Remote development has evolved greatly in the past few years.
It comes with a great promise: solve your local talent shortage by the ability to hire worldwide.
Not only you may get a better price than you would at home (due to cost of living differences), you’re opening yourself to talented people that may even be a better fit than anyone in your city.
But like any great thing – it can introduce a few obstacles, especially when just starting out.
Based on years of remote development experience, these the 8 most common pitfalls of remote work and how to overcome them, to make your team as remote-ready as it gets:
- Communication breakdowns between developers:
Communication is a critical component of any software engineering project, and remote teams face unique challenges when it comes to staying connected. For example, remote team members may miss important updates or discussions due to time zone differences, or they may struggle to establish the same level of trust and rapport as they would in an office setting. To overcome potential miscommunications, encourage team members to over-communicate and set clear expectations.How do you encourage over-communication? What works for me, is whenever there’s any bit of a doubt if the other side understood something, I ask them to summarize their understanding of what needs to be done. This often leads me to realize they didn’t catch it right. That gives me the option to correct them, and thus prevents them from spending time they should not have spent in the first place.
- Difficulty in maintaining a healthy work-life balance: Working remotely can blur the lines between work and personal time, making it difficult for remote developers to maintain a healthy work-life balance. For example, remote software engineers may find themselves working longer hours or neglecting their personal responsibilities due to the flexibility of remote work. To overcome this issue, teams can encourage team members to set clear boundaries between work and personal time, and to take regular breaks throughout the day.After all, that’s also one of the highest benefits of remote work – it allows the employee flexibility in setting their day in a way that is most productive.As engineering managers we must make sure they don’t overwork, and the way to do this is by being in constant touch with the developer, asking them how they are and try to spot if they become increasingly tired as time goes by. If you feel this, perhaps you need to ask more about how the developer structures their day and see if you can help improve it.
- Lack of physical collaboration and spontaneous idea generation: Remote teams may miss out on the opportunities for physical collaboration and spontaneous idea generation that are present in an office setting. For example, a remote software engineering team may struggle to brainstorm and come up with creative solutions to problems, or they may miss out on opportunities to bond with their coworkers. To overcome this issue, teams can use collaborative tools and virtual whiteboards, and encourage team members to share their ideas and collaborate on projects.One example for a collaborative tool is gather.town, which is a virtual office.
Each person logs in to the site and gets a virtual character. They can then walk into a desk and sit, but also can walk next to someone else’s desk and just talk. What happens is that a video conferencing opens and they can spontaneously bounce off ideas, just as they would in a real office.As for the virtual whiteboard, we like miro.com, which makes it very simple to create notes, architectures and draw really anything you like. Just as you would on a real white board. Of course, this one is shared between team members in real time.
- Difficulty in building and maintaining team cohesion and morale: Remote teams face unique challenges when it comes to building and maintaining team cohesion and morale, particularly when team members are spread out across different locations. For example, a remote team may struggle to build a sense of camaraderie and work together effectively, or they may miss out on opportunities to bond with their coworkers.To overcome this issue, teams can hold regular team-building activities, virtual social events, and provide opportunities for team members to get to know one another.Tools like Gather can help here too: they provide a “Gaming room”, where people can unwind as they play games together. Not only are they taking a break with their colleagues, they’re bonding at the same time. that strengthens their relationships and positively affects the way to collaborate together.
- Security risks associated with remote access to company systems and data: Remote teams may face security risks due to the remote access to company systems and data, especially when team members are using personal devices or networks to do their work. For example, a remote developer may inadvertently expose company data to cyber threats, or they may not be aware of best practices for securing sensitive information. To overcome this issue, teams can implement strict security protocols. For example, putting any sensitive resource behind a VPC and providing remote employees with secure access to it when needed using a VPN. Of course, the company should also provide regular security training for employees. Of course, regardless of remote or not – you should always use industry best practices for protecting your information.
- Difficulty in onboarding for new team members: Onboarding and training new team members can be challenging for remote software engineering teams, particularly when it comes to hands-on training and collaboration with experienced team members. For example, a remote software engineer may struggle to get up to speed with new technologies or processes without the benefit of in-person guidance. To overcome this issue, teams can provide remote employees with access to online training resources and hold virtual training sessions.When it comes to training resources, I’d firstly make sure any repository has its own README file that explains what that repository is about, and how to get up and running locally. That README should be always updated when adding features that are not self explanatory.Plus, we like to create a shared onboarding(and off-boarding) document with clear steps on how to set up a new developer machine. That document should include anything that needs to be installed whenever someone sets up a new computer.This way onboarding a new employee becomes as easy as sharing a doc with them.
- Struggle to maintain motivation and productivity: Working remotely can lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of motivation for some team members. For example, a remote software engineer may struggle to stay focused and motivated when working from home, or they may feel disconnected from the team and their work. To overcome this issue, teams can hold regular check-ins with remote employees, provide opportunities for virtual collaboration, and encourage team members to stay connected with each other and with the work they are doing.In our experience, what motivates developers the most is their level of understanding of the business value they’re creating(which also supports them in only writing relevant lines of code that create this value), and also their professional advancement.If someone feels they’re no longer learning new things – they won’t stay with you for long. As engineering managers we must make sure we know what a developer’s professional goal is and, to the extent possible – give them tasks that support that goal.
- Difficulty in keeping everyone in sync:
This one is mostly true for places that work in hybrid mode – some people remotely, and others in office, but can also be relevant for fully remote teams.
Let’s assume we just had a meeting with everyone, where some of the participants were at the office and others remotely.
When the meeting ends the conversation would likely continue at the elevator on the way back from the meeting room to the office.
When this happens, and some crucial things are said there, the remote folks are missing out.
If we don’t fill the remote folks in, they’re missing out on important info that may be crucial for them.Plus, if they find out about it later on, they’d feel left out.The solution is to always make sure crucial info is passed to every relevant employee.
In this case it would mean to send them an instant message with the relevant info or fill them in on a call.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article.