G2Guide’s Segun Osu on The Pros of Hiring Remote Development Teams and How to Set Them Up For Success

There are a lot of advantages to hiring remote development teams, from increased productivity to a boost in employee diversity and satisfaction. But you have to know how to manage them and communicate with them in order to get the outcomes you’re looking for. Labs mentor Segun Osu, director of G2Guide, held a Labs session all about the benefits that come from hiring remotely and critical factors for creating a successful remote team.

Common benefits of hiring remote teams instead of individuals

“There are some serious advantages to hiring remote teams,” Osu says. And the most impressive is the ability to select from a wider range of high performance teams. “If we look at the contribution an individual can make, it’s great if you can find what are called 10x engineers—engineers who are 10 times as effective as the average.  However, there is more potential for greatness within teams and some studies show that when you compare great teams to average ones, they can be significantly more than 10 times more effective.”

Common concerns about hiring remote

Osu says the questions that often come up about remote hires are similar to the questions you may have about hiring developers in general: how do you ensure quality and timeliness of work, and how do you protect your IP? “Those questions are not unique to remote teams,” Osu says.

“In order to improve quality and timeliness, we use the Agile approach of working, and we go back to Scrum. Scrum is an agile framework that can improve project collaboration, quality and timeliness, and it has been proven to be much more successful than traditional ways of managing a project.

“In terms of protecting IP, the security concern is the same as with any co-located teams and you need to do your due diligence and background checks. Certainly decide who should have access to what IP and make sure that you have enforceable legal contracts in place.  However, first build the right foundations - make sure that you’re working with the right people, that you continuously build trust and strong relationships, and compensate people fairly. You could use a VPN, put in hundreds of passwords or even use video surveillance.  However, you do not want to do anything that slows down production and you certainly don’t want to do anything that doesn't engender trust and understanding.  You need to trust your remote teams to get the best out of them and remember that co-located teams present the same potential issues.”  

How collaboration works with remote dev teams

“Sometimes it can be a bit more difficult to collaborate very closely with a remote team than an in-house team,” Osu says, “but it depends on the type of project. If it’s an incredibly complex project with unclear requirements that depends on the use of cutting edge immature and unproven technology, you may find that significant face to face collaboration speeds work up and you may wish to consider using a co-located team in-house.”

But for most projects remote teams are perfectly suitable and able to get the job done well and on time. “If the technology is proven and requirements are clear, remote teams are ideal,” Osu says. “The more mature the technology and the clearer your specifications or requirements, the less important collaboration becomes. The less mature the technology and the less clear the requirements, the more collaboration you need.

Of course, even if a project doesn’t require a lot of collaboration, you still need to be able to communicate with a remote team. “You have to rely more on technology,” Osu says. “But you also need to recognize that within the team itself, especially if they’re in the same remote location, then collaboration within that team is going to be high. That’s an important consideration because sometimes you only need collaboration to be high amongst the team members as opposed to between head office and the team itself.”

The pros of hiring remotely

“There are many pros over traditional, on-site developers,” Osu says. “You have easier access to the best employees, employee motivation is likely to be better, their work-life balance will be better, your ability to retain your staff is going to be better because you can offer them different locations to work from. It also leads to greater diversity, which is an important source of new ideas, especially in technology. You can attract people who can’t travel as far, you can attract new mothers and working mothers, etc.”

Cost is another big bonus. “The costs of hiring remotely or hiring distributed teams are significantly lower,” Osu says. “I know for G2Guide, and for our clients, the direct costs of office space and having our employees and teams work remotely is much lower.”

You can also expect higher productivity and output. “My gut feeling is that productivity is higher on distributed teams compared to teams located at an open plan headquarters office,” Osu says. Remote work allows developers to do more so called “deep work” at times that they work best, which may not always be business working hours, in quiet places, where they won’t be disturbed, etc.

How to manage remote teams

“Management is the most important part of working with a remote team,” Osu says. “First, you need to work on culture and community. You need to make these people feel that they’re part of your community even though they’re far away. Do things like include them in every team meeting, even if its means doing that in a way that’s less conventional. You need to do that if you want to get close to them and be collaborative. You need to get that sense of community spirit going. You want to understand any issues that they’re facing. And it may take longer than it would with on-site hires, but it pays dividends moving forward.”

Communication is key. “It’s really important, for example, to set agendas and do things like daily stand-ups meetings, for as little as a few minutes a day. There’s nothing to be lost by having a structured daily stand-up meeting for five minutes every day. It will significantly improve communication. And of course, the weekly 1x1s and weekly group meetings as required.”

You’ll have to rely more on technology to make communication flow smoothly. “Communication tools like Asana, Trello, Zoom, Slack, and more are incredibly important,” Osu says. “It’s all about bringing the right tools to the right team at the right time, and making sure the tools work. You also need to make sure they all have a robust internet connection. These are common sense things but a lot of people leave them to chance. You can’t force one tool on everybody but you can have a selection of tools to improve communication.”

When it comes to creating strong communication, “the less common sense but equally important things are things like psychological safety,” Osu say. “You need to make it easy for people to take risks or voice an opinion. In some cultures, doing that is frowned upon, but the health and productivity of the team can only be enhanced when each member is free to speak their minds, and at times be critical of the team and of management.” If your teams are located in countries where that’s not a cultural norm, you need to work on it with them.

Make sure that your team is able to understand and see how the work they are engaged in could be important to them but also what the outcome of their work could do for others.  People respond well to work that they think is meaningful and with tangible impact.

You also need to focus on providing structure and clarity when communicating with remote developers. “You need to make it clear that there are certain goals for them and be very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, along with your expectations,” Osu says. “That’s very important.” By making sure that everyone is on the same page about expectations, goals, and deliverables, you minimize the chances of miscommunication and set your remote team up for success.

Learn more about hiring as an early-stage startup.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

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