work just as you would in an office setting. One of Andela’s clients sent a remote engineer in Nigeria a Domino’s pizza, a 7,000 mile thank you! We’ll share more examples from Andela and GitHub in our March 19 webinar.

Hit the Ground Running

If your engineering team is forced into an all-remote mode, it doesn’t have to slow you down. Andela has trained and deployed hundreds of all-distributed groups, and GitHub is a pioneer in distributed engineering. We have found that these best practices apply to organizations of all sizes and in all types of industries. Across the board, high-performing distributed teams practice communication, collaboration, and culture that supports and empowers employees. Watch the recorded webinar, where you can learn more about how to put these best practices to work now.

Arpan Jhaveri
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Arpan Jhaveri