Remote Engineer Team Playbook

Remote Engineer Team Playbook

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We’re living a remote work renaissance

At first, remote working is fancy. Only the industries that rely on the Internet get that privilege. Then things get changed, unavoidably due to the covid pandemic. We have no choice but to push things on the cloud to maintain the normal status.

When the main workflow happens virtually, everything else follows. The workplace. The process. The people.

Office becomes home desk setup and virtual conference room. Team meetings turn to virtual video calls and screen sharing. Teamwork shifts to collaboration tools. Process and policy get interpreted through papers and day-to-day chats.

Remote working is writing its new history.

The rise of Hybrid-Remote teams

Companies don’t become remote organizations overnight. It’s often a long journey from the early days of having everyone together in one place to becoming a fully distributed workforce – with plenty of steps in between.

Usually, businesses dip their toes in slowly with opportunistic remote hires, settling for geographical distance to acquire needed talent. Eventually, when enough remote employees are hired, companies are forced to look intentionally at how to structure this unique workforce.

Enter the Hybrid model – where remote teams and individuals work inter-connectedly with those at HQ. The hybrid style offers the best of both worlds, and the ability to maintain a central hub while also bringing on people in new markets to avoid getting bogged down in the local war for talent.

Best advice for remote teams set up

The common journey for high-growth business

HQ-centric

This is where the majority of the company works from one centralized location (or headquarters). Most businesses start this way.

Trust and open for remote

This is the next stage of evolution for many HQ-centric companies, with opportunistic hiring of individual remote workers.

Apply hybrid model

This model integrates remote workers and teams into the HQ-Centric design as a way to combat stiff competition for local talent.

Completely distributed

These companies don’t have an HQ – instead, they’re spread out geographically, with everyone working in their own location. While they used to be known as virtual businesses, this type of company has risen in prominence with examples like Automattic and Gitlab finding widescale success.

Expert advice: Not everyone should go remote

Early-stage companies may not be suited best for remote teams.

Hiring the right roles

“What roles should I hire first?” This is one of the most common questions asked us and remote advisory teams. The answer is different for everyone based on the product you’re building, the talent needed, and your organizational philosophies on remote management. But, here’s one path we’ve seen drive success:

Step 1

Start by augmenting your existing team, hiring remote engineers as needed to fill current gaps. This allows you to get your feet wet in remote operations.

Keep in mind it will add pressure to build intentionality around remote management and ensure there’s clear knowledge-sharing, workflows, and collaboration.

Step 2

As the team grows, it demands local centralization to stay organized and connected. This is a good time to start looking for an engineering manager or lead. Acting as both player and coach, this employee can both contribute and provide guidance.

When you hire a lead, that person can create cohesion and connection for your team, but be sure this new layering doesn’t mean remote teams lose face-to-face time with HQ.

Step 3

When you have multiple team members in place, consider a stand-alone ‘squad’ or ‘pod’ structure. This pod can own a product or initiative end-to-end, with a team of 6-8+ people including frontend, backend, mobile, QA, and data science capabilities. As an alternative approach, a squad could be composed of similar skill sets to capitalize on a rich supply pool, such as AI or mobile development.

No matter which approach you take, make sure when building a team that can operate independently you intentionally build connections back to team members at HQ. Let's remember, Engineer Retention is important.

Select the right market

Best countries to hire remote software developers

Before selecting the country, you will be outsourcing to, consider the following:

  • The cost of development must be sufficiently lower than hiring an in-house team or a team in your own country.
  • The IT education quality must be at a level that produces great talent in the technologies that are most required.
  • The team should be able to collaborate in English.
  • The vendor’s corporate culture must be compatible with your working style.
  • Their time zone needs to overlap your business hours to some degree.

Before you start hiring a remote development team, you should clearly understand which factors matter most to you and to what extent.

Once you decide, you can consider these five best offshore software development countries. They represent the most popular choices based on the factors we’ve discussed.

