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Remote Teams: When they work and when they don’t

I’ve worked with remote technical teams for 12 years now – on big projects and small. I haven’t done a true audit, but it FEELS like, there have been more disasters than successes yet at the same time I KNOW that isn’t true. Like everything human – the pain is easy to remember while the easy stuff isn’t.

Remote teams – onshore or off – are hard to manage. I believe you could take your developers – people you’ve groomed and sat shoulder to shoulder with and make them a remote team and immediately lose 20% of their productivity overnight. That number might be somewhat cynical, but it speaks to one major motivation for off-shore talent. If they cost half of what a local developer costs but they are only half as productive – then you haven’t saved anything.

I don’t think that’s the calculus. There are other advantages – the level of senior talent, the volume of senior talent, the flexibility, etc. Still- that only underlines the need to figure out how to make it work.

Do This:

1) Dedicated developers are better than a pool of developers. Help desk and customer service are likely different, but developers get familiar with wondering around in code – their own and that of others – if you are constantly putting a different set of eyes and hands into a site, you are losing a great deal of learned knowledge specific to your product or project.

2) Language skills matter. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? I know, I know. The developers you work with locally hardly speak, besides, everyone types in a remote setting so what does spoken language matter? Maybe it doesn’t – but fluency is important because fluency is part of communication. Not only will it be hard to communicate truly what you want but your natural communication will be stunted by needing to alter to say nothing of the feeling that your message isn’t clear.

3) Hire a dedicated project/product manager to play the conductor role between your expectation and the team. Even if this person is a contractor, there needs to be a go-between. Think of the technical team as a group of skilled orchestral musicians and the project manager as the conductor. Why would seasoned musicians need a conductor waving a baton in front of them? They have their music, they’ve worked together for decades … well, because the difference between an orchestra with a conductor and one without isn’t even recognizable.

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