Throughout our experience with software development outsourcing, we’ve discovered that nearshore agile teams can perform incredibly well when dispersed, but with one major caveat: they need a competent leader who understands the challenges of managing a virtual workforce.
Whether it’s handled in the office or remotely, nearshore agile software development depends on effective collaboration, communication, and camaraderie. When teams are fully nearshore, the main challenge for agile team leaders is maintaining the strength of these three necessities and preserving the quality of each iteration.
In this piece, I’ll discuss some of the ways agile team leads can overcome this challenge, sharing some of the key techniques that have worked in the past.
Overcoming Communication Challenges
In a physical office, effective communication is relatively easy to achieve. Within this close-proximity environment, everyone on the team can hold quick face-to-face meetings for instant clarification on issues or ask questions related to the project in person. On top of that, people can chat about their progress over lunch, or even spend time discussing the project on the daily commute, if they share one.
In a virtual environment, bonding with people on a personal level becomes far more difficult, so agile team leads must address both challenges.
It goes without saying that a robust communication network is essential to the success of nearshore software development teams. Even in the office, agile teams need tools to enable fast and efficient interactions, but that need is far greater in a remote setting. Chat-based tools like Microsoft Teams can help establish video chat capabilities that give leaders the chance to check in with their teams face-to-face.
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Leaders can invest in their teams by offering their time over a one-to-one video call, actively reaching out to people as a mentor, and providing a supportive presence when they need it. The ability to see faces and behaviors helps leaders adapt their leadership approach to each individual’s needs, which, as we’ve seen since COVID-19, vary greatly in an often isolated, virtual environment.
Trusting in Your Team and Their Abilities
Effective agile team leadership in a nearshore setting relies on a cultural foundation of trust and confidence. In my experience, for every person who doesn’t work to their full potential when unsupervised there are a hundred more who do, so believing in your teams is essential to maximizing productivity in a remote environment.
Good leaders will avoid micromanaging people and provide their remote teams with the space to excel at what they do while offering support when they need it. Teams should see their leader as another teammate and someone who is there to help, not as someone who might judge or criticize them.
One solution is to provide a safety net to teams, so people are free to make mistakes without fear of punishment, as long as they agree to be open and honest about them. We’ve found that this approach makes people more comfortable and encourages them to be proactive about fixing their performance drop-offs, reducing the pressure on leaders to chase people down.
Our culture involves encouraging this kind of transparency and honesty at all levels. Teams understand that all feedback is fact-based and doesn’t represent a personal attack. When someone is not performing as expected, our team leads will express their expectations for improvement through constructive feedback while offering their full support.
Openness is the only path to a high-performing nearshore development team and these candid discussions are the best course for improvement.
Regularly Connecting With Everyone
When working remotely, it’s sometimes difficult to stop working and connect on a personal level. When all colleagues share an office, this is common practice, so make sure to continue that practice in a remote setting.
We hold regular virtual coffee breaks where teams can meet and chat about anything non-work related. Also, at the end of each sprint, once all our commitments are achieved or carried over to the next sprint, our agile teams spend some time together, connect over video chat with a beer, or simply relax with each other to share things about ourselves. Under normal circumstances, we would encourage our nearshore partner to travel to the office for a visit, or we would send team members to the partner’s office to help build trust and stronger partnerships.
While these social gatherings certainly help with productivity and engagement, leaders should still remember that not everybody will want to join in, so don’t force them. Make virtual hangouts voluntary and easy-going so nobody feels pressured to take part.
Overall, agile team leaders should try to connect with their team as much as possible, but remember to be aware that people need time to focus on their work, so refrain from long calls or distractions and focus on finding the ideal times for employee engagement, socializing, and development.
There’s No Better Time to Start
In the COVID era, the added stress of enforced lockdowns is affecting many of us, so it’s more important than ever for leaders to check-in. Not everybody is capable of being 100% productive right now, but if someone is underperforming then leaders should adapt to their needs, not the other way around.
Above all, agile team leads are responsible for the performance of their nearshore teams, which, with the right approach to virtual leadership, can match or even exceed the effectiveness of an office-based development team.