5 lessons we learned after building 15+ remote teams

feel free to use :)

A big chunk of our work at Grinteq revolves around building remote teams of developers for first-tier e-commerce and product companies. Below is the first pack of 5 lessons we learned the hard way.
1. Start with old dogs
1st remote hire.
If your company wasn’t born “remote first” from day one — senior, extremely experienced folks should be your first remote hires, without comprising on the cost. Once they are in place, proceed with hiring less experienced and budget-friendly employees.

Lesson learned: Don’t play cheap with first remote hires, aim for senior folks with proven track of autonomous work, it will pay off in the long run, you’ll see.
2. Keep it in the family
Spread love, not war.
Before going all that remote, it’s vital to make sure your organization/team adheres to the best software development practices and has efficient internal communication. What works poorly in the regular office setting, will be drastically amplified by the remote setting.

Pro tip: if your team has toxic geniuses, it might be a good idea to keep them isolated from remote colleagues or ditch them if the former is not possible.

Lesson learned: Fix your internal project management/communication problems before onboarding remote employees.
3. An employee handbook, sales handbook, insert the process you’d like to fix book
Hi, it so me, caption!
Common remote organization downside is information/knowledge silos, the company-wide wisdom is distributed unevenly and travels with a different speed from team to team.

Try to level the playing field for all members of your team, irrespective of the location.

Ditch the “HQ first mentality” by accumulating, parsing and distributing company rules and know-how in the form of handbooks. Next time a team lead wants to write a process improvement note, suggest adding it to the company “project delivery handbook” , which is accessible to the whole team.

Lesson learned: From day 1 of your team operation — make sure to document the organizational knowledge and get it in front of the whole team.
4. Get an “online water cooler”
First days of your remote hires.

Once the majority of your team is in remote mode, there is no water cooler, memes you can discuss over the coffee break, or after-work happy hours at the nearest bar. This does impact team bonds and connections, leaving employees alienated from peers and management.

Since the inception of remote work culture, this downside has been approached by countless teams at different angles.

Unfortunately, there are no one-fit-all solutions yet. But there is a number of proven to-dos which can mitigate isolation and create a “water cooler effect”:

 
  • As simple as that, have a rant slack channel/chat, where everybody can post memes, gimmicks, or extremely unrelated stuff. Plant some “conversation starters”.
  • Macro team building — fly in all of your team members for a week once a quarter/year. Somewhere warm.
  • Micro team building — have team members in one geography meet on a monthly/quarterly basis. Pay for their drinks.
 

Lesson learned: don’t expect your remote team to connect and bond by default, initiate it, invest in it, cherish it.

5. Check it in, check it out.
Your remote Slack channel.

The office-centric setting provides certain clarity regarding things your peers are working on, the remote setting does not unless fine-tuned.

Create automated daily/weekly check-ins and check-outs, broadcast it on the team level (optional).

 
  • What are you planning to work on today?
  • What have you accomplished yesterday?
 

It’s a useful practice that takes about 5 minutes a day but keeps your team communication “hygiene” in order.

Lesson learned: Don’t think that remote employees will stand up and start updating each other out of a sudden. Create a framework for daily updates. Make it easy and effortless for the team to follow it.
 

Conclusion

All in all, remote culture is what you make of it, it can bring amazing talent to the table or harm your processes in a heartless way.

It takes time to set up and deploy remote mindset across existing office organization, but once it’s there — amazing opportunities will be coming your way.

Further reading: one of the best examples of scalable remote settings out there is Git Lab, they maintain a great handbook and it’s worth reading irrespective of how far along your team is on the remote journey.

Yours,
Nick