We are big believers in remote work. We work with dozens of developers spread across multiple time zones. We know that remote work is not easy and we've been dealing with the challenges of managing remote teams for years. As part of our efforts to improve and encourage remote work, we're putting together a series meant to help identify and solve the key challenges faced by remote teams and developers.
Working with remote software development teams has all of the challenges of working with an on-site team and the additional challenges created by not being in the same room. Unless properly handled, a lot can be lost in translation. Non-verbal cues, body language, and spontaneous interaction are almost always lost, and unless teams implement the proper processes, remote team members will feel left out.
What it means to be reachable as a remote developer
Over the years we have been able to identify some of the qualities that make the difference between an OK remote team member and a top performer. This article discusses one of the elements critical to setting yourself apart from the rest pact.
A frequent issue with remote team members is that they are not next to us. We can’t turn our chairs around and ask them a question, and we can’t walk down the hallway to the conference room and have a quick chat. Remote developers are often difficult to contact, slow to respond, or just plain unreachable. Unless you are easily available, your team will get frustrated, fail to communicate, and little by little leave you out of the loop.
Q: When? A: At the very least during business hours.
Developers at Blue Coding, and top remote developers everywhere, are expected to be reachable at all times during their work schedule. If you agree to 9–5, then be quick to respond during that time. If you have a flexible schedule you probably need to be flexible with your availability too.
The more people or processes that depend on you the more you will need to be available. “What about weekends and evenings?” — If you are responsible for a product’s uptime, are in charge of a team, or have recently deployed code to production, consider yourself to be on call.
You don’t always need to respond or act immediately, but you need to be reachable. Your team needs to be able to know that you got the message and that you are aware of the situation.
Q: How? A: Through multiple channels.
There are many different channels that you can use to communicate with your team, and depending on the circumstances you should be available by at least one at all times. Email is good for non-urgent communication. Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts are good for quick video calls. Slack and HipChat for quick chat. WhatsApp and Telegram for quick off-hours questions. A regular cell number or even a landline for urgent communication.
My internet connection sucks /I have an old blackberry phone and can’t install apps / my laptop camera is broken. Q: What do I do? A: Fix it.
Don’t make your team have to work to reach you. Make yourself easily available through different channels for different needs. Remember, YOU are the remote developer, and YOU need to make sure that you can be reached easily. If your chat application is crashing, reinstall your OS.
If you have a crappy internet connection, get a better one. If you don’t have reliable internet access on your phone, get it. If your phone is running out of battery constantly, replace it. Install your chat application on your phone, install your email client on your phone. Make sure your team has your contact info (your cellphone, your mom’s landline, your girlfriend's email address, whatever it takes to reach you in case of an emergency).
Always be reachable by at least one of these channels. Your team NEEDS to be able to reach you because if there is an emergency. Make sure that if the site goes down at midnight there is some way to alert you in time. Believe me, nobody wants to receive a call in the middle of the night because there is a DDOS attack underway, but you need to be reachable in the event that it happens.
Q: What if I don’t want to have a meeting on Sunday. A: That’s OK.
Being reachable doesn’t mean you have to be working all the time. Being reachable means that messages can get to you, and that you can respond: “Got it, I will work on this at the appropriate time”. What the appropriate time is will depend on the issue at hand. Use your judgment to decide whether you need to reply immediately or if you can reply on Monday.
Q: What if I don’t want to be reachable? A: Don’t be a remote developer.
In the coming weeks, we will be exploring other qualities that make top remote developers. If you like what you read, subscribe below and If you know any remote devs who might find this useful, please share with them!