October 13, 2014

How Remote Tech Teams Collaborate Successfully

Reddit's CEO Yishan Wong doesn’t believe that his 50-person team can perform their absolute best while working remotely.So, Reddit, aka “the front page of the Internet,” is forcing its whole remote tech team to move to the Reddit HQ in San Francisco.

The advice Wong got from one of his mentors "who had managed large geographically-dispersed teams at Mozilla was this, 'You don't make the decision based on a blanket philosophy, you make it based on whether it's working. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,'" according to Wong's recent Quora answer.Still, Wong recognizes that telecommuting does work for many organizations.After all, it’s nearly 2015. Cloud, mobile and advanced enterprise technology should allow any tech team to collaborate virtually, right?

Working from Home Works Well on a Case-By-Case Situation

When digital expert Brian Manning cofounded Centric Digital, a digital transformation consulting company, in 2009, he consciously built the company on an infrastructure that supported virtual collaboration. After all, the very nature of the business is to help enterprises across the country grow their social footprint.Since then, Centric Digital has grown fast, snagging a spot among Inc’s 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in 2014.With all of this growth, Manning and his cofounder find it’s best not to implement a formal work-from-home policy for their 180-person global team. This way, folks can strike the balance of collaborating at work without feeling like they can't take a day to work at home.For instance, "in the case where somebody’s better working from home one day because they’d save the commute time and they can spend that much more time working on the client project," Manning says. There has to be a reason.Generally, however, Manning believes that when a team is working on a group project, it’s better to be together.

Challenge Potential Candidates to Use Virtual Tools

At any given day, Manning’s design and development team in Argentina may collaborate closely with folks in the US.Building a team consisting of highly tech-savvy, communicative and trustworthy professionals is essential to make remote work successful.To spot culture fits, Manning challenges candidates to prove they’d be able to collaborate virtually during the interview. So, for strategists, for instance, Manning asks candidates to draw up a few PowerPoint slides on their best strategy for a given situation."Before they put the pay mechanisms in the taxis, we asked: 'What are three things you would do to make the UX in taxi rides better?'" Manning says. "Lots of ideas came out and this really allowed them to demonstrate how they work in those kinds of document tools."

Avoid Email & Chat for Disagreements

Look, miscommunications happen everywhere. Even in-house tech teams fumble.“Sometimes, the concepts behind what a piece of code does is a little more abstract than you want it to be,” says Court Demone, design and marketing lead at Canadian and Demone works with three other guys who live halfway across the country.In order for true collaboration to take place from 300+ miles away, there needs to be some ground rules about virtual communication.If all of your communication happens through chat or email, “it’s far more likely that things will get a little more inflamed than necessary because you put your association of what the other person’s feelings to the words, whether or not that feeling’s felt on the other side,” Demone says.That’s why, if there’s a disagreement or opposing viewpoint about something, Demone and his team always talk it out through Google Hangouts.“You sort of lack that empathy with the other person because they are just words on a screen as opposed to an actual person,” Demone says.Preet Anand, CEO of tech company BlueLight, would agree and says their daily virtual meetings are the glue that keeps them together.“There's also a fair amount of banter that happens this way, and I think that's nice,” Anand says. “It deepens trust between the team.”

Going 100% Cloud is a Must

The most successful virtual tech teams, like Centric Digital, operate 100 percent on the cloud. “And I really mean that,” Manning says. “We’re 180 people and we don’t have a single server room—we use all cloud apps.”In fact, Manning’s worked at huge companies, like Accenture, and has never had the level of access that his team’s created at Centric Digital.Some of Manning’s top cloud apps include: Harvest for time and expense tracking, JIRA for bug tracking and Agile project planning Git Hub for code storage and source code maintenance.There’s a very simple criteria by which Manning and his team selects or eliminates the most successful telecommuting tools.

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