One thing is clear: Remote work is the new norm. There are more remote employees than ever, and the trend is growing. Now, cloud technology, collaboration tools and performance management strategies are helping change how, when and where we work.
When it comes to the tech workforce, it takes more than simply offering remote opportunities to get employees motivated. Employers must embrace flexibility and build (or reinforce) a strong, supportive remote work culture to ensure teams are engaged and high-performing.
There are five imperatives to cultivating a strong remote culture that could lead to developing high-performing tech teams.
1. Adopt comprehensive onboarding practices
When you bring new talent on board, be sure to give them the tools they need to understand their role, get up to speed about your organization’s practices and projects, and start contributing quickly. You must also strike the right balance of encouraging new talent to reach out for help and letting them figure things out on their own.
Having worked with senior software engineering professionals and teams, with tech recruiters, I found that the following data are the most important for successful onboarding:
• Guidelines, manuals and meeting plans
• Source code and database (including the setup manual)
• Project dependencies and API keys
• Access to the project management system, with editing privileges
• Sample data, plus the manual for its input and test suites
• Deployment credentials for staging and production servers
• Credentials for the tools required to start working
• Entry into the corporate chat and private chat rooms
After you set new employees up for success with these tools, give them a comprehensive view of the organization and their place in it. Describe the specifics of ongoing projects, answer questions about the company’s development and testing standards, and cross-check whether the new software engineer has understood the company goals.
2. Communicate openly
You should empower tech employees of all backgrounds and experience levels to actively contribute their ideas and insights. Encourage them to offer thoughts on workflows and provide feedback on projects.
Make space for asynchronous communication, a style that doesn’t require real-time interactions such as in-person or video meetings. By letting remote tech workers wait until they have the bandwidth to communicate, you can help them prioritize their workloads, contribute to conversations across time zones and come back to discussions when they’ve had time to reflect and consider options. Asynchronous communication is a pillar of open communication because software engineers won’t be pulled away from feature development but can still contribute to team discussions.
3. Start pair programming
Pair programming is the practice of pairing up software engineers to work on programming tasks. Start pair programming helps employees share knowledge on the fly and improve mutual learning and skill development. Most importantly, it offers better solutions and different approaches than either developer could have produced on their own. Pair programming is a useful technique for encouraging collaboration, particularly around challenging tasks. It can also help senior team members develop their mentoring skills.
4. Provide and solicit feedback
When you work with remote software engineers and developers, providing insightful and effective feedback is integral. But, giving feedback is a delicate process. While it can be a motivator, ambiguous or negative feedback can hinder developers’ performance.
Ensure your feedback meets these criteria:
• It’s specific: Effective feedback focuses on a specific issue or problem with the project.
• It’s timely: Effective feedback addresses an ongoing project, not a project that was submitted a month ago.
• It’s goal-oriented: Good feedback is tied to a specific goal that the organization hopes to achieve.
• It’s actionable: Effective feedback clarifies the pain points and suggests actionable advice.
Effective software feedback should include regular code reviews for all tech workers, regardless of experience and background. It’s also important for feedback to go both ways—top-down and bottom-up—because helping each other identify areas of improvement is a powerful way for employees to understand the impact of their contributions.
Helpful and actionable feedback can build trust between peers, team leaders and tech employees, allowing them to give and receive constructive input, have more honest and productive conversations, and identify new areas for improvement.
5. Lead effectively
Set the tone for effective software development with strong leadership. It’s essential to support your software development teams and identify what areas of the workflow are the most troublesome and impact velocity. Talking to your employees about the current development process and taking in their feedback allows you to make adjustments to the workflow that actually benefit the team.
To effectively lead your team, model collaborative behavior, openly discuss setbacks and share learnings. Focus on being a resource, and build developers’ confidence in enhancing new development methods, techniques and approaches.
Empowerment is the new watchword for remote work and the lifeblood of your tech workforce’s productivity. Take time to speak about their preferred methods, tools, challenges and work schedules. Support their needs instead of dictating their actions. Once you know the details of what they need to excel in their work, be there to help.
You can not build a high-performing remote tech team overnight. In my experience, a team of high-functioning remote devs requires participation, progress monitoring and sharing, and mutual support. It will take time and dedication to build powerful collaboration tools and procedures that allow software engineers to work effectively toward the same goal.
Originally published on Forbes, June 27, 2022