Building a remote development team comes with many challenges and for most businesses has been an alien concept and one that they have had to adapt to very quickly amid the COVID pandemic.
In the development world, it’s been more commonplace, and something embraced by many organisations globally, but as with everything - there are pros and cons.
At Brand iQ, we have been working to develop a successful remote based development team for several years, which rather fortuitously put us in a position of advantage when COVID erupted, and many businesses had to find their way through it.
We still believe there is more work for us to do in creating the best remote based work environment and team we can, but the purpose of this article is to share our story until now and identify the challenges and opportunities we’ve encountered on the way.
Remote working at Brand iQ: The Journey
The first thing to focus on is our drivers for creating a remote development team.
Historically, we had operated like any other business with a physical premises and having our team on-site everyday working a standard working day with normal breaks, which worked well for us for many years, particularly when it came to working on ad-hoc projects and general development work.
Where it really changed for us was when we began to develop our own product - Brand iQ. We quickly noticed the distractions for developers, the draining commute and the general lack of work life balance that can lead to unproductivity and ultimately unhappiness.
Initially, we decided to start slowly and give the opportunity to work at home one day a week to see how it went. The first impressions were good, and the team began to adapt and explore the newfound working experience.
It quickly progressed to 2 days at home and then to 3 days. We reserved those 2 days in the office for catch-ups, training and strategy. It didn’t take us long to realise that this was the way forward and that the transition was the right thing for our business and ultimately, our staff.
This isn’t to say it’s for everyone and it’s something you must feel through and learn with your business and staff. Shortly after this, COVID struck and we had no choice to become fully remote, but luckily for us we already had the systems, process and everything in place, so it was a natural progression.
"Working from home saved me: 1.5h * 2 * 5days * 4 weeks * 11 months = 660h = 27.5 days a year commuting alone. So yes, I love it!" - Bartosz Potmalnik, Developer at Brand iQ.
Where we are now...
Since moving to a fully remote team, we have onboarded 4 completely remote developers who have never even visited our head office and so far, they are settling in and becoming invaluable members of the team.
If you’re reading this, we're probably making it seem very simple and straightforward without any issues, but that is far from the truth and a lot of time and effort is put in to making sure it’s sustainable and the team are supported and still part of a larger team and community.
One valuable thing we’ve learnt is communication is everything when it comes to working remotely.
If you don’t make sure there is regular proactive communication and the ability to communicate reactively, the team will not work as cohesively together.
"When I started, the development team was relatively small, so it was quite easy to keep in touch and see what the team was doing. I think as the team has grown, it’s become more difficult to get that visibility. I think having regular team catch ups helps mitigate this problem" - Damian Lewis, Developer at Brand iQ
You need to openly encourage cross team communication, not just about work but about other things as well. It’s no different to a conversation in the kitchen or corridor in the office, pick up the phone or dial in a remote call and have a chat about something.
You can’t, however, rely purely on the team to do this themselves. You as managers/directors need to stimulate conversation and make sure you are touching base with your team every day, provide them with an avenue to discuss work topics, issues or as I mentioned social interactions and other life conversations.
Another important aspect is getting the team to work together, pair programming on projects has been a great way to encourage problem solving as a team and again this can work remotely in exactly the same way.
In our experience, people are far more productive when working on something together, bouncing ideas around and helping each other as they go.
Another great way to engage the team is to do regular wider company updates, which again makes the team feel they are part of something larger and it removes that feeling of isolation.
It doesn’t matter if there is no “big” news to share, it’s always good to catch-up and we’ve found it good to present different topics from around the business and have different staff do this each time. It gives people new opportunities to explore other areas and gain a different perspective.
The other biggest learning curve for us has been around project management and processes.
We have worked much harder to get the processes and tools in place to make the workflow process smooth, streamlined and consistent. This helps with ensuring everyone is working the same way and removes any confusion that historically you would have spent time in the office dealing with.
So, what would we consider our key learnings so far?
- Without a doubt working remotely gives us access to a deeper pool of talent, we no longer have to worry about the length of someone’s commute or even what country they live in. This has helped us grow a greater skilled team.
- We have definitely seen a productivity increase from our developers as they can focus more on their development task and have less distraction from an office environment. I also think as they manage their work more independently it gives them the ability to work in the most effective way to suit them.
- Our team have improved their work life balance and reduced the stress and strain of the commute to work. It makes a big difference to how you feel about your day-to-day work and the commute can often be tiring and add time to the day which could be better spent.
The move to remote working has definitely been a positive one for our business and our team, but this isn’t always the case and there are still some negative side effects to be aware of.
Without the proper processes and communication lines in place, it can lead to isolation and ultimately demotivation for staff.
In our experience keeping a close and open line of communication will ensure you understand each staff member and what their needs are.
We also try to organise face-to-face meetups that can be more of a social interaction and all staff always have the opportunity for a day in the office if that is something they want or need.
Ultimately, for us and our team the benefits outweigh the negatives and we will be continuing to improve our working practices to continue to grow the team and motivate our staff as we grow as a business globally and face new challenges. firstname.lastname@example.org