In this article we examine the techniques successful managers use with remote software developers.

How to get your team motivated towards a task from a distance

If you are a manager in a growth-stage or mature company, the chances are you already have an established employee-recognition framework. Each company does this slightly differently, but most have some kind of variation on the ‘thank-you award’, where an individual or team deemed particularly deserving of recognition will be given a financial or material prize for good work.

The easiest way to help motivate your remote engineering team is to make sure it is present for all company meetings related to recognition, and that, in spite of the team’s different physical location to the campus-based employees, everyone gets the same level of attention and everyone is given the opportunity to buy properly into the company culture and values. As well as recognition meetings, it’s crucial that your remote engineers are able to join all-hands meetings when they happen.

All this is geared towards ensuring you have a team of remote software developers who understand not only the tasks they need to perform in order to do their job, but how those tasks fit in with the wider mission of your company.

Motivated remote engineers will go the extra mile for your company (photo: Unsplash)

This is only possible if each new hire is introduced to the mission and values of the company. You might also consider doing what mature companies like Microsoft do, and allowing members of remote teams to video-call with people in other locations, so as to get a feel of being part of a much wider infrastructure.

How to check in on your team without micromanaging

One of the biggest temptations for a manager in charge of a remote engineering team in another location is to check on the team too often, making themselves a nuisance, and to try to oversee the team’s workflows as if the manager is a kind of ‘helicopter parent’. However, there is a distinction between offering support to the team, and micromanaging it, and it can be difficult for a leader new to the role to see it.

Here at Base B, we certainly encourage managers to get to know their team. It’s essential that you feel that your developers, wherever they are based, are a full part of your organization, and that they feel a full part of the company culture, and that they have your ear if they need any advice or guidance.

Allow space to work

However, it’s advisable to make sure you don’t go too far. Give your team members space to do what they do best. Sometimes, early on, the distance between locations can make a manager feel that they are losing touch with their team, and that they don’t know where they are in a project, or if they are on schedule.

It’s at this point that collaboration tools, and time-tracking or task-tracking tools, come into their own. Applications like Trello, Toggl, and Slack are designed to keep a team communicating on progress, without allowing discussions to waste valuable time. Meanwhile, running through progress on goals with a specific individual who is your point of contact will mean the other team members can avoid distraction.

How to practice emotional intelligence

EQ, otherwise known as emotional intelligence, has become the modern gold standard for managers who want to be in charge of a happy, high-performing remote engineering team. It involves getting to know a team as individuals, and having the empathy and understanding to be able to anticipate and snuff out problems before they develop.

Individuals perform better when they feel a manager "gets" them (photo: Base B)

It’s a delicate and valuable skill when managing a team in the same geographical area, but when you are in charge of a remote software development team, it becomes essential. One way of practicing emotionally intelligent management of your remote team is to switch the mindset from one of command and control - that is, checking on your team only to monitor the delivery of key tasks, to one of coaching and mentoring.

A command-and-control mindset is an easy one for a manager to fall into, particularly with a lack of experience of managing remote teams. It is, nonetheless, self-defeating, as what eventually happens is that if a developer sees that manager’s message notification, they will feel anxious, or will associate your messages with tough questioning and “being told what to do”.

What's the alternative mindset?

The alternative, a coaching-and-mentoring mindset, means a manager learning to understand the complex foibles of each member of the team, setting and monitoring tasks with an approach that varies depending on the task and on the people involved in it.

Incentivizing good work, and ramping up the positivity when a project is delivered before time, within budget, or beyond preconceived expectations, will make the team feel satisfied with its work, and will make team members want to earn that kind of praise again and again. This is because positive reinforcement always produces better results in the long term than negative reinforcement.

Conclusion

Managing a remote engineering team can be a rewarding, fulfilling task for both the manager and their team, if the manager is emotionally intelligent, and views their work as much as that of a coach and mentor as of an overseer of operations. While everyone, ultimately, is judged on delivery, the key is to help remote engineers feel personally invested in the company mission.

Talk to us, and take advantage of our expertise in managing remote engineering teams.