Here are some of the challenges remote team face and how best to overcome them:
1. Keeping members in loop
The major challenge in managing a remote team begins with miscommunication. There are cases when you miss updating your team members about the recent changes in the code. Or you don’t know what other team members are working on.
Collaborating in a distributed team demands proper communication. Without it, your team can feel demotivated. Likewise, it impacts their productivity. Also, there is often a gap between the expected and realized interpretation in meaning when communication is compromised. You might be intending to say one thing while the other party might understand it differently. Validating that both parties are on the same page is essential.
Make the best use of communication tools to communicate better in remote teams. Tools like Slack and Zoom allow remote workers to connect with the team conveniently. We, at Leapfrog, have made daily standups a norm. It can be done asynchronously using Slack or as required in video conferences using Zoom. These tools have proven to lower miscommunication and allowed product owners to collaborate with the team in Nepal efficiently.
We also suggest semi-annual or yearly meetup of the remote team. This helps strengthen the relationship of the team and set and track goals while you know your team better.
Above all, it is crucial to invest in a team with excellent communication skills. The tools can aid the process only when people have the skills that lead to meaningful communication.
2. Building Trust
It is the human tendency to not engage with strangers. And, here we are talking about trusting our business in the hands of people whom we have never met in person. Building trust can take a toll on some people.
As product owners, it is obvious that you do not want to provide all the credentials from the very beginning. You will undoubtedly have a few doubts even after rounds of background checking of your remote team. But what startups and SMEs need to understand is that building trust will take time. Moreover, it will be the responsibility of both parties involved to carry initiatives to know each other better.
Get to know the team in the initial meetings. Instead of keeping it technical, use the time to understand more about each other. Try understanding how the team has been working in previous projects and their expectations from you. The product owners also need to clarify their expectations from the team. This will help align the team as per the vision of product owners.
Of course, involving the team in informal conversations and respecting the cultural differences can help product owners earn their trust. Meanwhile, the remote team needs to deliver as promised and timely update about the progress and challenges to the product owners.
Documenting processes, minuting the meetings are a few things you do not want to miss. Also, informal conversations can help build rapport in remote teams. The role of project managers and product managers will also come into play while building trust as these people will interact with you more than other members.
3. Managing Workflow
Most companies hesitate to hire a remote team because they are accustomed to working in a collocated team. They do not have a defined process for structuring the remote team workflow, which leads to hassle in managing the remote team. Without proper processes, it will be difficult for companies to track progress and deal with possible lags.
To better manage the workflow, the companies need to understand the processes the team follows. They could be following the Agile framework or implementing Kanban. Regardless of the structure, the product owner should focus on the output or the result. Then, iterate from how to standardize the processes.
We would also suggest companies to invest in a self-managed team. Micro-managing the team can only lead to failure of the remote team. Take time to explore if the teams can work on their own and help deliver your product. With less supervision, the companies can focus on bigger the bigger picture while your offshore team takes care of developing the product.
Make use of tools like Jira, Trello, and Asana for a clearer understanding of where the team is at. Intervene to strengthen the processes that can accelerate the task of the remote teams. Sometimes, the process followed in an offshore team can come to play in the distributed team as well. For instance, you can use the same tools used in your company, communication practices, onboarding procedures, etc.
4. Different time zones
The differences in time zone can create issues when collaborating and communicating with remote teams. For teams distributed in multiple time zones, it gets further difficult in finding an overlapping time to sync up. While the struggle is real, we need to respect the time differences.
One way to deal with the challenge is to find an overlapping time where all the team members can come together to sync up. The teams can also work on setting up calls once or twice a week as per the convenience of the product owners or vice versa. Daily communication can take place in Slack or other tools. Though everyone involved should expect that replies can be late, but is necessary.
For more crucial communication, both the companies and remote team will have to compromise and collaborate regardless of the time differences. At Leapfrog, the team can be seen attending calls late at night or early mornings when needed. However, it is necessary to understand what is urgent and what can wait.
The challenges of managing a remote team will surely make startups, and small and medium enterprises critically think about hiring remote teams. But what you need to remember is that the challenges can be overcome with a joint effort from the product owners and the remote team.