There is no one-size-fits-all solution in the remote vs. on-site teams dilemma, but its nuances are relevant and always worth taking into account. After our first videos where Mihail and Robert talked about working for startups and for enterprises (which you can watch here and here), this episode is about the positives and negatives of working with remote and on-site teams.
This week in our #frontendatbytex series, buckle up and join our colleague, Andreea, into the world of flexible workplace decisions.
If you’re already hooked on our series, you can binge watch it here. Below you’ll find the video & its transcript. Have fun, we sure did!
Andreea: ‘Hi! After my colleague, Robert, walked you through the implications of coding for enterprise, I will cover the differences and challenges in coordinating remote and on-site teams, especially because of the massive shift in the recent months. While this trend has increasingly gained popularity during the last years, with remote developers working either as part of in-house teams or outsourced processes, it seems that it affected 2020 like a paradigm shift. It is why I believe that now, perhaps more than ever, we must be open about the challenges we’re facing and the processes we’re employing to keep up with the times.
Although working remotely is in high demand now, companies still operate with on-site teams as well and availability and location are probably the reason. Having people working from the same office can facilitate team management. These last months have been a testimony to us all that communication is more effective face to face. Being part of the same office often helps team members solve problems faster and, in many instances, it can speed up the development process, since it’s easier to gather everyone in the same room and brainstorm on new features and solutions or to plan on next steps.
But don’t think that on-site teams don’t have their challenges to deal with. Hiring only on-site developers can sometimes be restrictive, both in terms of quality and the number of professionals available in your region, whom you fully depend on. When it comes to web development, one remarkable fact is the variety of languages and frameworks employed. Finding local devs that happen to be experts in the technologies you need isn’t always the easiest process. And, if you do find them, you might realize it’s more expensive to have an on-site team either way. Even if you’re pleased with their performance, you’ll have to provide any and all equipment they need, and you might want to consider paying for extra training, as performance isn’t quite the result of luck. On the other hand, for remote teams, it seems that with the challenges come endless benefits, from the flexibility in lifestyle, that working remotely allows for, to saving costs and being more adaptable, both towards your team and towards the market inside of which you operate.
Having a large pool of experts to choose from is of great benefit both for your company and for your current employees. Beyond flexibility and costs, working remotely is a testimony of trust in the team you’ve assembled and a statement of perspective from your part. While diversity is known to challenge your team in one of the most productive ways, it can also turn you into the victim of language barriers, not because of not being able to understand each other at all, but because of the nuances lost in translation, which require extra care when conveying meaning to pitches and arguments inside the team. Cross-cultural interactions can be sensitive – and you have to constantly make sure that your team understands and respects differences. It is important to embrace diversity at its fullest, and to make an active team effort in becoming aware that these differences have to be acknowledged and respected, even when they’re counterintuitive in your own culture.
But what’s important, is that most of the advantages of having a remote team can be transformed into more advantages. For instance, reduced costs can mean that you can invest in better communication apps and platforms to make working more seamlessly and closer to the reality we’re so used to. Managing a team that works flexible hours can mean an increased availability towards your clients, being more responsive outside of your time zone, and having easier syncs and check-ups. Additionally, not everyone in your team is a radical extrovert, always happy to be around people, and working from home can mean a healthier personal space for your employees.
When it comes to disadvantages, the most pressing one is transitioning towards communication other than how we regularly do it, and this is, perhaps, the biggest psychological impact of working from home. Of course, constantly trying out apps until you find the best mix for your team is a plus, but even for the most experienced teams, it’s still an adjustment. Among the good practices, video calls allow us to mimic human interaction as closely as possible and they help to put a face to the name, while virtual coffee spaces can keep the team glued as personal interaction changes. Working with mixed teams is no walk in the park either. People usually feel the need to belong – to a team, a group, an idea; in other words, it’s important for us to feel included. It’s embedded into our DNA throughout millennia of personal interactions and community-oriented lives.
It is common for remote developers to feel that they are treated differently by the on-site team members or even by the employer. A type of challenge of the remote teams compared to the on-site ones is an increased frequency of priority changes. This has to be addressed and turned into a policy of non-discrimination and inclusion. A mistake often made, which significantly impacts code quality, is not having the remote devs informed early-on when project logic changes. Sometimes the decision not to share all the details is strictly related to confidentiality concerns. Treat the remote developers as an extension of your team and not as a separate team, and share with them the information that is not crucially confidential. Who knows, maybe they spot some technical issues or logical gaps. Face to face communication helps unifying a team. And having a strong collective is a major plus for a project, but sometimes it can lead to side picking when it gets to technical decisions and debates, because we tend to be more supportive of the team members that we work with more closely.
The quality of code reviews can be affected by the same principle. From delayed reviews to more strict comments on some practices widely used by other team members and unnoticed in their cases, this is an issue you have to be prepared for. A possible solution would be to establish some code and code review guidelines that apply to everyone. The reality is that, depending on the nature of your team, different things apply. On some cases, having well-described tasks for everyone is taken very seriously, on others a brief description that does not cover all the aspects of the task is considered enough. It’s easy for someone working in the same office to ask around what the actual scope is, easier to clarify the specs left unmentioned, or to find an old reference of that functionality if that’s the case. But when working remotely and maybe in a different time zone, it might cost some valuable time to find all the requirements to get started on a task. To make everyone’s work more straightforward, avoid vague requests and contradictory instructions, and set clear expectations when defining a task.
Beginnings aren’t easy on any of us. And they tend to become even messier when you don’t meet your teammates in person. So if you’re working with remote developers, make sure to help with the ramp-up process, to introduce them to the team properly, and to allow them to understand everyone’s responsibilities. This way, they will know who they should talk to when they have a problem or need more information on a specific topic. Ideally, everyone should come by the office from time to time, just to get the feel of their team and to understand that they belong.
That’s it from me! Now that we’ve been through the ins and outs of working with remote and on-site teams, I’ll leave you to Alex Răescu, who will introduce you to the world of debunking outsource myths. Take good care and stay in touch!’