Remote work in the spotlight, how to make it work and not die trying

software dev tools claudio cossioGuest post by Claudio Cossio from SoftwareDevTools.  

We have been working remotely since we created the product area at Nearsoft (now called SoftwareDevTools), the team is an 11 person crew based in Mexico; we have two people working from San Luis Potosi, our development stakeholder is in Chihuahua (yep….the cute dog name is based on Northern capital city), our two product managers with one developer, two marketing folks and our designer live in Hermosillo where we have our headquarters, plus our head of product is based in Mexico City (plus airports and Barcelona).

So from the start we have been full remote, we meet face to face once a year at the annual Team Building Week in HQ and then on our occasional hackatons, events or speaking engagements. This is our natural way of interacting with our team and it has been that way for personal reasons, most of us live near our family which is a cultural thing in Mexico.

But for others who live a nomad style of living it is a way for them to continue to grow personally and professionally. For our organization it is a leverage to capture talent and inspire a freedom in the work space and live where you want to be.

I came across an interesting article by Preethi Kasireddy, she explains why Remote Work wont work for Startups. This inspired me to write this small essay to try to formalize a way remote work can be effective for startup teams, we are kinda like a startup inside our organization. Thanks to Roberto, Matt and Venu for the support in our endeavour (shameless plug to our management team).

A few housekeeping points to give more context to our point of view:

  • We do have the advantage of having a culture set in our organization that embraces Remote Work and also a freedom culture.
  • Our Nearsoftians have been working remote, before it was a thing. So this is from 2013 that part of our teams have been collaborating remotely.
  • We offer software development services to companies in the Bay Area since 2009. So we are an extension of their development team based in Mexico, so we are a remote team from Day 1.
  • Our team builds tools to assist remote or distributed development teams, that is one of our core expertise and we have built several tools for that like Stand-bot for asynchronous stand up or Agile Retrospectives to do retro ceremonies with your distributed scrum teams.

With that in place let’s look into how this remote working thing can be done right for any type of organization.

Being an adult and DYFJ

Easier said than done, but this is being brutally honest with yourself and your team members. Are you hiring adults or grown ups that need supervision, so make sure that when you hire someone it is not based solely on their technical achievements or credentials. This is a crucial first step into getting a strong foundation for your remote team.

Hiring is a black art, I know there is no way to get this right but you have to create a process to get the right talent to be interested in working with you. Make sure that when you are promoting that you are open to hire people remotely, but also state clearly that they have experience doing so. Now you are thinking the chicken and egg problem, what if this is their first time I hire? How do I create an onboarding process? Do not worry I will discuss process later 😉

Now you know that hiring “adults” is part of building a successful remote team, this has nothing to do with age just to be clear on hiring.

Responsibilities are set from Day 1; each team member know what it is expected of them. So you need to set a clear agenda on what is expected for each person on the team, including certain milestones and time frame to deliver on their results. Let each person acknowledge their responsibilities on a video conference call, so everyone knows each others appointed task.

It is critical to let everyone understand what is at stake and who are the stakeholders appointed in all areas of an organization, that way each member knows in advance who to talk to and what is expected out of the engagement. The founders will need to let everyone know what they can and cannot do, to avoid triages.

That way everyone can start to embrace – Do Your F%^&ing Job (DYFJ) and not get distracted. You need some tools in order to achieve transparency and the backlog is a good way of assigning responsibilities and expected outcomes, that is what inspired us to develop the Jira app for Stand-bot that way everyone knows what are the current blockers on a team, also the status on each task assigned to every person.

Processes and growing as a team

It is inevitable that you start implementing a process in order to make every aspect of working remote clear for each person on the team, adapting to his or her role on the team. Understand that all of these processes will not be set in stone and they will continue to evolve for each new practice that is better suited for your organization.

For founders who are hiring for the first time, two tips that will make life much easier and build a strong remote team:

  1. Hire people that inspire thrust and that they will push you (and the team), but are open to admitting their failures. The journey will be filled by mistakes and the team needs to be comfortable with that, learn and then move on.
  2. Fire fast, for developers you will know in 8 weeks if they are a match, marketing and sales people need 12 weeks to deliver results, everyone else 6-7 weeks. Be honest and give them feedback as to why they were not a match, write it down and have those notes for the next hiring interview 😉

We discussed a very important part of enabling a remote team, it is the hiring process; the founders should be heavily involved in it, because this is the way you start building the culture in your organization. Making sure you are hiring people aligned to the organization’s vision and mission. A perfect example is Mapillary, a company based in Sweden with more than 40 people distributed around the world, this is a great post on How European Startups can leverage remote work by its founder Jan Erik Solem.

A key part of every process implemented is that it needs to be transparent to all the organization, that way most of the conversations are happening in the open and every person will have access to them. The level of noise can be toned down just by letting the team know what are the rules of engagement and what is the expected behaviour for each member.

Hope this essay brought some light to why remote work does work, but it needs the right foundation in order for your organization to thrive and grow. Most importantly is that everyone on the team is happy the way it communicates, collaborates and deals with moments of uncertainty, knowing who to reach out to and what is expected of the engagement takes the anxiousness from every interaction.

So start building your remote team and make sure to enjoy the process, because once you start working remotely….you wont stop 😀

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