Your company has wisely decided to add remote technical staff members because of the current local talent shortage. Instead of hiring available local talent your team is going to hire stronger candidates who will work remotely full-time as I discussed in my previous article. Here are 6 tips that should help you smoothly add remote technical talent to the team.
1) Stay connected with text chat during the work day. Everyone on the team should have a text chat client installed. Persistent chat rooms are also useful so people can review information they missed while not logged on. Here are some tips and tools to get you started:
- Use text chat for quick interactions. Tools like jabber, IRC or Skype work well.
- Use persistent chat rooms so that team members can join to see what they missed while they were offline. Tools like jabber and Skype work well.
- Expect all team members to login to the team chat room for most of their workday. This makes it possible to have ad-hoc conversations without scheduling meetings
2) Use a conference bridge for meetings. Change how you collaborate so that both remote and local workers collaborate in similar ways. You want to keep remote team members in the loop while local workers have face to face meetings. Follow these tips to make remote conference calls more effective:
- Have all meetings on conference bridges so local workers can attend
- Make sure at least one or two key local people call in to the meeting from their offices instead of the conference room. This will ensure that there are always several people on the phone who can call attention to poor audio quality, an inability to see a whiteboard, etc
- Use a webcam during meetings to share whiteboards with remote people. Tools like Google Hangouts or Skype screen sharing can help.
- Announce who you are before you speak so remote people can learn to associate voices with names or profile pictures.
3) Write things down. This is a good idea even if you only have local workers because sometimes people are out sick or on vacation. Writing down steps to complete common tasks, tools you use to collaborate, how to setup a development system and other things is just a good practice in general. Use these tools to write down useful information so that everyone on the team can all locate it easily or direct others to it when needed:
- Create a wiki where you can document useful project information
- Create a sharable document library for more static information like technical documents or product manuals
- Use a threaded discussion system to collect feedback on a document or design idea
- Use a defect tracking system to document all information about system bugs instead of using emails or text chat
4) Select similar work for remote team members. Selecting independent work that requires less collaboration might seem like a good idea at first, but doing so will isolate remote team members and limit their productivity. Selecting similar work for remote workers keeps productivity expectations high for everyone. Use these tools to make remote collaboration on high interaction tasks like programming or document writing:
- Have voice calls while working on tasks together. Get a good headset so you don’t have to hold the phone while on a call.
- Use VNC or other screen sharing tools to pair program or edit a slide deck together
- Use google docs to actively co-author documents
5) Allow local workers to work remotely sometimes. This seems obvious but sometimes local workers get upset that remote workers can work from the comforts of their own home. Here are some of the benefits of having local workers work remotely occasionally:
- Local workers won’t feel resentful of remote workers who get to work from home. Local workers will see remote workers as trailblazers who have helped make it possible for them to work from home some of the time
- Having local workers work remotely will also ensure that your collaboration tools (conference bridges, text chats, screen sharing, etc) work well
- Allowing local workers to work from home will help them appreciate both the challenges and benefits of working remotely
6) Have occasional face to face meetings. Remote workers will appreciate getting to meet local workers and visa versa. Having occasional face to face meetings has these benefits:
- Associating names and faces with voices is essential when you have remote workers who dial into conferences. Instead of having each person announce their name before speaking on a conference call, people will be able to associate names with voices because of the occasional face to face meetings
- Employees will view this occasional face to face travel as a perk. Companies like Mozilla have ‘work weeks’ where everyone travels to some city to work for a week. Employees get to meet each other face to face and collaborate on work in the same location for a week.