How to Build Efficient Communication with Remote Team?

Software development outsourcing is becoming increasingly widespread as more and more businesses recognize the advantages of this method of work organization. Outsourcing is the answer to many problems that a business faces when setting up in-house development — from renting an office to hiring staff and building the development processes.

With outsourcing all these problems are not your problems, they are the problems of your outsourcing partner. This is the main attraction of this model, and a lot of startups and established businesses prefer to assign software development to professional companies.

However, with all the benefits of outsourcing, you may have that uneasy feeling that you're not in control. You're assigning an important part of your project to some people on the other side of the globe when you've only seen them in your Skype window. Of course, you are totally right to be worried… if you have not established effective communication with your remote team.

With dozens of successful outsourcing projects under our belt, we recognize the importance of proper communication and understand the concerns of our partners. We thought we'd share our views on communication between the client and the remote team and some practical recommendations on building it.

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Communication as a part of project planning

How does outsourcing cooperation usually start? You may contact the development company directly after browsing their website and portfolio. Or you can post your project on Upwork, contact the development team via Clutch or use any of the dozens of outsourcing platforms. In all cases you have discussed the project, the budget, the timeline, completed the project design and planning and are about to start development. Now it’s time to think about remote team communication.

Stop. Too late. When you get to the development stage, all the communication channels must already be in place and properly functioning. Rule #1 is to plan your communication while planning project development.

When you're scheduling the sprints and setting up project management tools, like GitHub, Confluence, Trello, or any other tool of your choice, that's the perfect time to determine how you're going to structure communication with your remote team. The task is a bit more complex than just adding them in Skype, and we are going to get to the bottom of it.

Remote team communication — what makes it tick

Communication is the lifeblood of any project, even more so when you are working with a remote team. Communication is something that should never be ignored. We recommend the following basic steps to ensure effective communication with your remote development team.

Appoint a product owner

The product owner is a person on your team who's supervising product development. The product owner is the point of contact for remote developers when they need to discuss any matters related to the business value of your product.

The product owner knows what the product is for. Their responsibility is to make sure that at the final release the product can achieve the initial goal and not just be a great piece of code with no obvious value.

The product owner should take part in all product demos at the end of each sprint and, if needed, suggest changes to bring the development closer to the business goal. In addition, the product owner should establish continuous communication with the remote project manager and, if necessary, the team leads to coordinate development. In other words, the product owner should become the link between developers and stakeholders ensuring that both sides are on the same page.

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Set up communication channels

Together with planning and setting up project management software, take some time to carefully plan the communication platforms that you'll use with your remote team. For most projects, the following set of tools should be provided:

  • Email. Make sure you exchange all necessary email addresses between your team and the remote team. Email is a more formal way of communication to be used when something needs to be stated in writing.
  • Instant messaging. There's hardly any project that doesn't have an instant messaging space in Slack or Google Hangouts. Instant messaging typically serves to get quick answers to any questions or send short notifications between team members.
  • Video conferencing. Even in a remote team, or should we say, especially in a remote team, face-to-face meetings are of extreme importance. Seeing people who are working on the same product hundreds of miles away creates an additional bond between the two sides of the project and helps to establish better rapport and understanding. Besides, video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Skype for Business offer great screen-sharing opportunities, which makes them the perfect choice for demos, presentations or other discussions.
  • Calendar. Choose a common calendar tool to synchronize your activities. Having a calendar will help you plan meetings more effectively. For example, if you book your demos for 17:00 every other Friday for the entire duration of the project, you'll make sure that both the stakeholders and the developers will have this time free to get together and discuss the results of the current sprint. The best-known calendar tool is Google Calendar, but you can use other solutions if you find them more effective.
  • Documentation. Choose a common documentation storage platform with clear structure and access levels. When all project documentation is stored in the same place, and team members update the documents with the project development progress, such storage becomes a source of synchronized and up-to-date information for everyone. Having proper documentation storage and updating the documents on a regular basis helps to maintain continuous flows even when key members are on vacation or sick leave.

Besides, well-kept documentation is something that technical writers will love when they are working on the user manuals. There are so many documentation tools on the market now that you will have no problem finding the most suitable one. Check Google Docs, Confluence or Dropbox — all have their advantages.

In setting up the communication tools, keep in mind two important points. First, everyone should use the same tools; it will not work if one part of the team uses Dropbox while the rest use Google Docs. Second, have your admins assign proper access levels to everyone and ask all members of the team to check that their credentials are working. After that, everything will run like clockwork.

Mind the time zones

Outsourcing means that your developers may be in a totally different part of the globe or even in several time zones. Take this into account when planning your cooperation. Tools like email and instant messenger are asynchronous, which means that the answer may arrive with a certain delay – this is especially true when the two teams are in different time zones.

Plan online discussions and video conferences in the windows when your working time and the working time of your remote partners overlap. This is possible with almost any time zones, and since a lot of outsourcing companies are located in Eastern Europe, their time zone will include convenient times for partners both in the East and the West.

Encourage questions

Everyone has probably heard that “There is no such thing as a stupid question”. This principle should become the keystone of your communication with the remote team. Nobody should be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions about the product and its development.

Any minor misunderstanding at the beginning may snowball into a major issue later. It is always better to work out any unclear matters at the planning stage so that everyone knows what they are doing and, moreover, what the rest of the team are doing. The result will always be worth it.

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Leave a space for “water cooler talk”

Even the most dedicated and motivated workers need some time to unwind and have a little break. Of course, in an office, people can meet at the coffee machine to chat about anything, discuss movies or sports, or plan after-work activities. In a remote team, create a special space (for example, a Slack channel) where your colleagues can share music or fun videos, or simply talk about anything they like.

With this simple technique, you will, on one hand, improve team communication in remote teams and, on the other hand, increase the overall team productivity. By helping your team members get to know each other better, you will ease their communication, which will definitely improve the quality of their work. Besides, the voices calling for a six-hour working day are now getting louder, so giving your team some time to themselves is not going to hurt.

Re-evaluate your communication strategy from time to time

As any project activity, the way you communicate with remote teams needs regular revision and improvement. For example, you may notice that something is clearly not working as it should and needs improvement or replacement. Besides, there may be other reasons for revamping your communication practices:

  • People leaving or joining the team
  • Inviting freelancers to do some standalone tasks
  • Policy revision by the communication tools you use
  • Appearance of other attractive communication platforms on the market
  • Discontinuation of the tool you use

At the same time, the most important factor should always be your product. If you see that development is going as expected and the team is maintaining a healthy working atmosphere, no improvement may be needed.

Communication is an art

Establishing communication in a team is hard. Establishing communication in a remote team is harder. At the beginning you have two teams with their own patterns and habits that have never seen each other before. The trick is to merge them into a single organism that works towards achieving the common goal.

We always strive to achieve the most effective communication with our partners when we work on a project. We suggest our tools and methods while listening to our partners’ suggestions. As a result we always manage to come up with the most efficient arrangement that ensures superb knowledge sharing and enables prompt response to any issues.

We try to remain flexible in setting up our communication environment and regard product quality as most important. We enjoy every single project we work on, and to a large extent we credit this enjoyment to perfect communication with our clients. We look forward to many more interesting projects in the future, and we know how to make them run smoothly from the very first day.

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