At Tek-Connect, we’ve fully embraced the trend to hire remote workers. In fact, we don’t have any more than two people in any given location. In this post, we’ll explore various aspects of making remote working relationships work well.
In software development, communication is equally important to coding. Misses on communication at any point in the process virtually guarantee issues down the line. Our first criteria for successful remote workers, therefore, is high availability and responsiveness. A remote worker must be at her desk during our regular business hours, and be willing and able to respond to ad hoc communications promptly. Our project managers do try to limit ad hoc pings by following our workflow process and by following project management procedures. However, a remote worker that is difficult to reach is a nonstarter for us, given the nature of what we do.
The other qualifying issue for remote employees is the time zone that they live and work in. We find that it simply doesn’t work well to use people in far away time zones. Promises to work on our schedule by folks that live in very different time zones don’t ever seem to turn out very well. A differential of a couple of hours is fine, so, we stick with employees that are nearby (for us, that means ’the Americas.’)
All scheduled meetings get entered as calendar events with invites to all participants. Calendars magically make time zone mix-ups go away and they make it much harder to miss a meeting. Video conferencing is certainly encouraged. But if someone is not in the mood to be on video, it’s not a problem. We do find that shared screens are extremely useful for meetings of all kinds.
Once we have a good fit with communication habits and availability, and of course technical skills, we require that the individual be able to follow our workflow process consistently and accurately. Our workflow is minimal, and very tactical, in comparison to some software development processes. Strict adherence to a minimal process provides reliability and removes untold amounts of communication issues.
The backbone of our software development process rests on JIRA, which is a product by Atlassian that is billed as “Issue and Project Tracking for Software Teams.” JIRA is a heavyweight in this space, with a myriad of features. JIRA is also a very flexible tool that enables the creation of custom workflows and provides a number of configuration options that enable us to tailor it to our needs.
An important question about managing remote workers is “How do you know if they are actually working?” The answer is, “It’s in JIRA.” Coders and testers all take their assignments from JIRA. Literally, everything that they do is in there, with clear instructions, priorities, comments, time tracking, and visibility directly into the code that was written to fulfill a ticket. We track time spent on tasks by the hour, always. There are different ways to bill clients for work, but the labor cost side of the equation is always tied to time. Employees are paid a certain amount for a certain time period, and contractors are paid by the hour. If a team member is hitting estimates and logging enough time, then they are productive.
In this post, I outlined some high-level tactics for managing remote employees. I hope you find these ideas useful in your business.
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