We’re a team of remote workers. Now what?

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BLOG – During the past 9 months, I worked on the Eneco consumer app as their UX designer. The team consists of a bunch of talented folks. Amongst them, Branimir and Filip – the Android and iOS developers. It’s just that… They live in Croatia. And that comes with some challenges. As I took a plane to meet them, we talked a little about collaborating remotely. As we learned over the last 8 months together, it takes a little more effort than installing Slack and make sure the webcam is working. We share some thoughts on how to efficiently collaborate remotely and came up with a couple tips.

Branimir: You can learn a lot from each other.
Filip: I learned some Dutch words — mostly related to energy.
Martijn: Yesterday, I heard Branimir translate the word ‘meterstanden’ to Croatian, which I’m not even gonna try.
Branimir: I still have trouble pronouncing ‘Termijnbedrag’, but I’ll get there.

Let’s kick things off with an obvious one.

Get to know each other by meeting in real life
This one can be tough to improve, but finding ways to see each other now and then can greatly improve the development progress. We learn how the other works, thinks and acts by spending time with that person. Video conferencing can help you with that, but an obvious improvement is meeting in real life. If possible, hang out after work as well.

Filip: Team visits are important since they give you the opportunity to erase communication issues that are caused by remote work itself.

Branimir: I was unexperienced in working remotely and I think I have improved. As a team we improved a lot. But… I do prefer working with you in person. It’s much more efficient. It’s easier to show you my progress, to show you what’s implemented. It’s much faster.

Filip and Branimir trying to figure out what I want them to develop.
Filip and Branimir trying to figure out what I want them to develop.

Document progress daily
Documenting progress itself is also something that wouldn’t seem very agile to the scrum elite amongst ourselves. And as a team we did ran into the issue of documenting too much. That’s why we came up with summaries. Every day we briefly go over the tasks we worked on and will be working on the next day and share it on a specific channel on Slack. This way, the team in Rotterdam, the Netherlands has better insight of what’s is going on 1330 kilometers away in Zagreb, Croatia and vice versa.

Branimir: The traditional way of working agile is not easily adopted when working remotely, because we can’t always attend meetings like a review or a retrospective the team has in the Netherlands. That’s why we use all kinds of tools. We can do a quick review through Slack. Or provide documentation through Jira.

Go for a lean way to document progress. This way you won’t loose too much time making your documentation overly complete and filled with details no one’s gonna read anyway.

A Slack summary from Filip.
A Slack summary from Filip.

Communicate about events that are coming up
Imagine walking to your next meeting with a colleague. In this short walk, you actually have a lot of time to talk things through about the coming meeting. A lot of these tidbits of communication get lost when working with colleagues abroad and can create real blind spots. Try to figure out what your remote colleagues would want to know and brief them well ahead of time. It might sound weird, but this can actually greatly improve the speed of the proces.

Filip: I guess that’s the thing about remote work; you’re always running into communication issues. There’s no easy, proper replacement for calling someone face to face. Until they invent that… There are gonna be problems.

You can lose a lot of time on communication. That’s why it’s vital to find structure in your collaboration and communication. Agree upon certain rules, as communication with remote workers will be different.

Video conference life…
Video conference life…

Branimir: What’s most important when working remotely is sticking to the deal and to the flow which you agreed upon together.

As the title of the paragraph implies, the same goes for people coming over or taking a trip to your colleagues.

Filip: We shouldn’t just send people over to The Netherlands or Croatia for the sake of it. When we know designers are coming, we should have a moment of preparation to work on the design part of the app development.
Martijn: Yes. We had moments in The Netherlands were it was just you, working.
Filip: Yeah, it was a time were our direct input wasn’t that important and that wasn’t a good use of our travels. During the sprint planning itself, you can decide which tasks need to get into sprint that are worth the visit.

You’ll find multiple other ways to prepare yourself for a trip, besides Filip’s suggestion. Just make sure it will be worth: pack your beach towel ànd brief the people you’re visiting well in time.

Some last thoughts
Working remotely comes with some benefits and caveats. As you don’t want too many oversights slipping through the cracks of your releases, you have to manage your expectations a little and start improving from there as a team. Be creative with the way you communicate and make sure the other side of the hedge knows what needs to be done. Provide them with to the point documentation and meet up in real life. You’ll learn a lot from each other and probably have great fun in the proces.

Martijn: Am I missing anything?
Branimir: I like the traveling.

Looking for better ways to collaborate with your colleagues? Share your thoughts with me by contacting me via martijn.vandezuidwind@schaalplusser.nl.

Digital Design Talent Martijn

Martijn van de Zuidwind

Digital Talent bij SCHAAL+ | LinkedIn