In the modern business world, more and more software engineering teams are transitioning to distributed work environments. In many cases, this means engineers are working from home, across different time zones and countries. While this distributed setup offers many benefits, it also presents significant management challenges. In this guide, we'll take a closer look at building and managing distributed software engineering teams, including tips for finding the right talent, onboarding new team members, fostering company culture, mastering communication, and organizing in-person meetings.
Understanding Distributed Teams: Definition and Benefits
Distributed teams are becoming increasingly popular in today's globalized world. These teams are composed of individuals who work from different locations, often using remote communication technologies to stay connected and collaborate. While traditional teams are usually located in the same office or building, distributed teams can span across different cities, countries, and even continents.
Global Talent Access: One of the main benefits of distributed teams is global talent access. By hiring team members from different parts of the world, companies can tap into a wider pool of skills and expertise. This can lead to better problem-solving, more creative solutions, and increased innovation.
Cost-Savings: Another benefit of distributed teams is cost savings. By not having to rent office space or provide equipment for each team member, companies can save a significant amount of money. Additionally, team members who work remotely often have lower salary expectations, which can further reduce costs.
Improved Work-Life Balance: Distributed teams also offer improved work-life balance. Without the need to commute to an office every day, team members can have more flexibility in their schedules and spend more time with their families. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and better mental health.
Diversity: Furthermore, distributed teams offer the benefits of cultural and linguistic diversity. When team members come from different backgrounds and speak different languages, they bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table. This can help teams be more innovative and better equipped to handle global markets.
Remotely's founders personally experienced the value of global talent when building their first company, Olapic, which they sold in 2016. Their 70+ person engineering team in Latin America was critical to the company's success. They saw the opportunity to help other startups experience these same benefits and founded Remotely.
It's important to keep in mind that not all distributed teams are the same, and it's important to understand the different types and how they can work together for maximum efficiency. Some distributed teams may have members who work from home, while others may have members who work from different company offices around the world. Some teams may be entirely virtual, with no physical office or meeting space.
Regardless of the type of distributed team, effective communication is key to success. Team members must be able to communicate clearly and efficiently, despite the distance between them. This may require the use of video conferencing, instant messaging, or other remote communication technologies.
In conclusion, distributed teams offer many benefits, including global talent access, cost savings, improved work-life balance, and cultural and linguistic diversity. However, it's important to understand the different types of distributed teams and how to effectively communicate in order to maximize efficiency and success.
Building a Successful Distributed Software Engineering Team
Building a distributed software engineering team may be challenging, but it's also a valuable investment. Once you have the right talent on board, it's important to develop strategies to help team members work together effectively. In this section, we'll cover some tips for finding talented distributed engineers and best practices for onboarding them.
Tips for Hiring Distributed Engineers: Requirements and Process
Finding and hiring the right team members is critical for any software engineering team, but it's even more important for distributed teams, where team members have to be self-driven and self-disciplined to succeed. In addition to determining a candidate's technical skills, it's important to assess their ability to work independently as well as to confirm they are a cultural fit for your organization. This is especially important for distributed teams, where team members may have less face-to-face interaction with each other.
- Clearly Define Your Remote Work Expectations: Establish clear guidelines and expectations for remote work. Define the required working hours, communication channels, and availability for meetings and collaboration. Clearly communicate these expectations to candidates during the hiring process to ensure they are comfortable and aligned with your remote work culture.
- Assess Self-Management and Remote Collaboration Skills: Distributed engineers need to excel in self-management and remote collaboration. During interviews, ask candidates about their experience working independently, how they stay organized and motivated, and how they effectively communicate and collaborate remotely. Look for individuals who can demonstrate their ability to thrive in a distributed work environment.
- Prioritize Strong Technical and Problem-Solving Skills: Technical proficiency remains a critical factor in hiring distributed engineers. Assess candidates' technical skills through coding challenges, technical interviews, and project-based assessments. Focus on their problem-solving abilities, code quality, and understanding of distributed systems or relevant technologies for your project.
- Consider Time Zone Compatibility: Time zone compatibility is crucial for distributed teams to collaborate effectively. Evaluate candidates' time zone relative to your team's primary location(s) and project requirements. Consider their flexibility to overlap working hours and their ability to communicate asynchronously when necessary.
- Incorporate Video Interviews and Pair Programming Sessions: Conduct video interviews to simulate face-to-face interactions and assess candidates' non-verbal communication skills. Additionally, consider pair programming sessions where candidates work on a coding challenge with an existing team member. This allows you to evaluate their collaboration style and technical competence in real-time.
Tips for Hiring Distributed Engineers: Finding the Right Talent
Finding the right talent can feel more difficult when you're searching outside of your own local networks. At Remotely, this is what we do. we help startups find and retain remote, senior software engineers. We use our own proprietary technology to go beyond LinkedIn profiles, as well as working through local networks we've built.
Want to go about finding talent on your own?
- Tap into Professional Networks. Attend industry conferences and meetups, and participate in online forums where software engineers gather to discuss their work. This can help you connect with engineers who have experience working remotely and may be a good fit for your team.
