How to keep remote teams connected — a QA perspective
I’ve been working with remote teams for the past seven years, many of which are globally distributed across the U.S., Brazil, India, Ireland, China, and Canada — and operating in at least four different time zones at a time. What I’ve learned during these years is that communication and trust are the keys for success when managing or working with remote teams, no matter if your team is located in an office thousands of miles away or working from home in the same city.
The recent State of Testing Survey 2015 shows that 32 per cent of the companies surveyed have four or more locations. These are considered “global companies.” Another one-third of the respondents work in companies that have two or three locations.
In my experience, there are some common problems working with remote teams. And I have and some solutions that can help you build a successful workforce, no matter where you are. First, the issues.
Four common problems with remote teams
Communication gaps: It’s common for team members to frequently be out of sync. They may not be aligned with the project’s or company’s goals, even if when sitting in the same room. Now imagine people working remotely. Sometimes teams feel digitally isolated when we don’t have a solid communication plan. When that happens, there’s a big chance of missing a deadline or being unaware of what’s happening in your project or company. Communication gaps due to geographically dispersed teams are a huge risk to a company.
Geographic distance: Location shouldn’t make a team member feel disconnected. I’ve seen project managers schedule meetings at inappropriate hours. Keep time zones in mind time when scheduling, and make sure the meeting isn’t on a holiday or outside working hours.
Language barriers: When working in multiple countries, language barriers are very common. Some people are just not comfortable speaking in another language (let’s consider English as the global industry language), or they just don’t understand what others are talking about. That makes it hard to follow ongoing conversations with your peers. Believe me: I’ve been there!
Face time: As a manager, it can be difficult to assess your employees’ performance because you’re not close enough to manage their day-to-day needs and how they are evolving on their career path. Frequent travel is expensive, so when our co-workers or managers are not in the same room as we are, we need to find creative ways to make ourselves present.
How to create a successful remote team
- Trust the team you work with. Be confident that they will be able to perform their tasks without supervision or will commit to the project goals.
- Choose the right people on your project team. Some people just can’t deal with a long-distance work relationship, so you might have to make extra effort to keep them included and reduce the feeling of isolation.
- Have a good leader who can be a bridge and bond local and remote teams.
- Have flexible teams that can adapt to project’s needs. Sometimes remote workers will have to attend a meeting or training session with a client outside of working hours due to different time zones.
- Understand cultural differences: learn how to overcome cross-cultural gaps. Adjust your working style to account for the remote teams’ culture. India, China, Canada, and Brazil are very different in several cultural aspects. For example, don’t schedule a major release of your product during Chinese New Year, and be aware that a co-worker from India visiting your local office might have some faith-based food restrictions. The key: get to know your team members and let them get to know you too.
- Share as many meaningful details as possible on a requirement or bug. The QA team should use online bug reporting tools and establish templates when reporting defects.
- Share regular status reports with your team. Include accomplishments and challenges, always giving credit for good work done.
- Have short daily meetings with your team — video chat when possible. And when you schedule meetings, don’t forget the time zones. I personally like the World Time Buddy as a convenient time-zone converter and meeting scheduler (see below).
- Keep your calendar up-to-date so everyone knows when you have a doctor’s appointment or a day off. Don’t forget to email your team beforehand about any absence.
- Take advantage of technology and use project management and conferencing tools. Here at Yellow Pencil we use Google Hangouts for project meetings, and HipChat for video and group chatting. We also use LeanKit as a Kanban tool to plan and visualize our work, and GitHub for source code collaboration integrated with a third-party continuous integration tool. Another great tool we use to share content is Confluence.
Approaches to promote social engagement
- Create opportunities for face-to-face casual conversations with your teams. Social activities like a ski trip, spa retreat, or Christmas party help create a more solid connection with your peers or employees.
- For people who are located in the same city or region as your company’s headquarters but telecommute, consider booking an office barbecue or a game night on the weekend or after working hours.
- As an individual, you can connect to your peers on social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook or Instagram). That’s a simple way to be part of your co-worker’s lives and get to know them outside of work.
The globally distributed workplace is here to stay. By solving common problems, keeping remote teams connected doesn’t need to be a challenge. How do you set up your remote teams for success? Please share your tips in the comments below.