5 Things I’ve learnt Working in a Team Remotely

Posted on in Development Post

Image from: wikipedia.org/wiki/Videophone

–Some of Team ii on a Skype call–

Remote working is growing ever popular for companies, with the next generation of employees being fully comfortable working with instant messaging, Skype and other online-based work tools. This week I wanted to share some of my experience working as part of Insert Imagination remotely, this list is by no means what every single team might experience, but it covers some of the benefits and draw backs to our remote-team-working situation.

Insert Imagination work from 5 locations across the UK; Dundee, Manchester, Kent, Great Yarmouth and Norwich. So we are not exactly having to span our development across time-zones, but we are all working around our own schedules. We began working together as a team during the competition Dare to be Digital in June 2014, 5 of us worked together in Dundee on a game, whilst Doug worked remotely from Great Yarmouth, keeping in touch via phone and email. After the competition finished, we elected to continue working together as a team on a new project, despite us all moving back to our respective homes.

1. Make sure you know who you’re in bed with.

Working remotely on a project requires even more team working skills and trust than any other form of project. Before starting a remote-project with a team, take the time to get to know them, meet them in person if you can and ensure that you can gel well even when there’s just a keyboard between you. The reason that Insert Imagination works well as a remote team is because we have all worked together before in some form or another. Archie and Steven worked on projects at Abertay University during their degrees, Shaun Jess and I had worked on a number of coursework projects, and Doug, Jess and I had worked on small projects before embarking on Dare itself – long before we started working remotely together.

The last thing you would want derailing a project would be a clash of work-ethics or methods, or ever worse – a clash of personalities!

2. Find the right tools and methods – don’t shy away from tech.

It took us quite a while to find the right way to monitor and plan our work together, we used everything from Facebook groups to Producteev – everyone recommended trying a different style, and nothing quite clicked with all the team members. That was until we decided to trial using Slack. However we do not only use Slack as our central point of discussions and updates, we use it as our nerve centre for the project. It was the service-linking quality of Slack that really made it stand out for us as the right tool; we were able to link Slack with GitHub, providing updates on everyone’s progress (particularly great for me as a producer meaning I can keep an eye on progress on the go, checking pushes to git on my phone etc.). We were able to connect our Trello board to Slack, showing to-do list updates and task planning, we connected Google Drive and Twitter (you get the idea).

Having a central point for tracking the progress of your project helps focus your team members to the task at hand. They do not need to worry about having several different apps and websites open and ready, just to stay on top of what is going on. Also it gives team members a chance to catch up on discussions they were not able to attend.

3. Over-estimate, Over-estimate, Over-estimate.

Working on a remote project full-time is very different to working on a remote project on the side. All of our team members work full-time, and this means that we are constantly working around 6 people’s schedules. I would say that by all means set yourself challenging goals, but always over-estimate your time-scale for delivery.

Quite apart from the curve-balls that full-time jobs can throw at you, there is also the responsibility that everyone has to their families and significant others. No-one can predict (or would want to for that matter) what a loved-one might fall ill, or friend needing help, or you needing to move house (or in my case move house and plan a wedding). And so you need to work with a great deal of flexibility in time-lines in order to try and account for this.

At the end of the day, it is passion which brought our team together, so I know that they would not be behind on tasks without good reason. And sod’s law has a way of messing with even the best laid plans, so over-estimation can try to help alleviate some of this.

4. Be conscious, considerate and kind.

When you are working in teams remotely, you will need to be aware that emotions and meaning can often be lost in written communications, and that you need to account for the fact that you do not get to see these people everyday. People may well have a lot going on in their lives outside of the project and so it great if you can try to always try and assume someone’s best intentions.

Similarly, there is a great deal of trust involved in working remotely as a team, and with that trust comes a need for transparency. If life throws you a curve ball which is likely to affect your ability to work on the project (and I’ve pretty much had one of every cliché out there this year) you need to feel comfortable enough to let the team (if at the very least the project manager) know about this, so that they can try and accommodate for the change in work-load.

Being considerate and mindful of the various pressures of real-life on all the team members, and being kind towards them helps you rally together if things get tough on a project. At the end of the day, you are working on the game out of a passion for the project, a combined love of what you are doing, and that will help sustain you when things get tricky. That and remembering it is a true team effort both the wins and the losses, will help weather those storms!

5. Keep a Sense of Humour

And finally, remember to keep a sense of humour when working together. Laughter can help keep you all going when the work-load is high and the time-scales are small. I always try to remember that whilst we are a team, we are more importantly friends in Insert Imagination and that is what helps us all keep going. Posting that meme, or lightly poking fun can be just the thing to keep you wanting to work on that project, and with your team.

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I hope that this blog post has been somewhat useful, even if it sort of turned out like a self-help-team-ii-love-in. Have a great week everyone, and please share with us what keeps your remote team together in times of need!

Robin

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