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Remote work has gained popularity in the past few years thanks to saving employers’ costs for staff maintenance and giving them access to a wider talent pool.

Employees also benefit from working remotely, as they can work from any location, save time from commuting, and be more flexible. This year’s pandemic gave a boost to this growing trend turning it into a new reality. With the perks, there are also many challenges particularly for engineering teams such as insufficient communication, lack of understanding of the processes, and unexpected connectivity issues that leverage team dependencies and slow down development. Nevertheless, we have to embrace the new reality, as it’s not going away in the nearest future, and adjust to it. So what do virtual teams need to survive and deliver the best time-cost value? 

Strategic planning sessions

Everything starts with strategic planning, so maintaining a remote team is no exception. It’s vital to have a roadmap to see how you are progressing toward your business goals. For large engineering projects, it’s vital to see the progress and make sure that small releases and sprint goals are reflecting the set objectives and discover the gaps that need to be closed. It’s a common trap for teams working on-site but it becomes even more dangerous for a remote team as it’s easy to stay out of the loop missing the initial point where things go wrong. So, make sure to dedicate a 2-3 hour slot at the end of the previous period to carefully plan the next one. Make use of different strategic planning techniques and collaboration tools so that all your team members can contribute to your plan and develop innovative solutions through collective brainstorming. 

Here’s an example of remote group discussion with voting:

Secured working environment

Security is one of the pain points for remote teams. The risks related to data exposure starts with the connection stage where the vulnerabilities of remote desktop protocol come out, and the traffic hijacking in case employees are using public hotspots. Another set of threats come from insufficient protection of personal devices, weak passwords, and malware. Not to mention social engineering, phishing along with DDoS attacks that can bring your working network down. 

Luckily, all of these can be mitigated to keep your data and employees protected. Start with raising awareness by introducing cybersecurity training so that your staff knows about proper personal and corporate data protection. This is particularly valid for IT companies that tend not to restrict access to sensitive data that can lead to its exposure. Another step is making internal resources accessible only from a corporate VPN with additional protection layers like 2FA or one-time passwords. One more direction in this stream is conducting a software checkup to ensure that they are up-to-date. Audits related to restricting file permissions based on personnel roles and strict password policies will also reduce the risks of data exposure.

We don’t get into the details here about regular backups and anti-malware tools as it’s a must when running any business. 

Workflows and clear documentation

It may be easier to clarify some missing points or come up with an ad-hoc solution during an unexpected event, but things get complicated working remotely. That’s why special attention needs to be put into workflows. 

It’s especially valid when working with large software development projects since the proper documenting of Business requirements and using the RACI matrix to outline the stakeholders’ roles can eliminate situations when a core functionality is not properly developed or missing some specs.

 The same goes for the project documentation, especially if both the team and the customer do not cooperate every day. This will help to avoid delays in communication and speed up project delivery. 

People engagement and development

While work from home frees time for commuting and feels more relaxing at first sight, a lot of people report the absence of work-life balance and feeling loneliness after a workday that affects their productivity and engagement. Under such circumstances, professional development also suffers. To ensure the high morale of a remote working employee, make sure to organize regular 1:1 with direct managers to assess skills and performance, organize regular code reviews, share feedback, and outline career opportunities. 

For Software dev teams, keeping a Personal Development Plan for engineers is critical. It allows to track the progress of an individual, see what skills need to be added to the current stack. These may be adopting a new JS framework or start using a new technology. Offering mentorship for junior specialists significantly improves their speed of learning.  This helps ensure that people are growing as professionals within the company, otherwise seeing no career prospects, there’s a risk of employee attrition.

Running engagement surveys and ensuring openness of people for team communication help to reveal the personal motivation of the employee and see whether working conditions are corresponding to expectations. Even having a listening ear to your work problems means a lot. 

Remote social connections also matter, so don’t forget about informal communication like virtual coffee breaks, team-building events, and delivering small presents like pizzas, sweets, and corporate merch to celebrate events like birthdays, closing important projects, or national holidays. It helps people to see that you care. 

Wrap-up

Tips above may serve as a blueprint for transitioning to remote team management in an engineering environment and beyond, as well as giving some hints on where to start.

No matter if we like it or not, remote work is becoming a trend, and after COVID-19, self-isolation requirements tested a lot of businesses. It’s not likely that office life will remain the same after the pandemic is over. More than 70% of companies report that they will shift to partially remote work. Now is the time to embrace the changes and be ready to overcome any remote team challenges.  

Erika Rykun is a content creator and manager who believes in the power of networking. In her free time, she likes to read books and play with her cat Cola.

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