Over the years, technology has dramatically changed the feel and look of a workplace. Professionals can now communicate effectively with others across the globe. Not only developers enjoy the fruits of the change but also various companies because they can choose from a large pool of skilled workers while avoiding the complexities of the ‘everyone on-site’ scenario. Low overhead, improved employee satisfaction and retention, plus no geographical hindrance to hiring the best professional are some of the pros of the remote worker.
Remote work has become more popular than ever and has changed the way companies work. Building a remote development team takes a lot of planning but the end results certainly benefit in ways you can ever imagine.
I was a computer science graduate who was always interested in knowing how my iOS phone apps worked, so I understood I wanted to pursue a job related to the IT World. With 6 months of training, I managed to crack the on-campus placement drive interview in a reputed firm and started working as an iOS developer intern. Initially being mesmerized by the workspace scenario, however, I got bored of the monotonous work life.
Within 3 years, I changed 2 companies. Then I decided to quit my full-time job. Many of my peers, friends and family members thought it was a foolish decision but within me, there was something that helped me take that major step. At that point, I was having only 3 years of industrial experience and started working remotely. After composing my portfolio with the help of ‘Mr. Google’, I use to bid for projects on Elance (now Upwork).
As the first remote mobile app developer (iOS) in Silicon Valley, I’ve faced various obstacles in the initial stage. Proving that you are passionate about your work is not easy. Anyhow, I never gave up and worked as a virtual developer individually for a year and then decided to build my remote team. My first-hand experience of what it takes to build a successful remote development team has been helpful.
The Roller Coaster Ride:
After working as a successful remote mobile app developer, I always thought, how to make remote work, work? Then I realized it begins with building strategies and a plan. Simply hiring a skilled candidate without having a strategy can be disastrous and a short-sighted decision. Before you start building a team, make sure you want to build one.
Here is what I asked myself as an individual remote worker:
Am I capable enough of building strategies from time to time as per requirement?
Will I be able to outline the projects the team will be working on?
What will I gain from my team?
How many people can I manage?
How will I measure their success hiring rate?
Once I was able to answer the aforementioned questions, one thing was clear in my mind that I’m ready to give everything that it will take to build a successful remote team.
The 10 Must-Ask Questions:
The second thing I did was I prepared a questionnaire for the candidate that I interviewed (over Skype in most cases).
Which qualities make you a good remote worker?
Have you ever provided innovative solutions for any project?
What all domains are you familiar with?
Do you have acceptability to the auditors?
How do you take criticism?
How you entered into this profile?
Do you have an adaptive nature?
Are you open to new things and willing to gain more knowledge about different aspects?
What all projects have you worked on previously?
Do you have a record of completing every project within the deadline?
All the answers to these questions gave me the complete vision of the candidate and how willing he is to work with me. I initially looked for people who were passionate but were not more interested in monetary gains. Now my first few workers are my best friends.
Collaboration Protocols Helped a Lot:
With less face to face interaction, I made sure I always had reliable collaborative tools. Slack, Google Docs, OS365, TeamViewer, Google Hangout, Microsoft Teams, Jira, Trello and a few more helped a lot. But I made sure that everyone stuck to the same platform for specific activities. Most importantly, I made sure everyone is aware of the different time zones so that the worker across the border is not disturbed at an odd time.
Slack and Google Docs are the two tools majorly used by me. It helps me in keeping track of the conversations and understand the discussions that took place.
My Happy Place:
There are a few who just don’t want a job and money, they want to be a part of something bigger, something that is different. It is great to work with these type of workers as they boost the organizational culture with their innovative thoughts and positivity. Working remotely can be isolating but when you have a great team and compatibility, nothing is impossible.
I feel blessed to have different individuals as a part of my team. I have spent more than three hours interacting with my team members via video and audio calls. During my initial 6 months, I have worked with Your Team in India, a developing IT outsourcing company in India. I have learned a lot from them. They gave me many outsourced projects and were very helpful whenever I had an issue. They understood my perspective and considered it at times.
Setting Performance Measure:
What do you think at what time are the employees more productive: morning, afternoon or evening? It is the morning. Even in the cubicle offices, the 8-9 working hour scenario is becoming an ineffective approach. If you ask me I’d say that productivity can never be judged by “butts in seats” although many people fall into the thinking of working for elongated hours without a break. For me, attendance never guaranteed productivity as I measured it based on the outcomes. I make sure that my remote employee is working 6 days but breaks are also must.
In order to maintain effective performance management, go for one-on-one video meetings and discuss the current workload. This helps in improving your relationship with the workers. Also, discuss with them the strategic goals that you need to achieve within the month or quarterly. Everyone has more work that can be done every week so collaborating together and seeing what the other is working on is a crucial part of managing the team. I always make sure my workers prioritize their work as per the strategic goals.
When I was busy building an organizational strategy, I realized that it is also important to build trust within the team. While you can maintain the relationship of the workers remotely, there is no substitute for face-to-face interactions to build trust. Whenever there was a lack of communication within the team, conflicts occurred. Once a snarky comment that was expected to light up the place was misinterpreted over a message and the verbal abusive quarrel began instantly among the team members. For this reason, I prefer face to face interactions over phone calls or messages because it helps maintain open, direct communication. Since, you can build trust through in-person interactions, I’m always looking forward to getting on the plane and keep planning a get-together for all of them whenever possible.
What I Learned:
As an individual remote mobile app developer who started his journey alone to the one who has now build a team of 60, I have come a long way. There are a few things that I have learned during these years:
New skills can be taught to anyone
Having specific skills thoroughly is not the only thing you should look for. If you have a team member who is capable of teaching the other regarding the updated technology, smart business models and sales strategies then why not try it. This way one can have an exponentially stronger remote organization.
Experience saves time, effort and money
When I had a team of 5, there were so many forehead smacking mistakes that wound up costing plenty of hours of work and hundreds of dollars loss. This happened twice. I’m lucky to have few good senior teammates who managed to pull us aside and offered advice before we were about to fall deep into the pit. No one can see the potholes ahead of time so you can’t predict the ability of the team to clear them beforehand.
Different Perspectives Boost Innovation:
Going stale and following the same monotonous strategy can be worse than taking calculated risks. I added many in my team who have a different vision, broader perspective regarding strategies, processes, products, and services. The level of creativity they own is amazing and that is something I had been seeking all my life.
Turning Business to Brand Needs Perseverance:
Making a brand name doesn’t happen overnight as you have to build strong relationships with the audience. Now, I have a team representing a variety of segment and this helped me gain a competitive advantage in the market.
Preparing for the Future:
A few companies still haven’t thought of collaborating with a remote development team. I feel they are losing a lot because talented and experienced workers are ready to work for you across different geographical locations. My personal thought is the companies that recognize the potential of remote work has an edge over the competitors.