Working as a Developer in a Distributed Team
28th March 2017
Working as a developer in a distributed team allows for a lot of flexibility. You no longer have to book more expensive weekend deliveries for furniture, or find a way to get to the office when the weather turns the roads to ice. The hours saved each week from skipping a regular commute can add up to giving you days’ worth of extra time.
It’s not without its difficulties, though. You could find it hard to focus, struggle with team communications, and generally just miss day-to-day passive human company. Following these tips hopefully you can minimize these negatives and purely benefit from the positives.
Keep a good line of team communication
Your team is important to the work you do. You’re all working together for the same goal, so keeping them in the know on what you’re working on, how it’s going, and any issues you’re facing is vital. It can prevent wasted time and avoid needless frequent, flow-breaking, catch up sessions.
Here at Cronofy we’ve made use of multiple team organizational tools, such as Trello and Basecamp. Both of these help keep everyone on the same page and give each person a better view of what’s in progress and what’s coming up next on the roadmap. I cannot recommend using an organizational tool strongly enough.
Timebox your struggles
I am often guilty of spending hours working on a solution to issues that could easily be solved were I to ask for help. These problems often stretch on as I feel I am making progress even though the problem would be solved faster by a phone call.
My method of avoiding this pitfall is to timebox any problem I’m stuck on. If I’m still working on the same issue after 15 minutes, I give myself the rest of an hour to solve it myself, or I start talking to my team mates to see if there’s something they know that I don’t.
This helps with reaching more targets and completing tasks faster and more efficiently. It also helps build relationships with team members who I otherwise would not see or talk to very often.
Get some company
If you’re anything like me you’ll go crazy if you don’t talk to anyone for a few days, which is a very real possibility when working from home. You can spend all day in your own personal palace without seeing a soul, with only the occasional ping of a Slack message to remind you that you’re not alone in the universe. After a while that can start to make you go stir-crazy.
It helps me to make active efforts to leave the house. Make plans to meet someone for lunch, or after work. Meet ups are also fantastic, especially if you’re new to an area or don’t know many people. They put together like-minded people and combine them with interesting content and alcohol – the perfect recipe for conversation.
Utilize conversational tools
Part of working remotely means your team dynamic doesn’t evolve passively through constant small interactions. The “Hey, how’s it going?” conversation doesn’t come so naturally when you have to write it in an email instead of just on your way to get your morning coffee. These interactions and conversations help to build relationships, and make your team more comfortable together.
It doesn’t have to be this way though – with the right tools you can get these passive communications going and start gradually building up these relationships with your co-workers. The key is making it easy to talk to each other about your weekend, about your upcoming holiday, or about the way your dog escaped in a Benny Hill-style scenario the night before.
We use two tools for our core communication: Slack for instant messaging, and Zoom for face-to-face conversation. These two tools work together to allow for casual, asynchronous, communication in Slack, and full-on personal conversations through Zoom. Using these two tools we’re prepared for any grade of discussion, be it planning out our next quarter’s roadmap or discussing the latest Marvel movie.
Remote working can be a real change of pace, but as long as you assess any issues as they come up and work out as a team how to resolve them, you’ll feel the benefits of working remotely and enjoy waking up that bit later without a commute to worry about.