While there are a tonne of websites shouting out at you, "this is a great opportunity to prove that home-working works brilliantly!" the reality is a bit more complicated.
Therefore, here is the real-world, realistic and grounded, guide to how to take care of your remote development team during the coronavirus / COVID-19 crisis. Everyone at Base B wishes you and your team the best during this tough time for everyone. Be safe, and follow the WHO guidelines on how to avoid infection.
Remember many people are in your situation
As team leaders or team members, the chances are you're used to being able to get hold of colleagues at any stage during office hours. This is the same whether you're in a campus team or a remote development team. We all have Slack, or a similar application, and it's become ingrained in most of us that if we need an answer, we'll get it in minutes.
Working in the coronavirus crisis poses a different set of problems. For one thing, if your team is in a country where working from home is either compulsory or strongly advised by their government, they will be in what might be an unfamiliar environment. Your tech company might have provided them with state-of-the-art offices that give them ample desk space, three monitors, and lightning-fast upload speeds, but they might be working off a workbench in their attic, or on a family dining table.
Wherever members of your team are, if they're in a home-office due to COVID-19 measures, their temporary workstation will not be optimal for what they're trying to achieve, and they will likely receive interruptions from family or friends, either in person (if family), over the phone, or through online messaging.
The sense of uncertainty and, at times, panic over what will happen and when is costing a lot of people a lot of mental bandwidth at the moment. If your team members don't give you an immediate work-related answer, they're not slacking off, they might just be forced off Slack - it'll take a bit longer, but they'll get back to you.
Plan meetings well ahead
Given what we've just said, it makes sense to plan meetings well ahead, so that your people know exactly what their agenda is for the coming day. You may well already do this on Google Calendar, but if you're working in a startup, for example, we all know that your schedule, and that of your team, is what we might euphemistically call "a living document".
When your team are in non-ideal environments, away from a place where you can easily conference-call them all on proven, clear WiFi, there might be less opportunity to call quick unscheduled meetings to talk about what's on your mind.
This is doubly true if any of your team have childcare or other family responsibilities foisted upon them by the COVID-19 crisis. These are distractions they might not be used to, and they might feel guilty for having to duck out of meetings or for not joining impromptu video calls. Don't add to their sense of guilt by admonishing them for this, and emphasize that you know what they're going through. Furthermore, let them know with some advance warning if you want to call the team.
Send written instructions
Where possible, avoid meetings that aren't absolutely necessary, by sending your remote development team written instructions. These can be daily or weekly - however you want - but they will ensure that everyone is on the same page, and will help to set the tone in a situation where it is quicker to read than to talk, and where the important thing, for many companies, is putting together a survival strategy to get through tough economic times.
But also have regular check-ins
On the other hand, the chances are your team are also worried right now about your company's future, and possibly about their future. You don't have a crystal ball, and you can't answer all their questions, but what you can do is check in regularly with video calls to individual team members.
While these aren't any substitute for the usual face-time you'd expect to get with your team members if they were in the office and at their usual desks, they'll help to reinforce the sense of community that is so important to both remote development teams and local teams.
So your staff don't worry about the reasons for the check-in calls, plan them as far in advance as your calendar will allow, and explain that you're doing them with every member of your team, so that people feel included in the team conversation the same as they otherwise would.
Switch to video sometimes if practical
When doing these check-ins, reinforce your message of hope and confidence by turning your camera on. When a call is a video call, it means both sides can see facial expressions and body language, which helps to resolve any ambiguities.
That is important in a time when everyone is a little bit unsettled - if you're a team leader, then 'message discipline', and ensuring that team members don't try to draw any 'hidden meaning' from what you're saying, is crucial - video calls make this a bit more manageable.
If you're sick, take time off
This is a message for your team, but also for you. We are just beginning to learn (at the time of writing) about the effects of COVID-19, and it seems like the coronavirus affects each person it infects slightly differently. Someone who has a longstanding health issue like asthma will feel it worse than someone who doesn't, for example, and age is also a factor.
Software development teams have an unfortunate habit, in some organizations (not us) of working through hell or high water, with people often choosing to spend those few extra hours coding rather than having a day off sick with a cold.
Well, coronavirus is not a cold, nor is it 'flu, and although you may not feel the effects right away, they are likely to hit hard after a while. In order to fight your illness, whether it is coronavirus or not (it can be hard to know for sure because of the lack of universal testing in most countries), if you feel at all sick, even if it is a headache or aching joints, stop working, get to bed, and take your health seriously.
To see how a remote engineering team can help, talk to Base B.