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Managing a remote development team - our experience

  • ByValerian Valkin
  • InProject management
  • Posted11.20.2020
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Here at 2V Modules we are a fully remote team focused on building complex web projects, e-commerce apps, integrations. Working remotely might seem difficult or non-effective but for us it turned out to be the best possible way of bringing together experienced people from different countries and linking them with the clients from another part of the world who need high-quality solutions. So, how did we manage to achieve that?

The right people

This is very important to understand. Remote work is not for everyone (also is the “office” on-site work). There are people who are easily distracted when working from their home or a cafe / coworking space. Some people also do not feel like being engaged enough when working from a different place.

On the other side, there are many professionals who value their time and feel that working remotely gives them bothe - more freedom and control. Work schedule becomes more flexible while results and impact is clear. Nobody wants you to just be present in the office for a certain amount of time.

I’ve been working remotely for many years and when it came to building my team I had no doubt that it should be a fully-remote company. When bringing new people to the team, I talk to them and try to find out if they understand what remote work is about and are ready for all the ups and downs of it.

The right tools

Now, when you have found the right people, it comes to the tools. Having an off-site team in the 19th century was mostly impossible because you were not able to control it and communicate fast enough. We do not have such problems today, but we do have a great variety of software apps and you need to choose just several of them for your team’s infrastructure.

Here’s what we ended up with:

Slack for communication

One of the most important pieces of software for a remote team is a messenger. I’ve seen teams trying to use Skype, Whatsapp, Telegram etc. But there’s no doubt that if you want to be effective, you must use a tool that was designed specifically for team collaboration. Slack worked out really great for us - it’s fast, lightweight, has many important features such as private channels, guest membership, ability to pin messages, markup, link to messages, file upload and many others.

Possible alternatives: Microsoft Teams, Discord

Hubstaff for time tracking

While most of our projects are billed on an hourly basis, it was super important to find a great time tracking solution. We’ve tried at least 5 different options before Hubstaff but none of them were so good. What’s great about Hubstaff?

  • Stable and reliable. Their app works smoothly on Mac, Windows and Linux (and we have all these systems)
  • Fast. Some of the other solutions were too heavy and required a lot of memory. Time tracking software should be tiny and almost “invisible” for the user.
  • Powerful reporting. Hubstaff allows you to easily create a custom report based on team member(s), project, date range and other params.

Possible alternatives: there are many but none of them was good. We strongly recommend Hubstaff.

Trello for PM

When it comes to managing projects and tasks, there are several possible tools that are real industry leaders: Trello, Asana, Jira, Monday.com and some others depending on the project specifics.

We went with Trello and it is a good fit for our needs. Trello allows us to organize tasks using the Kanban approach. Each board is a project or it’s part and each column of the board is a task status. This way you can easily organize tasks and understand the project status. Trello also has its own app store with a list of possible add-ons. We have Slack and Hubstaff integration in place as well as several other useful features, such as unique card IDs that we use as references in our communication.

Possible alternatives: Asana, Jira, Monday.com, Wrike, Basecamp

Zoom for meetings

While most of our internal communication is not verbal, we do have calls with our clients as well as project calls with developers and managers. There are many apps that allow you to make video and audio calls, but Zoom seems to be the best option for work-related communication. It is stable, allows up to 40 minutes of free recording which is usually enough for any call.

Possible alternatives: Google Hangout Meets, Slack calls, Microsoft Teams calls, Cisco Webex Meetings etc.

Loom for screen recording

One common task that we run into almost every day is sharing a screencast (screen recording) showing something - a bug, a feature, a walkthrough etc. One of the obvious ways to do it using Mac is just record your screen with Quicktime. While it’s a way to go, there are some tools that make it much easier and bring in some additional features that Quicktime does not have.

We’ve chosen Loom. It allows you to record a screencast with or without the front web-cam, pause and continue recording, get a link to your video and trim your video after the record is finished. You can also download the mp4 version of the video and use it without any limitations.

Possible alternatives: CloudApp, Snagit, Camtasia

Bitbucket as a repo

Since we’re a development team, it’s obvious that we need to store all our code somewhere. Developers use repositories which can use one of the common version-control systems. Nowadays, a de-facto industry standard is Git.

Historically, we chose Bitbucket and have been using it for years. It has all the necessary features for a modern software development team including access control, pipelines for auto-deployment etc.

Possible alternatives: Github, Gitlab, SourceForge

Google Docs, Sheets, Drive, Calendar for all possible things

We use Google Drive, Docs, Sheets to share project-related data, specifications, files. This is very obvious but you can not underestimate the value of this toolset for a remotely operating company.

The right procedures

Ok, we’re 80% there. You have the right people and the right tools. But how to bring it all together? We have a short but important list of procedures that we follow in our team. It brings in some systematic approach and makes things much easier and more predictable.

Here it is:

  • We always create two slack channels for each project - #project for internal communication and #project-x to communicate with the client
  • We have a Slack channel called #office where developers post availability updates - they check-in, say hello, let team know when they are not available (e.g. for lunch), so it’s easy to find the right person online
  • We have a trello project created for every client. And we have a Hubstaff project pulled from trello. We make sure that developers involved in the project have the access to that board and Hubstaff project to track time correctly.

Conclusion

Running a fully remote team today is more real than ever before. There is a specific set of tools that will help you with that. Do not forget to choose the right people who love working remotely and are self-organized enough to be effective while working from home.

This article describes our experience and if we were able to achieve that, I’m sure you are able to do that too!

Valerian Valkin,
CEO at 2V Modules

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