- Seek Recommendations and Referrals: Tap into your network or industry connections to seek recommendations and referrals for distributed engineers. People with experience working remotely can provide valuable insights and refer candidates who have proven track records. Leverage professional communities, online forums, or social media groups to expand your reach and find top talent.
- Leverage Remote-Friendly Job Boards and Platforms: Utilize specialized job boards and platforms that cater to remote work and distributed teams. These platforms often attract candidates experienced in working remotely and can help you find qualified distributed engineers more efficiently.
- Get Creative: at Remotely, we use our own proprietary technology, Gitsight, to source and evaluate candidates’ technical knowledge and capabilities. We've analyzed and stack-ranked more than 25 million developers worldwide by reviewing their publicly available code (more than 1.2 billion commits), objectively assessing expertise in specific programming languages or ecosystems. This data edge allows us to hyper-target developers that fit our customers' specific tech stack and tech challenge.
Onboarding Distributed Team Members: Best Practices
Onboarding distributed team members can be challenging, but it's an essential step in creating a successful distributed team. One of the first things you should do is establish communication channels. This can include setting up regular video calls, using collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, and creating a shared document repository where team members can access important information.
Providing training resources is also an important component of onboarding. This can include creating tutorials or documentation that explain key workflows and processes, as well as providing access to online training courses or webinars. It's also a good idea to assign a mentor or buddy to new team members. This can help them develop confidence and feel valued within the team.
Finally, it's important to document key workflows and processes. This can help ensure that team members have a clear understanding of how things work and can help prevent misunderstandings or mistakes. It's also a good idea to regularly review and update these documents to ensure they stay current.
By following these tips and best practices, you can build a successful distributed software engineering team that is capable of delivering high-quality work and collaborating effectively, no matter where team members are located.
Maintaining a Strong Distributed Team: Strategies for Success
Maintaining a strong and cohesive distributed software engineering team over time requires careful attention to culture and communication. Team leaders have to be extra proactive to make sure everyone feels engaged and valued, despite working from different places and time zones. In this section, we'll discuss the best strategies for promoting company culture and communication within a distributed team environment.
Fostering Company Culture in a Distributed Environment
Establishing a company culture that encourages collaboration, innovation and a shared sense of mission is important for keeping distributed team members motivated and engaged. Team leaders can help create such a culture by setting clear expectations, establishing team values and regularly recognizing employee achievements.
One way to promote company culture is to encourage open and honest communication. Team leaders should establish an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. This can be achieved by setting up regular one-on-one meetings, where team members can discuss their concerns and ideas with their manager in a private and supportive setting.
Another way to create a strong company culture is to encourage team members to participate in team-building activities. These can include virtual happy hours, game nights, or even online book clubs. Lean into your team's interests: from gaming and sci fi to mixology. By providing opportunities for team members to connect and get to know each other outside of work, team leaders can help foster a sense of camaraderie and teamwork.
Communication is Key: Tools and Techniques for Staying Connected
Communication is arguably the most critical element of managing distributed software engineering teams. Without regular and effective communication, distributed teams can quickly fragment and lose focus. Choosing the right communication tools and techniques is essential for success. Some options include video conferencing, wikis, chat rooms and agile management tools.
It's important to choose communication tools that are easy to use and accessible to all team members. For example, video conferencing can be a great way to connect with team members in different time zones, but it's important to make sure everyone has access to a reliable internet connection and a webcam. When you're working with Remotely we manage this for you.
Regularly scheduled team meetings can also help keep everyone on the same page. Team leaders should establish a clear agenda for each meeting and make sure everyone has a chance to participate. By setting clear expectations and providing regular updates, team leaders can help keep team members engaged and motivated.
The Importance of Face-to-Face Meetings in a Distributed Team: Offsites
While there's no denying the importance of digital communication tools in managing distributed teams, team leaders must also recognize the value of in-person communication. These meetings help build stronger relationships, foster trust and make sure everyone is aligned with the team's goals. We suggest team members should meet in person at least once a year to help build stronger relationships, enhance collaboration, and improve team morale.
When planning company offsites for distributed teams, it's important to consider a few key factors. Choose a location that is convenient and accessible to all team members, taking into account different time zones and travel logistics. Establish clear goals and objectives for the meeting to ensure it remains focused and productive. Additionally, provide ample opportunities for all team members to participate and contribute their ideas and feedback.
Company offsites play a vital role in bridging the physical gap and enhancing the effectiveness of distributed teams. By incorporating company offsites into your distributed team's schedule, you can harness the power of face-to-face interactions to strengthen relationships, foster trust, enhance collaboration, and boost team morale. This investment in personal connections will ultimately contribute to the long-term success and effectiveness of your distributed team.
Building and managing distributed software engineering teams requires special attention and strategies. By understanding the benefits of distributed teams, hiring and onboarding new team members effectively, maintaining strong communication lines, and fostering company culture, you can create a successful distributed software engineering team. Remember, it's a marathon rather than a sprint, and maintaining a strong and cohesive team over time requires patience, effort, and good leadership.