When you are a member of a remote team, one of your most important tasks as an employee is to ensure everyone is able to see what you are up to. I have worked in a remote team for about a year and in semi-remote scenarios for an even longer period, and it's about time that I share some of my experiences on how to communicate work progress (or lack thereof).
There is some responsibility on whoever manages a team to ensure these things are working. There are, however, some things that should be and is the responsibility of the individuals in the team. This is what I will be discussing here.
Create your own remote heart❤️beat 📈
Being transparent and showing your team when you are working, and how that is going, is essential to getting a good team vibe. In order to get this feeling in a remote setting, you need to generate a remote heartbeat to show “proof of life”.
Here are some simple tips to how you can make this happen:
- Actively use status flags in chat tools
- Work as transparently as possible, and show your work even though it's not completed.
- When communicating progress (or lack thereof) take the time to do it properly so people actually understand how things are going.
- Find alternative solutions to communicate well with the rest of the team and organization and give regular updates.
1. SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOF TOPS! 📣
Developers working remotely is not an uncommon scenario, and the developer stereotype is that of the lone wolf working in silence only to emerge from the cave with The Ultimate Solution™!
But in 2020, this way of working should be dead and only be told as a tale to scare your grandkids.
For whatever organization you work for, you are expected to contribute to a team and ensure you move forward together. What this means is that the way you work needs to accommodate for the fact that you are not working in a vacuum.
This fact becomes even more important when the team is spread out in different physical locations. Your way of doing your work needs to be louder in order for your teammates to get an insight into how things are actually going.
Don't be scared of communicating often what you are planning to do, what you are doing, and the progress of your work. The more silent you get, the more it can hurt your team. As you're not in physical presence to your teammates, it means that it's even more important to make some noise and "get loud".
2. Keep the information flowing and take pride in committing
Ever since the emergence of Git I have been a big fan of making many small commits, as opposed to committing large chunks at a time. (Git is a control system specifically designed for coordinating work among programmers).
Luckily a “commit often”-approach is ideal for remote work. It automatically gives you a heartbeat and it enables you to communicate progress without status reports.
If you take the time to write a good commit message (this is very much an aspiration for me, it is not like I am very good at this!) a team member can read the day's list of commits and get a decent overview of what has happened the past day.
Start making small commits to make your job easier for yourself, and to keep team members in the loop.
3. When completing something, ensure it's communicated somewhere
“If a tree falls in a forest” is a philosophical exercise which applies to remote work. When you, for example, fix a bug, it’s nice to let others know right?
It is one thing to move a card in your task management tool of choice, however, that is usually not something everyone in a company keeps a close eye on. When you fix a bug, complete a feature, or do something you think your co-workers or customers should know about, there are several things you could do when applicable:
- Add a piece of documentation to the end user documentation.
- Update your help pages, FAQ-pages, your company blog, etc. with an update on the new feature or the solved issue.
- Make sure the right people get the correct information. Notify your customer success team about a bug being fixed, so they'll know when talking to customers.
- Humbly blog or create a video and send it out through your company communication tool of choice (email, chat, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc.)
Internal communication is very important here. Take a screenshot or screen recording of a feature you have implemented and post it somewhere the customer success and sales teams also see it.
Remember, the sales team are only as informed as you make them. In order for them to do a better job, they rely on information from developers.
4. Embrace showing work that is half done and develop skills in handling feedback
Not everything you do as a developer is a commit and if that takes up most of your day, how do you enable others to see what you are working on?
Taking the plunge and dare to show things that are not complete can feel a bit scary at times, but if you build a team culture where this is common, it will be hugely beneficial for the entire team.
As developers, we talk a lot about feedback cycles and rapid responses to code that gets pushed into production. It is equally important to get early feedback on things which aren’t code.
Let’s say you are redesigning a form and you have just started on the task and you realize you are not quite certain what the interaction should be. You could implement everything and then get feedback, or you could quickly create a sample implementation and create a video that shows off what you have done.
Doing the latter, you can get rapid feedback with the added benefit of showing the rest of the team what you are working on. Having shown something early makes it easier for others to give quality feedback later on as they have a rough idea of what it is you are working on.
Engaging in dialog early on when developing a feature is also time-saving. A lack of context when talking about something is a common source of misunderstandings.
By showing off to your sketches, screenshots or small screen recordings you enable your fellow team members to get an insight into your progress.
It’s also a nice way to bond the team, and it's an indication of a healthy team if members don’t feel intimidated by doing this.