How to Manage a Distributed Software Engineering Team

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Fred Monnier
Fred Monnier
Chief Staffing Operations Officer

Table of Contents

There are many benefits of having a distributed team but with those benefits come some challenges. Use the tips found here to better manage your team.
Published on
July 14, 2022
Updated on
April 12, 2024

Distributed teams are to tech companies what freedom is to Americans.

This is not a far-fetched assertion. Just take a look at the big guns in the tech field — the likes of Zapier, Slack, Buffer, Groove, Skype, and GitLab. They all leverage geographically distributed teams and are killing it, judging from their continued success.

Similarly, you must also innovate and jump on this futuristic bandwagon to achieve big milestones in your software development processes and other core areas of your tech company. To do this sustainably, you need to learn how to manage a distributed team effectively, understand the challenges of working with distributed teams, and brainstorm iterative solutions.

Here at Revelo, we aim to help you build and scale your software and technology teams more rapidly and efficiently. To that end, we've compiled this in-depth guide to give you a solid head start in managing distributed teams.

Read on to get concrete remote management insights to help you take your tech company or startup to the next level.

What Are Distributed Teams?

Distributed teams have a structure where employees work asynchronously from different geographical locations. With this arrangement, you have multiple co-functioning teams collaborating remotely from diverse workspaces worldwide.

You could be a software engineer manager working from Texas for a California-based tech company, with your dev team members distributed across Latin America. Distributed software development teams aren’t geo-restricted — they don’t all work remotely from a central headquarters location where operational decisions are made.

Instead, distributed teams embrace asynchronous working, where members complete workflows autonomously from any location and turn over process ownership to the subsequent member or team.

Challenges That Come From Managing Remote Teams

For the most part, the challenges of remote working are either technical or psycho-cultural. So far, most tech companies have a grip on technical challenges like cybersecurity and information technology (IT) infrastructure.

Dynamic solutions such as Firewall as a Service and Desktop as a Service help alleviate technical issues to a great extent. Hence, technical challenges may not keep you up at night because it’s easier to ideate solutions.

It’s the psycho-cultural challenges that have been a sticky thorn in the flesh for remote workers and managers. Let’s address some of these technical and psycho-cultural challenges.

Time Zone Differences

When you have a distributed team across multiple countries, it’s almost impossible to get hold of every team member simultaneously. Huge time differences can be a crippling obstacle, especially when following an agile process model involving many back-and-forths.

This is why at Revelo, we go the extra mile to connect you with software engineers who are already comfortable working in U.S. time zones. It’s easier to manage remote teams in overlapping time zones than ones in opposite time zones, especially when you need prompt communication to expedite a process.

Communication Issues

A 2020 report by Buffer and Angelist revealed that 20% of remote workers cite collaboration and communication as their main struggles with working remotely. The lack of face-to-face interactions inhibits nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and body language, which account for 93% of communication according to Mehrabian’s Communication Theory.

Language Barriers

Some of the best software developers hail from and reside in non-English-speaking locations like Latin America. In 2021, about 500,000 Brazilian developers, 225,000 Mexican developers, and 100,000 Argentinian developers worked on offshore software development projects.  

This presents a huge language barrier for English-speaking CEOs or software engineering managers overseeing distributed teams with different language backgrounds. Good thing Revelo links you with English-speaking software developers to help you bridge language barriers and communication issues.

Feelings of Isolation

Isolation and loneliness are the most prevalent concerns among remote workers. Staring at your screen all day long from your isolated workspace kills the camaraderie feeling you would otherwise experience in a shared workspace.

Without in-person activities like after-work beers or corporate shindigs that infuse fun into work processes, it’s easy to feel isolated when managing remote teams. To beat this menace, your should rethink your modus operandi and remodel your company culture around remote work. Think of fun remote activities like Zoom drinks, digital breakfast clubs, and fika breaks.

To successfully manage a distributed team, you must find workable and sustainable strategies to navigate these common remote working challenges. These 10 tips should empower you to lay a solid remote work foundation in your tech company and figure out how to manage distributed teams in agile.