Tips on market selection

1. There’s no one size fits all model or approach

Building consensus internally around your growth priorities is half the battle – after that, the path will likely become much clearer.

2. The data is constantly changing

Markets are under massive upheaval. Be sure to reassess regularly and avoid making assumptions based on what you did at prior companies.

3. Partner with a talent mapping expert

Don’t try to take all the heavy-lifting on by yourself – get support from experts who know the markets and can help you find the best fit.

4. Compare the cost of Engineers Team in Vietnam with what you are paying in your own market

Manage remote teams

Common Challenges

To start, managers need to understand factors that can make remote work especially demanding. Otherwise, high-performing employees may experience declines in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely, especially in the absence of preparation and training.

That said, the majority of many well-intentioned organizations are made up of already actively or passively disengaged employees.

Imagine how working remotely impacts their level of engagement, performance, and connection to the mission?

Challenges inherent in remote work

  • Lack of face-to-face supervision
  • Lack of access to information
  • Social isolation
  • Enhanced issues with already existing silos

Lead remote teams

Schedule daily check-ins

This may seem like overkill, but for managers and teams new to remote working, this is key.

And where email, phone, and texts may have once sufficed, managers successful in their remote leadership endeavors are trending toward more frequent use of video conferencing to establish the face-to-face interaction that is now lacking.

Over-communicate

Beyond the simple daily check-ins, over-communicating is imperative when it comes to the team’s tasks, duties, responsibilities, and desired outcomes, which we’ll cover more in a minute. In a normal workplace environment, lack of communication can already be a challenge. But when employees are working remote – and potentially now focused on new or different tasks and goals, communication is paramount.

Establish rules of engagement

Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. For example, “We use video conferencing for daily check-in meetings, but we use Discord when something is urgent.” Also, establish expectations on the best times of day for team members to reach their manager (maybe that’s you) and the manager to reach each team member. And make sure peers are sharing information as needed.

Manage expectations

This is always an imperative but has become increasingly more important in this current environment. As previously mentioned, many organizations and teams have had to pivot (some significantly) which means the same employees may now be refocused on new tasks which impact ability and motivation…and therefore performance and outcomes. Set clear expectations and request feedback to ensure alignment. Don’t simply assume the team understands where they need to focus their energy.

Focus on outcomes, not the activity

This is widely known as a best practice for increasing engagement and empowering employees. Clearly defining the goals and desired results, then allowing employees (that have the training and resources to execute – that part is important) to develop a plan of execution enhances creativity and ownership. In a remote environment, it is even more difficult to micro-manage people anyway. Oh wait, that’s a good thing, right?!

Define the purpose of those outcomes

Here’s where we tie the first six tips together. Again, defining the WHY is always critical for emotionally connecting employees to the mission. But on a new battlefield, with new initiatives, new enemies, and vast amounts of uncertainty and complexity, ensuring everyone knows the overall purpose and their role in achieving success is the bedrock of high-performance for remote teams.

Provide resources

No great battlefield commander sends their troops into the fray without proper training and resources. Ok, maybe that’s not totally true, but you know what I mean. Many remote teams now need new laptops, better WiFi, and new technology such as headsets and webcams. This may mean shifting already strained budgets towards critical tools. Set the team up for success.

Exhibit Empathy

Especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns. Research on emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations.

Empathize with their struggles, keep in mind your Engineer Mental Health.

Mentor more than manage

The best managers mentor and coach more than “manage.” They also understand the not-so-subtle nuances and differences between the disciplines of leadership and management. And just because we are in the midst of volatility, complexity, and ambiguity, that doesn’t mean we halt any and all efforts in developing our teams – and ourselves. Sometimes that requires outside help, new initiatives, and making the time. So, get on it.

Each of the tips above falls into the category of simple but not easy. They each require time, attention, and consistency. But trust me, your team will thank you. The organization will benefit. And you’ll be more equipped with the battle gear necessary for navigating the murky waters of change.

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