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September 20, 2018

5 Simple Tips to Engage Remote Developers

Susana Cigano
This guest post was written by Jessica Thiefels.

Remote work has become increasingly prevalent and preferred among developers. In a recent Stack Overflow survey, 53.3 percent of developers said they value the flexibility of remote work as the highest factor when looking for a new job.

Hiring remote is also beneficial for you, broadening the talent pool you have to choose from. Once onboarded, however, the challenge becomes keeping these remote developers engaged to maintain a collaborative environment for everyone, both in-house and otherwise.

With a few simple tweaks, you’ll create a cohesive team of successful developers that work together, regardless of where their office is located. Use these ideas to start engaging your remote developers today.

1. Use Mentors for Onboarding

A comprehensive onboarding program is critical with distributed teams.

You don’t have an office or physical environment to welcome new developers, which makes it harder to curate an engaging welcome experience. Yet, onboarding is critical, especially for remote employees.

“Welcoming your new employees in person makes it easy to answer questions, meet team members, and get their reactions. Remote employees who live in different locations and even time zones don’t have that advantage, and therefore they have a harder time acclimating to the company’s culture and gaining both the official and non-official knowledge about how things get done at the company,” suggest HR experts at CultureIQ

That’s why Codementor relies heavily on mentorship programs for onboarding. Their goal is for new developers to have a point person for questions or issues. Codementor also uses their junior developers as mentors, making it easier for mentees to relate to someone who was recently in their shoes.

Quick engagement tip: Once developers are fully trained, ask for feedback on the onboarding process. Make adjustments and changes based on feedback to ensure your onboarding gets better and better.

2. Eliminate Challenges With Distance

Harvard Business Review says there are three types of distance remote employees experience:

  • Physical (place and time)
  • Operational (team size, bandwidth and skill levels)
  • Affinity (values, trust, and interdependency)

This distance makes it hard for employees to connect with one another. When remote developers feel out of the loop and disconnected, they can quickly disengage with their work and the company. That’s why, of these three, HBR recommends focusing on affinity distance. Making a few small changes allows employees to build rapport and empathy for one another. This makes it easier to learn one another’s strengths and communicate more effectively.

Luckily, there are a few easy ways to do this, including using video calls whenever possible.

The Loom team saying hello during a global team meeting.

This allows employees to communicate with body language, tone inflection, and eye contact — something they miss via emails or chat communications. Outside of standard video calls, you can also use screen sharing to teach remote developers new techniques or to explore the details of a new product or project.

Don’t forget to record these types of video calls — they can be stored in a group folder that employees can access at their own time as well. Slowly you’ll build a valuable video library for all remote and in-house employees.

Another simple way to use video with remote employees is to host virtual team-building events, giving remote employees a chance to interact and collaborate in real-time. Host morning coffee or a group lunch to get to one another in a casual environment. You can also host group-brainstorming sessions on a weekly or monthly basis to make sure everyone gets time to work together.

Quick engagement tip: Set up channels with your chat platform of choice for all types of communication. Create a channel for friendly conversation, in addition to those related to specific teams and projects.

3. Properly Utilize Work-Flows and Processes

The agile methodology has become a cornerstone for development teams. In a recent Harvard Business Review survey of more than 1,300 business and IT companies, 44 percent use agile practices within their development teams. Not to mention, 78 percent believe that their organization can benefit from agile practices.

While Agile was originally developed for in-office environments, many of its pillars can be used in remote teams to increase productivity as well as engage team members, according to Agile Culture In a Distributed Teams. Agile practices such as daily stand-ups give remote developers the opportunity to give and receive consistent feedback and progress reports on their projects.

Quick engagement tip: Perform regular audits of this work process, whether that’s monthly, quarterly or biannually. Consistent check-ins on how developers are using systems will help you see whether they’re successful or need adjustments.

4. Make Time for Learning

Developers aren’t static professionals, they have to evolve as technology does, which is why they spend seven hours of their own time each week on learning new skills, according to Developer Academy’s 2018 Developer Learning Survey. This is in comparison with just two hours per week of formal learning on the job.

Offering remote developers the opportunity for practical training to advance their careers will not only engage them but could result in higher retention rates, according to the same survey. Develop Intelligence explains:

“Managers experiencing high rates of turnover or difficulty in attracting quality talent would do well to evaluate the learning and growth opportunities provided to their engineers. An additional investment in training is easily recouped in savings associated with lower attrition rates.”

Quick engagement tip: Establish monthly workshops for training and advancement for all development employees. Use surveys and upcoming project needs to determine topics.

5. Encourage Knowledge Sharing and Innovation

Developer training and hiring website Andela advocates that employers should; “empower your developers to be problem solvers, not code monkeys.” In other words, developers want to work on intriguing projects and creatively employ code to do so; they don’t want to mindlessly program all day.

One way to accomplish this with remote developers is through knowledge-sharing platforms that can be accessed regardless of location. Online developer communities are a place for like-minded individuals to discuss problems, share knowledge, and encourage collaboration.

Leveraging videos in GitHub and similar platforms is a powerful way to share information.

Most developers will already know of the following popular online communities, but encouraging their use in the workplace can result in further innovation:

  • Stack Overflow: This is one of the most popular international online communities. 50 million developers use this site every month to pose questions, keep up-to-date, and share problems. They also offer business solution tools for companies.
  • HackerNews: While this isn’t the most visually-appealing site, HackerNews is a go-to social media site for uncovering the latest programming and hacker updates.
  • Github: Most developers already use GitHub, and you may even be using it with your team. In addition to pushing updates, use GitHub as source for inspiration on new projects and problem-solving.

Quick Engagement Tip: Make these communities a part of your team’s culture, sharing ideas, articles and how-to’s regularly, in meetings or online group channels.

Engage Your Remote Developers

Teams of remote developers allow you to access talent from across the world. Once on board, you need to engage these new employees, allowing them to do their best work and feel connected to their co-workers. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do that, including using direct communication and functional work-systems. Don’t forget to give these employees the opportunity to learn new skills and stay connected with video calls whenever possible as well.

Use these simple ideas to engage a remote developer and retain top-level talent for your organization.

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Written by
Susana Cigano
Manager, Support @ Loom

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