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Remote working is the new normal for many engineering teams around the world. And while our survey on this topic found that working remotely brings additional challenges for 52% of engineers, it also makes 76% of them happier.

Working with distributed teams can bring a breath of fresh air and flexibility for companies and projects. However, managing these teams to keep them healthy, productive, and scalable is not always easy. 

In this guide, we share six actionable tips for leading distributed engineering teams that you can apply when setting up a new team or improving your leadership processes. 

1. Value Quality Communication

Quality communication is an essential element of any successful project and team. However, especially with distributed teams that rarely speak face-to-face, it’s crucial to keep the lines of communication as straightforward as possible while ensuring that everyone stays in the loop. 

Here’s how you can improve communication across your distributed engineering teams:

  • Develop communication guidelines. These should help teams avoid misunderstandings and false expectations when communicating in writing. For example, provide guidelines and tips for writing clear messages, taking cultural differences into account, or what to consider when writing to someone from a different time zone.
  • Help meet social needs. Real-time communication tools like Slack, Zoom, or Rocket.Chat are great for casual chats, meetings, and daily standups.
  • Simplify collaboration. Everyone should be able to see the project status and what others are working on. Project management tools like Jira or Asana help teams collaborate no matter where they are.
  • Define meeting rules. Determine how teams can ensure that the right people meet for the right purpose. Also, keep the number of meetings in check to prevent teams from not getting their work done.

2. Build a Strong Culture

Team culture is the glue that holds your developers together. And that glue needs to be especially strong for distributed development teams that don’t share an office. 

Follow these tips to improve team culture and teamwork:

  • Strengthen the sense of community. Have teams work toward a joint effort, following the same instrumental values and principles. 
  • Facilitate constructive collaboration. Set expectations so it’s clear how individuals can contribute to the overall good. This includes expectations on topics such as accountability and honesty.
  • Create time for social interactions. Distributed engineering teams can not have conventional “water cooler” conversations with all teammates. So make sure you have informal meetings and chats regularly, e.g., through shared virtual lunch breaks.
  • Make it personal. The best technology in the world can’t replace face-to-face contact with colleagues. When you hire a new developer, you could have them work at the main office for a week. That way, they’re already getting to know co-workers and experiencing the company culture firsthand. 
Practical tips for leading distributed engineering teams in this ultimate guide.
To lead distributed engineering teams, you need to stay agile, accept feedback from your devs, and keep your processes flexible.

3. Hire the Right People

A team lives and dies with its members. That’s why you need to hire developers who have the required skills, are comfortable working remotely, and fit into your team culture. 

Consider the following:

  • Hire for experience. Hire developers with remote work experience as they are already familiar with the processes and can guide less experienced teammates.
  • Use remote hiring tools. Leverage code testing platforms to assess your candidates’ skills quickly and without bias. For remote interviews, tools like CodeLive provide everything you need to ensure candidates are qualified and fit well with your growing team. 
  • Keep your teams healthy. About 80% of developers surveyed in this Haystack study said they feel burned out due to increasing workloads. So set up a plan to successfully scale teams as needed to distribute tasks better and keep developers happy and refreshed.

4. Make knowledge sharing a given

In a strong team culture, developers are happy to share their knowledge and help each other grow their skills. Here’s what you can do to help distributed development teams learn from each other:

  • Establish a knowledge-sharing culture. Teams should take sharing their knowledge as a given – there should be no advantage to hoarding information. Talk to your team about the importance of knowledge exchange and be a role model by sharing your expertise with other managers.
  • Get the right tools. Naturally, you want to collect knowledge somewhere so it doesn’t get lost. Use dedicated tools like Confluence to create wikis where employees can easily create and edit content.
  • Host events. (Virtual) company meetups with tools like Airmeet or Whova are great to let developers talk about topics they care about. These events also strengthen team culture and help people get to know each other with fun games like Two Truths and a Lie. 
  • Create space. Developers must be able to set aside sufficient time for knowledge sharing. Regularly schedule a day or a few hours for meetings and pair programming

You might also like: Five Ways to Prevent Burnout When Starting to Scale Development Teams

5. Stay Agile

Building distributed teams is not a task you can check off at the end of the day but rather a continuous process that can be exhausting. Above all, you should keep tweaking your methods and strategies to stay flexible and responsive. So let’s take a look at what to keep in mind: 

  • Keep track of measures. Monitor how processes and tools work for your teams. If something doesn’t fit, you need to take steps to improve the situation. This may mean doing things entirely differently than planned.
  • Make flexibility your mantra. Your teams will change over time, as will the projects you work on and the tools you use. So keep things as flexible as possible so teams can scale while maintaining the stability to be productive.
  • Be open. Simplify your work by asking your developers for feedback and input. They often have better insight and practical experience with your measures and can help you develop new ones.

6. Grow Distributed Teams Smartly

The magic word in scaling distributed engineering teams is flexibility. Find appropriate processes and tools for your teams, but remember that they need to be scalable, so you don’t have to start from scratch as your distributed teams grow. 

Here are some pointers to think about:

  • Work toward a common goal. Whether your team is three or 30 people, common goals will help them stay motivated and healthy. To that end, the tools and processes you use should also help keep everyone pulling together.
  • Everyone needs to be heard. All team members should have the opportunity to provide feedback and voice their opinions. The larger the distributed engineering teams, the more difficult this can be. However, a strong team culture combined with the right tools and processes makes this easier.
  • Delegate and trust. As teams grow, it becomes more difficult for you to devote time to each team member. Therefore, you must be willing to delegate responsibilities and management tasks to others who will regularly interact with the teams and share their insights with you.

Building, managing, and scaling distributed engineering teams require you to experiment with different processes and tools to find the best solution for your use case. But you also need to remain flexible enough to change things quickly as the team structure changes. 

We hope that our guide can help you lead healthy teams that are ready to tackle goals together!

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Sarah Mischinger is a freelance technical content writer for Codility. She leverages her knowledge and experience in web development & writing to convey technical content in an understandable and engaging way.

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