An unprecedented number of tech teams have gone remote in the midst of the Covid-19 global health crisis.

Remote working was becoming increasingly popular before the virus, with the major benefit being reduced employee overhead costs. Today, for the most part, employers no longer have a choice. Almost overnight, companies around the world were forced to make their entire workforce remote to help slow the spread of Covid-19.

Significant challenges came to light as team leaders found themselves managing fully remote teams with insufficient support systems in place.

In our recent survey on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on developers, 98.6% of respondents told us that they are working remotely. Team leaders need to ensure that their remote employees are focused, productive, and motivated while working at home.

Without the right management, remote employee motivation can fall to less than half of what it was back at the office (Harvard Business Review).

Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi, Harvard Business Review and New York Times authors, explain: 

“While some degree of boundaries and guidelines help people move quickly, too many create a vicious spiral of demotivation. In such cases, people tend to stop problem-solving and thinking creatively, and instead, do the bare minimum. 

If you want your teams to be engaged in their work, you have to make their work engaging.”

Here are some tips to help you keep your remote tech team focused and engaged while working remotely.

Take time to chat

Encourage frequent communication to maintain team cohesion. The quick and easy chat opportunities you had at the office are gone and you need to make sure you’re overcommunicating to compensate. Remember, work conversations don’t always have to be about work!

Mathilde, Office Manager at CodinGame, underlines the importance of work and personal communication among remote teams:

“It’s important to pay attention to the individual, but it’s just as important to make room for team cohesion! Formal meetings (on targets, for example) and informal team time is what gives their days meaning.”

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Make sure everyone gets involved. Developers who feel alienated are more to drag their feet, lose motivation, or even leave the company. Team leaders must ensure that their teams are happy and still personally invested in the company.

“It’s essential to make a habit of daily communication to avoid feelings of isolation. Support for each team member should be more intense than at the office. Since you can’t see your teams, you can’t pick up on any nonverbal or behavioral communication.

You need to make communication deliberate. How are they doing? How are they feeling?”

Encourage your team to chat among themselves too. You can set up and contribute to group chats, using tools such as Slack, MS Teams, WhatsApp, Basecamp, Telegram, Viber, and so on.

Group chats with lots of participants can become dominated by a small group, leaving others feeling unwelcome to contribute. Try to keep group chats small and address participants individually to maximize engagement.

Host daily video calls

Schedule daily check-in video calls with your tech team to share progress updates. Phone conversations, instant messages, and emails have their place but video calls bring human presence into what can otherwise be a lonely life in isolation.

Have longer conversations on video calls, like group planning meetings and one-on-one performance reviews. Longer conversations shouldn’t be had via typed messages because of the increased possibility of misinterpretation.

Our 2020 CodinGame Developer Survey revealed that “Rework, changes, unplanned work, unplanned problems” is the number one challenge at work for 21.5% of developers.

Planning is essential. Every minute spent planning saves 10 minutes of execution, according to productivity expert Brian Tracy. Host planning meetings over video calls to reduce unplanned issues and changes.

Use task management and goal tracking tools

Give your team important instructions exclusively through your task management software, like Jira, Asana or (our personal favorite) Trello.

Instructions given via group chats or video calls can quickly become lost or forgotten. By using task management tools, you keep everything in one place and ease the pressure on teams to constantly monitor group chats for instructions.

Task management tools show what everyone is working on but not why they are working on it. Our 2020 CodinGame Developer Survey also showed that “Unclear direction” is the number one challenge at work for 20.8% of developers.

Use a goal-tracking tool, like Databox, to make everyone aware of high-level strategic goals and to help employees better understand what their work is contributing to.

Set deadlines and bite-sized tasks

Make sure that project deadlines are set, agreed on and communicated. 

Parkinson’s Law is the common observation that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. By setting feasible but challenging deadlines for tasks, you’ll encourage your tech team to get their brains in gear and start figuring out how to successfully complete the set tasks in the available time.

We’d also advise against assigning a huge task to a developer to work on at home, expecting them to come back to you in a few days with it all completed. Split projects into smaller tasks and assign them one at a time.

Psychiatrist Ralph Ryback explains:

“The satisfaction of ticking off a small task is linked with a flood of dopamine. Each time your brain gets a whiff of this rewarding neurotransmitter, it will want you to repeat the associated behavior.”

Completing small tasks helps build motivation to keep working efficiently. Have your team check off their tasks on your task management tool and monitor how their efforts are bringing the company closer to its goals in your goal tracking tool.

Be flexible and forgiving

Understand that your team members have a lot going on, especially if they have kids and a family schedule to work around. Striking a good work life balance is difficult when working from home.

Remember that being productive doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in front of a desk for eight hours a day. Give your team the flexibility to work on their own schedule, unless they need to be online for an important meeting at a specific time. 

Make room for fun

Working remotely doesn’t mean that your team should miss out on the usual office fun and games. Special occasions should still be celebrated while working remotely. No birthday should be missed and no holiday should go unnoticed.

Fabien, Demand Generation Manager, enjoying his CodinGame birthday present at home!

Mathilde, Office Manager at CodinGame, explains how a fun environment is crucial for moral in remote troops:

“Taking time to organize games or celebrate birthdays might not seem important, but it’s the cherry on the cake and makes all the difference! It means that, even while apart, people can feel part of a whole. Solidarity and kindness must take center stage in remote work.”

Not only does your tech team need to let off a little steam, they also need to interact with each other in a relaxed environment. In our 2020 CodinGame Developer Survey, when asked what they needed to feel comfortable, empowered and efficient within a tech team, 72% of developers answered “Friendly colleagues”. It’s especially important to make room for team relationships when your team is working away from the office.

Here at CodinGame, our developers “get together” at lunchtimes or after work to play online games, like Pictionary, Snake, or our own Clash of Code.

Programmers love Clash of Code, for example, because it provides them with an opportunity to flex their coding muscles outside of work – just for the fun of it! Clash of Code (or CoC) tournaments are perfect for remote team building activities as they’re hosted completely online. You can challenge your colleagues by organizing a competition with short rounds of coding. 

Create internal content

Internal blogs, newsletters and/or podcasts are entertaining ways to keep your employees engaged and updated.

Hearing about the challenges that others have faced and how they’ve overcome them, for example, can reassure your team that they’re not alone and inspire them to keep going. Sharing a colleague’s favorite song (in a podcast) can help developers get to know their peers a little better (and have a bit of a jig too!) 

Two members of the CodinGame team decided to launch an internal Podcast. Alice, Lead Content Manager at CodinGame and co-presenter of the podcast, explains:

« This podcast was another way for us to maintain an informal link with the rest of the team, despite the distance between us. Morning coffee chats about what we did at the weekend and daily interactions with colleagues all disappear when working remotely. We wanted to recreate some of this. The podcast is a way of saying ‘you’re not alone’.”

Communication is essential to keep your remote team in the loop. Try a Clash of Code competition to bring everyone together for some coding fun. Be understanding if someone can’t join in because their kids are off from school and it’s their turn to entertain them.

Around the world, an increasing number of companies are remote working and putting significant effort into adjusting their company culture. 

When today’s Covid-19 crisis is behind us, will some continue to work entirely remotely? Are lower overheads and improved schedule flexibility too good to give up?

While we’re waiting to see how it all plays out, check out 7 Ways to Improve Your Tech Team’s Skills to have your tech team come out of isolation better equipped than going into it.