September 7, 2020
7 min read
There are significant benefits to working with offshore development teams but, just like in-house staff, it takes work and care to maximize their productivity and output. As COVID-19 causes more companies to consider offshore teams or remote work, we wanted to provide a few tips for optimizing your team.
Productivity is critical for every company, and an offshore team has the potential to supercharge your overall output by adding more talented staff than the same budget would provide in the US. However, the simple fact that you don’t sit in the same room as these people means that optimizing productivity (and limiting anxiety!) often requires a different management style, especially for companies that are working with an offshore dedicated team for the first time. Many factors fuel this challenge and stress, including a lack of direct contact, cultural and time zone differences, each of which can be overcome to drive a successful outcome.
In one of our other blog posts, we’ve explored the importance of collaboration within a software development team. Today’s piece aims to plunge deeper into the topic of management and the resulting productivity.
One of the major factors affecting productivity is engagement, and this typically requires treating your remote or offshore employees the same as your on-site team.
We encourage companies to treat your offshore development team as a natural extension of your in-house development. Don’t just assign and wait for results - communicate and collaborate with them as with full-time employees. You need to make them feel part of your team. Here is how you can do it:
Talking to your team every day creates cohesion and prevents problems before they occur. We suggest having someone from your in-house team join the daily standup of your offshore development team so that everyone understands the accomplishments and roadblocks and can respond accordingly. Don’t “set it and forget it” with an offshore team - engage every single day like you would with someone sitting beside you.
Who are you? What’s your goal? What plans do you have? How does your offshore team fit into the big picture? Why does your company matter to the world and therefore why does their work matter?
Your new team members will benefit from a deep understanding of the answers to these questions. This will break down internal barriers and ensure that they understand the “big picture” so that even without minute-to-minute oversight they’re capable of making the right decisions. Further, a clear idea of what to expect enhances communication and, as a result, productivity.
Many companies try to extend their U.S.-based project manager to oversee offshore development. While this is certainly possible, we suggest prioritizing a strong offshore project manager that you trust and that communicates extremely well. This solves potential language barriers, creates a seamless development process and, most importantly, centralizes the responsibility for a successful project on a single person that can influence the result. To nurture trustful relationships with your offshore team, consider hiring a local supervisor like project manager, CTO or both. This will also ensure a smoother workflow and communication between your offshore and in-house teams.
Select a person for this role carefully and screen them for managing skills and culture fitting. One of the most common reasons for tech talents to leave is poor management so it’s pivotal to find the right person for the job.
Even a team of high performers may feel stuck if there is confusion in the team’s roles and individual strengths.
We recommend using the RACI matrix to describe the responsibilities of the project’s participants. To recognize their strong and weak points, use a SWOT analysis.
Provide your offshore team with tutorials and webinars to help them understand what’s going on and ease their onboarding process. At the same, don’t forget to value the experience your offshore team already possesses. All these moves foster a knowledge-sharing culture, and that’s crucial for a healthy workplace.
The absence of feedback can take a toll on your team’s productivity. It’s crucial to give both positive and negative feedback as often as possible.
Dispensing positive feedback increases the performers’ output. At the same time, negative feedback can be as useful as praise, especially if given in private. To do it properly, use the “Sandwich” approach where a negative comment is placed between two positive ones.
From a cultural perspective, it’s important to understand that the U.S. typically provides much softer feedback than offshore staff expects. Especially when managing a team in Eastern Europe, we suggest providing clear feedback - clear feedback (even if negative!) is appreciated and eliminates the anxiety that the team is not being provided all information.
Integrating an offshore team into your workflow is only one side of a coin.
To help them feel at home, ensure they get the same newsletter as everyone else at your company. Recognize their accomplishments and important dates. If possible, we suggest visiting your team and/or having them visit you as well! Also, don’t forget to unwind, that’s why there are Zoom parties out there!
Offshore team members have their ups and downs just like any human being. Doubts, burnout, Imposter Syndrome, etc. can all contribute to lower productivity anytime, anywhere. As Eric Gartner said in a recent HBR article, sometimes it’s often the company that is to blame.
Too many decision-makers on one project, poor time management and overloading the best performers can zap your team’s energy. To avoid these issues, create a feasible plan for every team member and ensure they aren’t overwhelmed with tasks.
Many people find time zone differences a shortcoming, and it does raise some challenges. However, non-overlapping hours can also benefit your company.
Rather than perceiving time zones as an obstacle, consider them an opportunity to operate close to 24 hours a day. For instance, an offshore team can take over from where an in-house team left off, or work independently on another project.
Here are some steps you can take to eradicate the impact of time zone differences:
For meetings, use the time convenient both for you and your offshore team. At Satellite, we hold standups for our New York and Minsk teams at 9am EST / 4pm Minsk time to stay in-sync. When working with teams in San Francisco, standups can be either in the morning or evening, depending on your company’s internal preference.
Agile methodology breaks software development into flexible iterations and sets tangible goals thus fostering productivity and efficiency. For an offshore team, an Agile process with clearly defined Sprints is even more helpful as it simplifies the workflow and establishes clear expectations of every player.
Technology has become a game-changer for measuring an offshore team’s productivity. Project management tools keep track of the progress, set out priorities, deadlines and team roles thus minimizing the time zones impact.
Here are our favorite project management and collaboration solutions:
Time management helps you identify causes of disruption, keep track of unplanned tasks and protect your offshore team against burnout. To dispel possible worries, explain to employees the need for time-tracking software and lead with empathy instead of micromanaging them.
A productive technique sounds like something theoretical but they can make all the difference if applied. Some of them are incorporated into project management tools (JIRA, Trello). Others can be applied when making decisions or focusing. Regular use of productivity techniques helps against procrastination and burnout and structures the workflow.
Here are some of the most popular ones:
Originally used at Toyota factories, Kanban visualizes workflow on a kanban board. The approach doesn’t define participants’ roles and enables developers to make changes at every step of the workflow. Kanban works best for teams that have to pursue shifting priorities.
Scrum breaks the development cycle into a series of short sprints. This approach sets strict roles for every teammate and discourages alterations made in the middle of a sprint. Scrum is great for projects with more-or-less stable goals.
The idea is to focus on simpler and same-type tasks to get them done in one sitting. As soon as you take care of them, you can handle more complex tasks without getting distracted by smaller ones.
Thanks to technology, distance is becoming less and less of a hurdle. However, productivity issues can still affect any team, in-house and offshore alike, and the best solution to these problems is thoughtful management. As long as you treat your dedicated team as full-fledged employees, give them all the tools for successful work and be there for them when they need it, you can expect to see great results.
Develop and scale your amazing software product with Satellite. We help you build a dedicated development team that works as a natural extension of your company.