Last year when CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer made an internal company policy change that banned remote working which affected several hundred of its employees, it sparked a lot of discussions about whether or not this was a good move. Proponents of the policy argue that in office collaboration promotes better productivity and creativity while opponents voice that going into an office space does not equate to better work quality and some even believe the ban to be a step backwards to the Stone Age.
Here at Worry Free Labs, we embrace mobility and workplace flexibility and have development teams and personnel in Nashville, Atlanta and the West Coast. This allows our employees to have more flexibility in choosing where they live and work and they are happier for it. It also enables us to decrease our overall cost structure, which we pass along to our customers. The huge boom in startups and influx of large tech companies, such as Facebook and Google have made it hard to find and keep iOS and Android development talent in New York. Our model allows us to provide our clients with benefits and quality of working with a highly experienced team of U.S. engineers in a more cost effective manner. I’d like to share some of the practices and tools that we use to foster a good working dynamic with our team members located in different regions.
Tools of the Trade
There are a variety of tools out there to explore before deciding on which ones would work well for your team’s needs. We're always testing new tools as our processes evolve, but we have a few staple ones our team uses on a daily basis. These include:
Skype because it’s familiar, intuitive and has a nice user experience. Skype provides an easy way for our team to chat, have conference calls or collaborate on work.
We use Jira as a tool to organize development tasks and sprints for each project. It's also a good way to organize bug fixes and add them to the development backlog.
Another real-time chatting tool we use, Hipchat, is useful in that Bitbucket and Jira statuses can be pinged to project-specific chat rooms so that all team members can see the latest updates.
Skitch enables you to quickly mark up a screen to point out specific areas to go over.
Finally, HarvestTime Tracker provides a quick way for teams to track time and gives the project management team a detailed account of where time is spent. This is just a snippet of what we use but it all comes down to what makes your team the most efficient at what you do when choosing the right mix of tools.
"Standups" and “Quick call?”
We apply scrum methodologies when appropriate to our projects which involves a 10 minute daily "standup" where each team member goes over the previous day’s work, roadblocks encountered, and task for the current day’s work. Although these are great for quick statuses, there are times when you need to spend more time working on items or resolving issues before the next standup.
Online chats are great for this until you realize your colleague has typed a book. Don't forget you can pull the “Quick call?” card to clarify the issue or idea in half the time. A quick call can work just as well as if you were walking over to someone’s desk in person.
Paint a Picture
Just because team members may be spread out in various locations doesn't mean they can't get to know each other. The little details about a team might be taken for granted by those who work together in the same office where you can turn around at a desk to talk. You know, the little things like having a baby, buying a new house, moving across the country, getting engaged, trading in a Vespa for a motorcycle, traveling to Scotland, Ireland, Japan, or Germany, or getting a bike stolen. These are just a few of the things I know that happened to some of our team at Worry Free Labs in New York, Nashville, Atlanta and the West Coast. Although our project work keeps us busy, it's important to find ways to loop everyone in to create open communication and build trust no matter what location.
This is just a tiny glimpse of how you can get started on integrating remote teams as part of your company culture. There’s no exact formula or equation that gets it right. It’s a process that you constantly have to work on improving as teams grow. It’s one part natural evolution and one other big part of proactively engaging and getting the team involved.