Maximizing Success in a Remote Services Team

Nearly seven months have passed since the WHO declared the COVID-19 pandemic, and globally people continue to work from home. Companies have been forced to adopt strategies and to keep their employees safe while also aiming to keep their businesses thriving.

Newly remote managers may be familiar with the following best management practices from the pre-COVID era:

  1. Knowledge management and information sharing
  2. Cloud-based tools to make collaborations easier and effective
  3. Focusing on customer outcomes first
  4. Keeping your team aligned on their objectives

However, prescribed solutions may not be easy to map to a company’s specific activities; it may be more useful to consider each company's operating context.

Best practices from Crowdbotics, a remote-first services company

The leadership team at Crowdbotics has run successful remote teams for nearly a decade -- long before the COVID-19 pandemic took over our lives. Crowdbotics benefits from several remote advantages, such as:

  • creating a flexible work environment
  • hiring global talent
  • lowering costs
  • enabling business continuity

A remote-first approach has proven to be especially suitable for the world of software development, as our team can make round-the-clock progress on client builds and accommodate clients who have regional constraints on the types of teams that they can hire.

In addition, a combination of organizational behaviors within our teams and flexible policies and tech tools has helped us identify many best practices that other companies transitioning to working from home could benefit from.

Staying connected with your customers: general lessons from the world of software development

Customer is Queen. Or King. The adage is well-known but difficult to put into practice when a company is in crisis mode, as many companies are today. This can leave customers feeling unsettled about service quality and delivery. Using the Crowdbotics remote developer team as an example of a remote service team, here are some lessons that can be applied to customer relationship management using two broad markers:

  1. Communication and collaboration
  2. Deadlines and delivery

Communication and collaboration

Transparency and proactive communication – written, verbal, or video calls – go a long way in building trust with both employees and customers. A semi-synchronous chat-based workspace offers a number of benefits, including a "flatter" organization facilitating communication across departments, tight integrations with other tools in a tech stack, async collaborations across time zones, and more.

Maintaining a healthy mix of personal and work-related communication brings in the "water cooler conversations" element of interacting in a physical office space and helps build team cohesion, too.

Tools, policies, processes

Crowdbotics uses a combination of Slack, Chat, Hangouts, our Knowledge Base and Forum, and social media to facilitate communication within our team and with our users. In coming months, more user-oriented messaging is being moved into the Crowdbotics app, including certain aspects of project management. This helps us closely monitor what’s working for customers – what they like and don’t like – so it can be better incorporated into our product roadmap.

Well-documented communication processes and operational processes are necessary in a way that is not necessarily analogous to traditional, physical workspaces. Sharing documentation in the cloud and understanding how various technologies in the communication stack work together is important for remote-first companies.

Success metrics and challenges

The asynchronous, remote format poses challenges because not everyone is good at communicating well using text. It takes time and practice but when run effectively it offers advantages in scale, transparency, cost, speed, and collaboration over a traditional in-person workspace. The biggest challenge working in a chat-based remote environment is the communication learning curve for new participants. Text-based communication comes naturally to some, but not others. Like anything, apprehending and implementing chat-based communication best practices takes practice.

The value of #random

Don’t underestimate the #random Slack channel. In between the memes, the #random channel is often where people share what is truly most important to them. This could be a work-related idea, such as an article they think the team may benefit from, or perhaps highlights a concept they think is currently being overlooked in the organization. Sometimes it’s something they’re proud of: their kids, their backyard, something they baked, a blog post a friend of theirs wrote. Even something as simple as a meme is a critical window into how people tick.

The #random Slack channel may be the most underrated channel in the workspace. Everything shared there is done so for a reason, and has no other place to find expression.

Deadlines and Delivery

A successful remote services team is one that helps both the customer and the company achieve their goals. There needs to be a loop between the deliverables of individuals within a team to larger team deliverables, and eventually to the broadest level – those of the company. And it’s important that all teams align in this manner, so that the requirements of all customers are in focus.

Tools, policies, processes

Managers must set clear expectations and communicate timelines. People must be empowered to report on their successes. Positive feedback and reinforcement, appreciation of wins, and – importantly – admitting to errors and seeking to correct them quickly helps build a culture of trust and transparency.

Success metrics and/or challenges

There can be significant overhead placed on managers to ensure that everyone is aligned with goals, and that every member of the team is contributing their fair share. This could be offset in advance by better gauging a potential new employee’s fit with organizational culture – not necessarily related to working remotely, but the overall company culture: emphasis on delivery, focus on problem-solving, and being innovative.

Metrics can vary depending on the business, but at a high level, on the customer side, customer satisfaction (NPS, CSAT) is important as well as progress towards delivery.

Professionalism as a trust-building tool

Being professional always is how you build trust in a remote business model with employees, customers, or anyone else. Trust takes time to establish, and requires significant investment of time and effort. The only way to build trust in remote work is to let deliverables speak for themselves.

If you have an issue, bring it up early and discuss it so that it doesn’t become a crisis. Support your teammates. Never say “it’s not my problem”. No question is too “silly” to ask, no answer is too stupid. Leave your ego by the door. There should be zero tolerance for “rock stars”.

At Crowdbotics, we believe that adhering to best remote management practices within our organization enables us to deliver quality service to our clients. We can onboard new employees faster and ensure alignment on key objectives because we are accustomed to remote communication. Our clients reap the benefits of this approach.

If you're looking for professional software development from a team of vetted domain experts, get in touch with us today.

Originally published:

October 7, 2020