Author: Maksym Holovko
This article is a helpful guide on how to effectively manage remote teams for all those who work with distributed, remote teams. The article covers the topics of what the remote-first approach is, what the advantages and disadvantages are of working with such teams; what strategies and tools Astound Commerce uses to manage distributed teams.
Remote-first means working remotely is the default. There could be remote employees and those who work from the office, and both are 100% equal. The company provides employees with all infrastructure and environment/administrative support.
At Astound Commerce we have been working with distributed teams for over a decade. Our delivery offices are in Ukraine, Colombia, Slovakia, India, Bulgaria and Turkey. That means engineers assigned to the project can be from any of these locations, and teams are built of people from different countries, speaking different languages.
Working with and within distributed teams isn`t easy, and as of last year, many companies have faced this matter.
Let’s look at some pros and cons of working in distributed teams:
A detailed description of all processes is essential for the remote-first team. It gives each team member a clear understanding of what the company and a team lead expect from them, where to find the answers to certain questions, and how to handle issues if they occur.
I just want to point it out and give a quick recommendation—try to standardize the tools you use, minimize as much as you can, and make a standard Jira ticket-flow for all the projects in the company. It is more convenient for team members and makes them more productive; as they switch from one project to another—all the tools stay the same.
Example: In Jira, the status “resolved” may mean completely different things in various companies and even projects. For some engineers “resolve” can mean the task is ready for testing, for others—the task is ready for a code review, or the task is completed and can be closed. There are many options that probably will be misunderstood and might cause issues. To avoid this, settle on one specific meaning for the “resolved” status.
To make everything work properly, you need to set a clear onboarding process. At Astound Commerce we pay close attention to onboarding. For every newcomer, we have a timeline, a step-by-step guide of what needs to be done/learned on the first day, second day, first week, second week, and month. Each new member gets a mentor who helps to go through the onboarding process. Usually, a mentor is not the HR or a Team Lead, but a colleague with the same level of authority, who has been working in the company longer. It may be a crucial thing, especially in given realities and in remote-first teams.
Example: If you are a newcomer, working in the office, every time you have a question — you can just ask a colleague sitting next to you. But if you are a newcomer working from home or any other place and you’ve got a question, who will you address? This is why we have mentors.
We use the same approach for every person joining a project. There is a checklist in Confluence with detailed info for every project that every newcomer must complete.
The checklist comprises:
These well defined processes don’t only make the team members’ onboarding smoother, but they also give a project manager/team lead an understanding that if a team member has completed the checklist — they know most (all) of the information needed to start working on tasks.
Onboarding is just one of the multiple tools used to turn an employee into a teammate. But building a team, instead of just a group of engineers, takes more steps and techniques.
Why is it important?
I’ve witnessed a lot when specialists working in the company on-site or in a distributed team (more often with distributed teams) felt themselves invisible: couldn’t see the ways to grow, or didn’t know the path to receiving a promotion. In most cases these people are likely to leave, having got an offer for a higher position with better payment from other companies.
To avoid these situations, we have a transparent promotion process:
Communication is important. We all know that – we hear it everywhere. But what is really important – it’s organized communication.
I know people who work remotely and communication in their teams is just chaotic. They spend a lot of time on meetings they do not need, meetings that are completely unnecessary, just because their managers told them to do so. That leads to a loss of time.
In our team, we have a set number of tools for each communication, which helps us not to squander our time. For official mailing we use emails; Slack — for instant communications, where we create groups we need for a project, separate groups for engineers; for video calls, we use Zoom. And, by video calls I mean video calls, where everyone has their cameras turned on, so you can see the people you are talking to, whether it is your colleagues or clients, which makes communication more efficient.
One of the key things to do after every group meeting — take notes. Write everything you agreed on: who does what and when. People may get interrupted during the meetings and may miss some important information. Notes help to follow up on all the discussions and agreements, so everyone has a clear idea of what’s next.
Summarizing everything written above — here are suggestions that may improve your processes. You never really know unless you try.
In order for remote teams to operate smoothly and bring results, the company needs to have a clear set of tools, instructions for projects and ensure equal conditions for all team members. For project managers, it is important to set up the correct communication and build a relationship with the team.
At Astound Commerce we’ve been learning how to conduct the work in distributed teams for years. This experience helps us now to create a healthy and productive environment for each member.
If you want to become part of our team, send us your CV. (or >> check out open positions in Astound Commerce!)
We want to meet you in person!