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In our last piece, we covered how remote software engineering teams offer incredible opportunities vis-a-vis productivity and innovation to companies willing to embrace them. Indeed, the new normal has helped employers and employees alike in unprecedented ways.
But, that’s not to say that remote work is as easy as hiring a developer, setting a deadline, receiving a deliverable, paying them via PayPal, and calling it a day. For, as many managers realize far too late is that a remote software engineering team is nowhere near as easy to manage as they might have thought.
Many things that both employers and engineers took for granted when working in house suddenly become irrelevant, while new challenges are introduced which have no clear solutions.
Let’s take a look at some of the “between the lines” issues of managing remote engineering teams that are seldom mentioned but are sadly, far too common and how you can address them.
What are Managers Likely to Miss When Working Remotely?
The change to a remote working paradigm became too permanent too quickly for many in the corporate world in the post-pandemic world. A survey of more than 1200 people in 24 countries managing remote teams by Sharon et al published in HBR revealed that 40% of the 215 supervisors had low confidence in their ability to effectively oversee their teams. A plethora of reasons were leading to self-doubt and unrealistic expectations across the board.
But, while the overt problems of remote work such as lack of support, inability to track work, getting distracted etc are easily visible, the subtle issues may slip under the radar, causing massive damage to the remote software engineering team’s productivity. The most persistent of these issues include:
Body Language and Tone
People working from home are likely to behave differently as they are more relaxed than they would be in an office environment. Likewise, if your team consists of people from different countries, their behavior and overall demeanor may seem alien to you and yours to them.
Why is this important? Our words make sense in a context that is heavily dependent on physical presence which is absent in remote work, making it difficult to really get what someone’s saying.
If all communication becomes written, then the writer has no way of issuing clarifications immediately which may lead to misinterpretations.
For example, a Workplace Wellness Report found that 44% of employees surveyed felt their company had no standard communication protocols, leading to information overload, confusion and misunderstandings.
Social isolation, anxiety and a never ending information dump can easily lead many in your remote engineering team to get exhausted far too often. A large number of tech workers have reported feeling overwhelmed as they began working from home regularly.
The challenge however, is identifying burnouts in remote working employees. Since managers are restricted to text messaging and the occasional video chat, they may completely overlook symptoms of exhaustion and continue assigning work as per usual, making the person on the other end even more miserable.
What Can You Do to Help Your Remote Engineering Team?
All the issues discussed above have the potential to become silent productivity vampires. They can sap your team members of energy while increasing anxiety, doubt and general malaise. But, such issues can be addressed with some forethought, planning and focus.
Know the Remote Versions of In-Person Communication Cues
Ever been in a meeting where someone says something that leads to an awkward silence? Or, when a person stops looking you in the eyes? Or, when they stop talking with you? Such things can happen in a remote environment as well, only in a different way.
Look out for long pauses during text messaging, how someone shifts their weight in a video call, or if a team member stops responding to your emails. Such behavior is highly suggestive of misunderstandings and/or perceived threats. The basic tenet here is, if someone is communicating normally one minute and not the other, you need to pick up the phone and address them directly.
Don’t Be Quick to Judge Non-Native Language Speakers
People who come from different backgrounds than your team’s are not likely to get your insider-jokes, cultural references or idioms. Likewise, they might have their own references that may make little sense to you. Make space for such misunderstandings and ask questions before assigning blame.
Actively Inquire about Your Team’s Physical and Mental Health
Does someone look like they’re low on energy? Are they becoming irritable? Are they missing their deadlines? All these are symptoms of burnout and deteriorating mental health.
The best way for employees to maintain their well-being is to set and adhere to boundaries. Encourage them to take time off, limit the amount of work to realistic levels, and help them create their own work schedule that feeds off their circadian rhythms.
Or, Let Us Help You Manage Your Remote Software Engineering Teams
We at Muoro understand the nuances of remote work better than most. We routinely bring in experts to help our team members get the best training and help needed to excel at their tasks and we can do the same for you.