10 Tips for Managing a Distributed Team of Software Engineers

New challenges call for novel solutions. Your traditional team management skills may fall short when managing distributed software development teams. But fret not. These tried and tested tips will get you going.

1. Conduct Regular Team Meetings to Go Over Objectives and Progress

1:1 meetings with your distributed software development teams help you check in with each member to track all workflows and ensure they’re going as planned. Virtual meetings create a professional ambiance for you to discourse with your team members. Similarly, team members can circle back on workflow issues and course-correct if there’s friction in their daily tasks.

Regular check-ins help keep every team member on track with your collective company objectives. The trick is to schedule your meetings at the most convenient and productive time for your distributed teams, guided by their individual time zones. For efficient time management and optimum productivity, consult your team and reach a consensus on the best time to hold 1:1 team meetings.

2. Create a Communication Architecture for Your Team

There are many communication channels you can utilize to liaise with your distributed teams. They include emails, instant messaging, phone and video calls, mailing lists, web forums, knowledge base, and wikis. Each channel comes with multiple tools, and none are created equal. For instance, email tools include ProtonMail, Gmail, and Outlook, while web forums include NodeBB, Flarum, and Discourse.

It’s not practical or expedient to use all the tools simultaneously or keep switching from one to the other. You need to choose the most effective tools for each use case and outline protocols for using each tool. This creates a customized and streamlined communication ecosystem that your distributed teams can use to communicate and interact seamlessly.

3. Set Realistic Expectations

You must be intentional about what you expect from each team member and communicate your position clearly. However, you must set achievable and realistic expectations so you don’t burn out your dev team. A more scope-specific approach is setting expectations for each phase of your software development life cycle (SDLC).

The SDLC outlines seven phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Define requirements
  3. Design and prototyping
  4. Software development
  5. Testing
  6. Deployment
  7. Operations and maintenance

Depending on your in-house methodologies, you may separate or merge these steps to suit your convenience. You may also have separate dev teams working on different phases. This means you would set expectations for each dev team based on the stage they’re working on.

Overall, referencing your project phases puts you in a better position to set attainable expectations for your distributed teams.

4. Get to Know and Understand Team Dynamics

While working remotely where everybody is in their own isolated space, and it’s all about coding and completing workflows, the human factors influencing team dynamics may fall through the cracks. But it shouldn’t be the case. As the manager, it’s up to you to observe the mannerisms of your remote team so you know which stimulus they would respond to well.

For instance, if you observe that most of your dev team members are Star Wars fans, you may consider infusing Star Wars references in your written or virtual teams communications. The idea is to inject some personality into your remote interactions so team members can communicate freely and productively without feeling so suit-and-tie. In the long run, it builds cohesion and affability among your team members.

5. Identify KPIs That Help Monitor Team Performance

Setting your team’s key performance indicators (KPIs) is necessary to measure and track performance. Your project management methodology will influence your team’s KPIs substantially.

If you follow an agile project management framework, where your dev team delivers finished projects in one go at the end, long-term KPIs will suffice. Conversely, short-term KPIs will be more effective if you utilize a scrum project management framework where your dev teams deliver projects in bits spread out in shorter timeframes.

With distributed teams, you want your KPIs to be more result-focused than process-focused. Software engineers may use different techniques to achieve the same outcome. Hence, a solid KPI should be result-based both in scrum and agile methodologies.

6. Emphasize Work-Life Balance

Separating personal and professional life is challenging for remote workers. About 29% of remote workers struggle to maintain a sustainable work-life balance compared to 23% of in-office workers. Understandably, remote workers struggle to unplug from work, given that they work and live in the same setting.

As a manager, you can help your distributed workforce maintain an excellent work-life balance by setting a consistent work schedule and adhering to it. For instance, you can set a specific time frame for your 1:1s and only send work emails within business hours. This way, team members can organize their daily schedules accordingly.

When offline, they won’t have the constant anxiety of missing important work emails. This helps them enjoy their off-work time more productively. Good and consistent time management on your part trickles down to your team, enabling them to plan their work schedules with uniformity. As a result, they can pursue a stable work-life balance with time.

