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Yet Another Guide to Managing Remote Dev Teams: Happiness & Productivity Edition

Engineering Management

1 out of 2 developers say they want to switch jobs.

That means that even in this environment of mass tech layoffs, half of your team would leave if given the right opportunity.

Given that only 15% of surveyed developers work entirely on-site now, there’s a good chance this includes your remote team members. 

Granted, most developers say they’d leave for a higher salary – something that is very often out of your control to grant. However, you can make it easier for employees to want to stay by simply being a good manager and helping them thrive in the workplace.

Many employees have stayed in a job not because they like it but because they like the people they work for. So here are a few managerial tips you can use to help your team succeed and be happy.

Over Communicate

Let’s be clear – there is a difference between over-communicating and nagging.

Nagging is a form of micro-management that reflects a lack of trust in someone’s ability to get something done.

Over-communicating is a communication style that recognizes that humans can be imperfect at transmitting information in a digital environment, and that’s compounded even further with remote work.

Can over-communicating come off as annoying? Sometimes. 

But what’s worse than over-communicating is having project delays because you forgot to remind someone of an upcoming deadline. Or having a great employee quit because you put them on a performance improvement plan when they didn’t meet expectations they weren’t aware of.

There’s no worse feeling than having unclear expectations or requirements and knowing you could easily meet them. While some of the onus is on individual contributors to confirm that they understand what you’re asking for, ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure they understand.

What’s that mean in practice for over-communication?

  • Spend time crafting your messages to ensure they’re clear, and be especially clear on any action items you’d like the receiver to take.
  • Ensure expectations are regularly communicated – not just during once-a-year performance reviews. 
  • If you’ve communicated something over voice or video, also write it down and pass it along to the receiver. Some people need that visual reminder for things to stick (plus, paper trails are always good).
  • Verify that people received your message – follow up and see if they have any questions about the message they received. 

Keep meetings to a minimum

Nothing pulls you out of the flow like a meeting. Individual contributors are not managers and don’t spend nearly as much time in meetings. 

So any meeting that does happen will significantly reduce the efficiency of these employees, as it increases the context switching they have to perform in order to do their jobs. In other words, they have to switch from “focus mode” to “meeting mode” and then back again, which takes time that could otherwise be spent on completing the task at hand. 

And let’s be honest, how much of the meeting has actually been filled with relevant, actionable information? You’re potentially wasting hours of your employees’ time by requiring them to attend unnecessary meetings to “keep them in the loop.”

The next time an issue or project arises, and you want to keep someone in the loop, first ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Does this person NEED to be at this meeting? In other words, will they be unable to do their job if they don’t attend?
  2. Will their time be better spent working on something else?
  3. Can this meeting be an email instead?

When in doubt, send an overly-communicative email. If things aren’t settled after a couple of responses, or the email thread starts growing uncomfortably long, schedule a meeting (and learn how to write more straightforward emails).

You’d be amazed at how much more productive your team becomes when you eliminate unnecessary meetings. Several companies are either designating “no meeting days” or simply removing meetings altogether.

Be flexible

Insisting employees work set hours might have been a thing in the 20th century, but it has no place in the 21st century.

Not only is this inflexibility one of the main reasons employees will leave your organization, but it’s also one of the main reasons remote work is so popular these days.

Seriously, which would you prefer: 

  1. Donning an uncomfortable suit and shoes and driving 30 minutes in rush hour traffic, spending 8 hours of the day staring at a screen, and then driving 30 minutes back home (in rush hour traffic) where you then have to scramble to get quality time with my kids/pet/significant other (or all of the above) and do cooking and cleaning chores to boot.
  2. Waking up, taking a walk, checking work emails, walking the kids to school, having morning meetings, petting the cat because meetings were stressful, knocking out the day’s work in three hours, taking a short nap, getting a jump on tomorrow’s work, then relaxing for the day with plenty of time to cook dinner and actually sit down and eat with the family.

One is stressful and leads to burnout. It also comes from a place of not having enough trust in your employees to be responsible with their time.

The other will keep employees happier and more productive. As a result, they’ll be less likely to leave your company for a less stressful one.

Things happen – kids get sick, pets need vet visits, spouses do yard work and accidentally chop through the internet cable – and it’s times like those that your team needs understanding more than a reprimand that they were gone for 20 minutes. No point in making already stressful situations more stressful.

Being flexible with letting your employees choose their hours demonstrates a level of trust that makes your team an attractive one to work with – making it harder for your team members to want to leave.

Bonus: Make time for fun things

No, work isn’t family, nor should it be.

But that doesn’t mean you should skip out on non-work activities, especially for remote workers who don’t have the traditional physical space for ping pong tables and free Friday lunches.

While offsites are nice, they’re often not in the budget. But that shouldn’t limit your ability to have some fun with your team.

For example, at CoderPad, we do things like:

Use your imagination, or ask your employees what they want. For example, see if they’d like to give a workshop for their particular hobby. Or take a group class in something completely unrelated to their day job.

So what next?

Being a great manager takes work, but the bulk of that work is just establishing enough rapport with your employees that you can empathize with them. 

Create this connection, and you’ll be able to understand their needs better and create an environment that allows them to thrive, even in a home office on the other side of the world.

Looking for other ways to be a great manager? Check out these resources: