Best Team-Building Tips for Creating a Great Culture for a Remote or Offshore Software Development Team

Best Team-Building Tips for Creating a Great Culture for a Remote or Offshore Software Development Team

Bradley Vanderstarren

Anastasia Starovoytova

Content Manager

Organizational culture shapes the way your business is run and helps your employees feel connected to the company’s mission. However, maintaining the same culture for a remote or offshore dedicated team as for your in-house one can be a delicate task — especially when regional differences come into play.

Engaging a dedicated offshore software development team generates many business opportunities, from successful scaling to accelerated product development. To make the most of such a partnership, you have to help offshore team members feel they understand and belong to your culture without being deprived of their own. 

Since casual banter by the watercooler isn’t an option, you have to use other ways to foster communication and, as a result, culture between your in-house team and dedicated offshore engineering center. The main objective of this blog post is to outline solutions for enhancing culture in the virtual working environment, which is crucial for those partnering with a dedicated team or affected by COVID-19.

What Is Organizational Culture and Why Is It a Big Deal?

Organizational culture is a tricky topic. It’s an umbrella term encompassing many work aspects that can change rapidly due to new circumstances and technology. Gartner’s Vice President Analyst Suzanne Adnams refers to organizational culture as “the expression of our combined daily behaviors that are constantly changing and interacting”. Your company’s inner culture may even allude to your daily standup rituals or tech tools.

While definitions and perceptions may vary, there is no doubt that organizational culture plays a vital role in recruiting, developing and retaining talent — as well as building great software. A recent LinkedIn study has shown that about 36% of employees left their previous job because of the work environment and Deloitte insists that companies with a knowledge-sharing culture are 92% more likely to come up with breakthrough products. 

In other words, organizational culture is more than a code of conduct. Eventually, it’s your ability to scale, innovate and make work in your company meaningful. Vision can’t exist in a void, it needs culture to grow in.

Why Is Establishing Organizational Culture Different for Dedicated Teams?

Organizational culture is about connecting people with your mission and with each other. Some of these ties form naturally in person but, with a remote or dedicated team, a different approach is required. Teammates are detached from each other physically and are at risk of detaching emotionally if you don’t adapt your management style.

Previously we mentioned that engagement is critical for a remote or offshore software development team to stay productive. This sort of commitment can be achieved if you accept your dedicated team as part of your company and encourage your onsite employees to do the same.

Another thing to remember when dealing with an offshore team is that their mindset may stand out from your own. For example, when giving and receiving feedback, Belarusian software engineers lean towards direct assessment instead of the softer reviews that are more typical in western culture. Developers here appreciate candidness as it decreases their anxiety. 

Cultural nuances, time zones and the mere fact that you don’t come across these people face-to-face can hinder cultural processes. To build a mission-driven setting for remote teams, you have to step up your game by using the culture hacks we list below.

Great Culture Starts with Great Onboarding

Your company’s culture should be reflected in all the processes within it, especially when it comes to onboarding as it has a big impact on impressions of your organization.

Remote onboarding needs to be more thoughtful. Here are the steps we recommend that you take when orienting a new employee remotely:

  1. Appoint a lead team member to guide the new teammate through their first weeks. We also recommend that you have a local project manager for your dedicated team to improve the onboarding process and foster communication later on. 
  2. Be very clear about how things are going, what flexible hours are (or are not), how to use internal communication tools, and who can help with different types of issues. Being transparent from the start reduces stress for both you and your new hire and helps avoid misunderstandings in the future.
  3. Provide them with a company’s handbook or presentation that includes information about your vision, values and rules. One of the success secrets of companies like Pinterest who have lots of remote offices is their ability to keep and update internal materials of high quality. 
  4. Ask your new team member to write an introduction letter about themselves (their role in the company, experience, hobbies, some fun stuff) to help the others find common interests with the newcomer.
  5. Find openings in your schedule to talk to the new hire from time to time (a Zoom call, a Slack message, etc.) to build a stronger relationship with them.

An ideal onboarding scenario is when your remote process doesn’t differ from your in-house one. Creating a consistent onboarding like this can be challenging. But it also can be an eye-opening experience that will highlight possible vulnerabilities in your in-house hub as well.

Create an Atmosphere of Trust

Live communication streamlines trust. When people contact each other regularly, they’re prone to be honest with each other and confident enough to voice their opinions. To promote trust between your in-house and dedicated teams, consider the following:

  • Standups

We’ve already talked about the importance of regular standups in our productivity post. Scheduling daily calls with dedicated team members even if they’re on another continent isn’t as hard as it may seem. Discussing today’s agenda with everyone is a great way to build trust between teams. Make sure that your meetings have a structure. It’s better to have a shorter standup than a dragged one. For more detailed conversations, plan a meeting with fewer people.

  • Hard Questions

People often talk about the culture of hard work but rarely mention that it should entail a culture of hard questions. Solving problems in the open and admitting that you don’t have the answers to all the questions that may appear during development is a sign of a sound work setting. 

  • Decision Making

A dedicated team is competent enough to make their own decisions in software development. If you want them to follow the startup mindset and feel appreciated, empower them to step up. Such an approach reduces the time you waste on internal issues by about 30%. 

  • Exposure

Celebrate your dedicated team members’ success the same way you do it for in-house employees, be it a social media post, coverage in your blog or public praise in a Slack channel. The same should be applied to performance reviews. Give feedback to a dedicated team member regularly and in full.

  • Visits

While not an option during the pandemic, visiting an offshore team in their country boosts their morale and will give you a better understanding of their culture.

  • Swag Kits

A swag kit with branded clothing, gadgets and other nice little touches is a thoughtful gesture that becomes even more special with gift receivers being on another continent.

  • Local Holidays and Important Data

Another way to show your offshore team that you care is to remember their birthdays, significant dates and holidays in their country.

Have Fun with Team-Building Activities

In a healthy work environment, team members have an opportunity to recharge and unwind. A company’s culture based on fun and team-building activities leads to more productive and satisfying work which is as important for an offshore team as for any other. Here are some tips on how you can revel with dedicated team members:

  • Slack Channels

Let your employees know each other better by joking around and having non-work conversations in dedicated Slack channels. This type of banter reduces stress and helps teammates feel at ease with each other. Please remember, however, that fun can’t be forced and Slack apps like RandomCoffees may not suit introverted team members — especially if they’re paired up with someone they have nothing in common with. 

  • Pizza Days and Happy Hours

Food brings people together. Arranging pizza days, lunches, coffee meetings, happy hours or even culinary competitions is an amazing way to help teams connect. Although the distance is an obstacle, you can schedule a video call to some quality time with a remote employee or, in case of a contest, share photos via social media and other communication tools. 

  • Zoom Parties

From chit-chat to elaborate scavenger hunts, murder mysteries and quizzes, a Zoom party is a must for strengthening your company’s culture. 

  • Retreats

In terms of team building, outdoor activities are essential to keep people engaged. Even if you can’t join your offshore team for a retreat, make sure they get out of the office from time to time.

  • Hackathons

Hackathons are one big brainstorming session with a dash of competitiveness. They are usually dedicated to a specific cause or technology and are extremely popular among software engineers. Here are some reasons for you to visit or host hackathons more often:

  1. Hackathons incite concepts for innovative solutions.
  2. They are a great team-building activity and can help even the most reserved individuals open up.
  3. You can easily spot your top players and “rehearse” the software development process. 
  4. They can strengthen your employer brand.

An internal hackathon doesn’t have to be a large-scale event. All you need is a free day in your schedule, an idea typically connected with your product and a reward for the winning team.

The Bottom Line

Organizational culture is more than just a set of rules for everyone to follow. Ultimately, it’s about the way your employees work, interact, innovate, respond to misconduct and change, treat your product — and your customer.

For a long time, people believed that establishing a strong culture for a remote or offshore dedicated treat is too challenging to dive into. However, 2020 and specifically COVID-19 debunked this myth once and for all. The ongoing pandemic and remote collaboration proved that working out a way to stay connected emotionally and culturally is paramount for software development teams.

Anastasia Starovoytova

Content Manager

Anastasia is the Content Manager at Satellite, covering technology, effective team building and latest IT news.

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