7. Use Project Management Tools for Team Management

Project management tools for distributed teams such as, Asana, Trello, and Jira simplify team management. These tools organize all your workflows in one place, making it easy for you and your team members to collaborate remotely.

If you’re managing multiple software dev teams and want to separate access privileges and work functions, these tools come in handy. You want to choose a multichannel tool that can seamlessly integrate with your everyday software, such as Gmail and CRM tools.

8. Discuss Company Expectations During the Onboarding Process for New Employees

An effective onboarding process helps new hires get to value quickly. To reduce your ramp time, be honest and forthwith with new developers before transitioning them to your core team. Ensure new team members know your company’s remote work policies, timing, KPIs, and management style well. This prevents new hire turnover that can cost you big in the short and long term.

9. Provide Teams With Collaboration Tools To Maximize Performance and Team Success

Collaborative tools are no longer a luxurious option for a select few deep-pocketed tech companies like it was the case in the nascent years of remote work. Today, there are many collaboration tools available for remote teams. While some tools like Zoom and Trello have a free version, you need the paid version to perform more demanding functions.

Thus, it’s a good idea and a better investment to provide your teams with a premium version of your select collaboration tools. The good news is that the paid version of most of these top-rated collaboration tools like Zoom is reasonably priced, and you can negotiate discounts if you’re a bulk user.

10. Provide Employees With What They Need To Create a Comfortable Home Office Setup

A 2021 remote work report indicated that 38% of remote companies offered their remote workers a work from home (WFH) stipend or bought laptops for them. Given the significant upfront cost of setting up a comfortable remote workspace, you should also consider offering a WFH compensation to your remote dev team.

Take it as a long-term investment that will yield a greater return on investment (ROI) by the time you need to replace or repair the equipment and office supplies. If you’re a startup with a stretched budget, you may offer your remote dev teams equipment loans to help them finance their home offices.

The Benefits of Having an Entire Team of Remote Employees

These are the first-hand perks of going fully remote.

You Save Money by Not Needing a Physical Office Space

A study by Global Workplace Analytics indicates remote employers can save up to $1,935,000 per year in real estate costs. With a distributed team, you may not even need office space if you don’t have a central headquarters. Other than real estate costs, you can save overhead costs by more than $11,000 per worker annually when managing remote teams.

Talent Can Be Sourced From Several Geographic Locations

Some decades ago, Silicon Valley was the de facto home for tech talent. The supply of talent is one of the core reasons big tech companies like Google and Apple established their headquarters in Silicon Valley.

But thanks to remote working, you don’t need to move to Silicon Valley or Seattle to attract the top software engineers. Instead, you can source your dev team from other regions such as Latin America. And this is where you need a partner like Revelo, with an extensive database of tech professionals in diverse geographic locations.

Additionally, sourcing your dev teams from different locations promotes diversity in your tech company. Even when working online, your team members can pick up a lesson or two from the cultural differences manifested by their colleagues.

There Is a Positive Impact on Employee Morale

Lack of inspiration is one of the top reasons employees quit their jobs. Having a remote work model in your tech company boosts employee engagement and morale. The following stats tell it all:

The flexibility and time freedom of remote work yields more satisfaction than an office setup. More so, most software engineers prefer result-based management common in remote work over eyeball management prevalent in office setups.

How Revelo Can Help You Ditch the Traditional Office Setup

Creating great software calls for a well-coordinated development team dedicated to quality. Organizing and managing a software development team requires out-of-the-box thinking, and the first smart step is going fully remote and embracing distributed teams.

Adopting a remote work model allows you to tap the best tech talent in and out of the U.S. While there are over 4.4 million software developers in the US, you may not land a local developer. It’s because of the current shortage of software developers, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics says will increase by about 1.2 million by 2026.

This means you must broaden your search offshore to build agile teams that will do the job well. And that’s where Revelo comes in. With our rich talent pool of highly-qualified remote software engineers, you’re sure to find one that ticks all your boxes.

Whether you’re looking to build a team of developers from scratch or add to your existing team size, Revelo will help you find the ideal software engineer for your tech company. Count on us to help you source, hire, and manage hard-to-find software developers swiftly and efficiently.

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