Webreakstuff blog

Tips on working with remote teams

Collaboration

Working with people you don’t see everyday isn’t an easy task. You may be a great manager but still be left wondering about whether work is being done or deadlines are going to be met. Around here we are on the other end of the spectrum more often than not, so based on our experience here are a few pieces of advice on working with remote people and teams:

  • Be ready to trust: Whether you want to or not, communication is never just as good as it is when you share office space – meaning trust comes into play, heavy. Hiring for remote work is never the same as hiring for the cubicle next door. Make sure you have, or are ready to build, trust in the other party and his/her/their abilities or you’ll never be comfortable.
  • Always tell, never hide: More than managing people, you’ll be managing their expectations and a relationship. It may sound corny, but it’s like love: unspoken things will eat away at you and the other party (whether that’s an individual or a whole team). If you don’t want anyone to be disappointed or bitter, be straightforward at all times.
  • Help, don’t bother: Communication is key, but over-communication is a sin. If you trust whoever you’re working with guide them as to what you need but don’t be on top of them every 30 minutes – or they won’t have time to deal with you and the work. Micromanaging may work, but only until someone gets pissed.
  • Be flexible: Working remotely requires adaptation to how the other party is comfortable doing what they do. Setting comfortable values for when to communicate is of utmost importance, because you may end up being either be too lax or too hands-on on keeping control.

Have you been working with people remotely? Any tips to share with other readers? Make sure you leave a comment.

13 comments
  1. Esteban says: February 22, 20075:16 am

    I would add one point to the list: Set Deadlines.
    At my work (www.ludo.com.uy) we are often working with people remotely, and one thing I had to learn was to set (enforce, I would say) short-term deadlines all along the project duration. This nethod, despite the fact it may sound a bit bulky, it’s actually the other way around. By setting some dates along your project-calendar, you allow yourself to be more disciplined about the time you invest in each stage and how much this will take; besides, it helps you clarify your mind every time you look at the project and wonder ´where are we?´.

    These deadlines must be then passed to the remote team in order to stablish a time-based framework; we say: ‘Ok, so for this first stage we are going up to this day, and we will need that material that next week’. That remote team will be very pleased because not only their work should tidy up, but also they will love the idea of never see a bloody email of yours asking: ‘Do you have that already!? Do you have it!? Is it ready!? Can I see it!? Can you show me sthg!!!?…’.

    One thing I love about this blog; articles are short and concise. I always sustained you don’t really need a lot of words to get your point across. Keep it up!

    Cheers,
    Esteban

  2. Fred Oliveira says: February 22, 20075:23 am

    Very well put, Esteban – and a great tip indeed. A very big client of ours right now is great at setting deadlines but assumes that communicating every X hours (usually two) is a best practice. I don’t want to name names, but they’re pretty high in the food chain and still suffer from chronic micromanagement.

    And thanks for the comment about the blog itself – I aim to please.

  3. Jonathan Boutelle says: February 22, 20075:33 am

    Use a web-based project management tool that facilitates asynchronous communication. It doesn’t have to be basecamp (which we use), but it should let you set milestones, manage todo lists, and move discussions out of the private space of email and into the public space of the project.

  4. Roland says: February 22, 20078:10 am

    I believe it is not relevant if the project management tool is web based or not. But what is really important is that ALL team members use this tool and use it in the same way. And this is not only relevant for the project management tool but for all used tools.

  5. ed says: February 27, 20079:35 am

    Trust is a tricky one. I recently used oDesk to hire a developer who after a week had internet connection problems. I trusted him that he was on the case and would get it sorted. Unfortunately he was buying time because you can’t request a refund for the previous week after a certain point. The developer delayed my decision with his reassurances – and after it was too late I never heard from him again. I lost my money!

    So set deadlines, if they don’t deliver cut them loose. (and I mean daily / every other day deadlines). Once you have a good relationship you can cut them some slack, but for the first 2 weeks be vigilante.

    I mostly agree with esteban, but I think the question ‘Can you show me sthg!!!?’ should be asked daily. Even better, use some versioning software like subversion and request commits every hour or two.

    Even better, use trac with subversion so you can actually see what they have done.

  6. Clark says: March 1, 20071:47 am

    Distributed development, global outsourcing, remote workers, whatever you may call it, my entire company is based on talented folks from every corner of the globe. We’ve gotten to the point where the project management system we use is really one of the most critical component. I’ve had a taste of the good stuff (GoPlan) and I’m waiting with baited breath for it to drop. Or at least for my allowed number of projects to go up. *cough* *hint*

  7. [...] Fred from webreakstuff gives advice on successfully working with remote teams: [...]

  8. Ari says: June 6, 20077:48 pm

    Sorry :(

  9. TrteeuiTriguna Rao says: January 16, 20085:40 am

    In my experience, I feel being proactive about communicating the expectations and matching up with the teams’ speed matters a lot to make a success out of this model. Also, you must shed the habit of making assumptions. It will only impede the progress of the project. Do not be reluctant to express your valid opinions. You never know, it can really bring out some good things.

    Thjanks,
    Triguna

  10. Triguna Rao says: March 1, 20083:48 pm

    In my experience, I feel being proactive about communicating the expectations and matching up with the teams’ speed matters a lot to make a success out of this model. Also, you must shed the habit of making assumptions. It will only impede the progress of the project. Do not be reluctant to express your valid opinions. You never know, it can really bring out some good things.

    Thanks,
    Triguna

  11. amanda says: March 13, 20084:41 am

    Ok, I found a collaborative workspace I really like using. http://www.assembla.com

    Social networking model for software developers.

  12. [...] Tips on working with remote teams [...]

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