Three Best Practices for Managing a Remote Engineering Team
Leading a remote engineering team requires the manager to be on a constant lookout for techniques that can boost efficiency without expanding the cognitive load of the group. According to a survey conducted by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the number of remote engineering teams has increased from 13 percent in March 2020 to 74 percent in March 2021. This rise has sent managers across the globe scrambling for the best ways to oversee their teams.
This article dives deeper into the issues facing remote engineering teams and how managers can help develop bonds and increase clarity and productivity when their people no longer work in the same location.
Prioritize video conferences over messages to build connections
The biggest challenge of remote work is the loss of serendipity from being in the office. Distributed teams miss the opportunity to have casual dialogue that builds bonds between employees and contributes to company culture. In addition, inconsistent communication within engineering teams can lead to inefficient design, development, testing, and release. And thus, efficient communication tools are crucial for ensuring seamless engineering operations.
Though video conferences don’t provide the ease of in-office communication, they are more efficient than text messages as they convey body language and tone. Remote engineering managers should encourage team members to turn on their cameras in video meetings. This way, team members get a chance to better engage with each other. Thus, regular video conferences can aid in creating a virtual culture of connectivity and collaboration among globally distributed teams, reaffirming the message that everyone is working towards the same goal.
Document everything for complete clarity
A remote engineering job is technical and has no room for error. Therefore, the need for clear written guidelines is acute, especially when the team members work across time zones. If the instructions are not clear, the engineering team may lose a day of work waiting for further clarifications. Continuous, back-and-forth cycles like these are highly inefficient and disruptive. Standard instruction manuals, with explicit guidelines, can help avoid such cycles as ample details lead to fewer misinterpretations. Hence, it is essential to document everything as clearly as possible. Similarly, it is good to replace whiteboards with document-based processes as it helps distributed members understand the organizational goals and objectives clearly.
Developing clarity with written communication minimizes lost work and is a skill all remote engineers should develop. Additionally, engineers should be encouraged to preempt questions by sharing their written instructions with colleagues for honest feedback. This way, all the probable queries are addressed before the message reaches a larger audience.
Have a detailed agenda for scheduled meetings
Scheduling conference calls or meetings often feels like the simplest way to connect across boundaries. Unfortunately, remote-first organizations often send out generic meeting invitations that may not be relevant to every proposed attendee. Too many of these meetings, when scheduled one after the other, can become overwhelming. Thus, remote teams should spend an adequate amount of time preparing for the video conference calls to make them as efficient and result-driven as possible. It is equally important to evaluate the current progress toward milestones and other action items of the meeting. An explicit agenda comprising an overview for attendees and a list of expected outcomes must be shared among all remote members before scheduled meetings.
This way, even employees who won’t be attending a particular meeting can get an idea of its scope and share their questions or suggestions concerning the organizer asynchronously. These practices can help make synchronous meetings much more productive and avoid redundancy. As a result, remote teams can hold only those necessary meetings to get things done that otherwise cannot be accomplished asynchronously.
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It takes intentionality and effort to build a solid all-remote engineering team. An excellent remote manager must demonstrate genuine faith and confidence in the abilities of their team and offer support wherever needed. Having regular video calls for engagement, documenting processes and communications for better clarity, and scheduling meetings with explicit agendas can help engineering managers manage distributed teams efficiently.
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