Working with remote employees: basic principles and recommendations

Three years ago, telework replaced the office life we were all used to. But businesses still have many unresolved questions when it comes to effectively working with geographically distributed teams and helping newly hired staff adapt away from the office. What tasks need to be addressed to create a successful remote work culture and to streamline workflow respectively?

Preliminary stage. Objectives

  • Decide if remote work is a format suitable for your company. For the majority of software development projects, telework is acceptable and developers are often located in different cities. However, this format would not suit projects focused on infrastructure and information security.
  • Put together a team of like-minded people. It is important that team members have similar soft skills, and the team as led by an experienced project head or team leader who knows the principles of collaborating in a remote team.
  • Build a process of daily communication for remote teams. Here, technology such as kanban boards will be useful– it is important to record agreements and control each stage of the process.
  • Find an interesting product to develop. The work will be productive if it befits the qualifications of the employees.
  • Pick tools for joint work. For instance, in our company, we use Orion, an ERP platform that we developed. It is designed to manage processes at an IT company and provides the necessary infrastructure for teamwork such as resource planning, sprint planning, project management and a centralized document and source code database.

Organizing workspace

Employees always make the final decision about their workspace. Comfort is different for everyone and very personal: some need a total and utter silence, while some are not bothered by background noise.

The company’s objective is to promptly provide its employees with the necessary, up-to-date equipment such as computers, phones, etc. People focus better at work when there are no technical problems. I suggest introducing the ServiceDesk system so that the users can submit a ticket to the help desk and check its status.

Supporting motivation and involvement

Good leaders motivate the team through a personal example of self-discipline and involvement in the work as well as embracing the technology and subject area; they are well aware of what their employees require and whether they need support. This becomes easy if you communicate with your colleagues and request their feedback on a regular basis.

It is equally important to observe relations within the team, prevent conflicts, and handle disputes and disagreements.

Tools to boost team spirit include:

  • regular trainings,
  • masterclasses,
  • briefings,
  • daily meetings.

A team’s overall competitive spirit is boosted by knowing that upon its completion the current project will be followed by other, equally engaging tasks.

Mutual trust is another essential aspect of team efficiency; this is achieved by all team members having common goals and motivation. Understandably, a final interview with a candidate for any project normally includes meeting colleagues, who make the decision on whether this person shares a similar outlook and views. A candidate who has hard skills but fails to fit the spirit of the team may not be accepted.

You should also remember to foster initiative. Our company encourages employees to take initiative. Certain investment projects that eventually became our company’s products initially came up as our colleagues’ initiatives. For instance, an employee may have an idea on ways to improve an inconvenient process; the proposal is considered during a joint discussion – if approved, a team is then appointed to work on a new project.

This is exactly how we developed our MyFellow Bot, a Telegram chatbot for remote employees to contact ServiceDesk. Another product is the Vacation Planning Portal, which factors in both the preferred schedule and labor law requirements when planning.

Evaluating performance

Error-free source code is the major indicator of a remote team’s work efficiency. Another criterion is the speed of task backlog execution. Effectiveness is assessed through various tools, which should be selected based on the specifics of the company’s internal operations. The iFellow team uses Orion, a platform we have mentioned above; it demonstrates both the development speed and staffing level.

Working in scrum teams requires a competent product owner and scrum master. The code review is mandatory; this is another point of control.

In any case, it is always about evaluating the final outcome – and the way the task implementation plan is executed during the process helps us assess employees’ work efficiency.

Control vs. trust

Many companies put way too much effort into controlling their out-of-office workers. In my opinion, you need tact and trust.

The remote work format involves regular meetings on the status of tasks, with teams reporting on the work done and agreeing on the next iterations. Normally, this is enough for control as team members are mutually responsible for completing tasks on schedule – which is a good motivation in itself.

Building communication

Those working remotely are usually deprived of real-life communication with one another, which makes it difficult to keep the team spirit. Yet, you can handle it through properly organized internal processes.

I would recommend drawing up a ‘welcome book’ for newcomers to learn about the company’s values, projects, executives, rules of corporate culture and communication, and technical aspects. A mechanism is also required to engage remote workers in the company’s activities; to this end, we post e-digests with news and contests several times a year. This may seem insignificant – yet, it helps new employees understand that they have joined a large friendly team of co-workers who are happy to see them and communicate with them.

I recommend the following tools for better communication between employees:

  • Corporate internet resources, such as blogs on internal web portals, a YouTube channel, and e-digests.
  • Messengers. Our company has several Telegram channels and an internal corporate messenger. The internal channel is used by employees to speak to each other on various topics, discuss news and games, send memes, and listen to music. This helps them get to know each other, learn something new about one another apart from working interests, and become closer. We use the external channel to post IT news, entertaining events in the cities we are present in, and our experts’ publications in the media.
  • Video conferencing. This tool allows for instant communication with the team and action coordination.
  • Social media. They allow employees to stay in touch with each other and feel part of the team. A social media account is a must-have for an advanced company.
  • Corporate online events. For instance, we hold online lectures on topics of interest, with colleagues and guest speakers share their expertise on various issues. We have organized lectures on winemaking, semiconductor shortage crisis, the history and proper techniques of running which is a very popular activity among many employees, and others.

These tools allow for building a more cohesive team as well as to jointly address and discuss important work issues, topics of interest, good jokes, and so on.

To sum up the tips for effectively managing distributed teams:

  • Properly conduct the preparatory work, including the efforts to help employees with organizing their workplace.
  • Keep your teams motivated and engaged, and encourage initiative and development. Share common goals with employees to understand the importance of their personal contribution to the cause.
  • Avoid excessive control and micromanagement.
  • Maintain communication, an essential thing when working with remote teams and employees. You should always stay in touch and be willing to help.

By Tamara Bykovskaya, Head of Project Resources at iFellow

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