Many developers are used to working on an in-person team where colleagues are just steps away, ready to offer a gut check or a second opinion. But if your dev team is switching to working from home—either temporarily or for the long haul—you’ll need to make some adjustments to the ways you collaborate.
Remote work makes it nearly impossible to read facial cues and body language, and sometimes tone gets lost in translation when you’re sending DMs instead of chatting face-to-face. Building rapport can also take longer when you aren’t making small talk around the coffee maker.
Here at The Events Calendar, we’re an all-remote company. We have more than a decade of experience coding and collaborating across continents and timezones, so we’re quite familiar with the pitfalls and the joys of remote work. And even though it comes with its challenges, we promise: You can still have an awesome team dynamic through the screen.
Today, we’re sharing some of our own tips to help dev teams thrive in a work-from-home environment.
Write super descriptive commit messages
In an office, you might be used to sending over your work without much context, then popping over to your colleague’s desk to talk it through. But when you’re working remotely, you need to be as detailed as possible in commit messages.
Instead of sending a generic message that says “Updates header,” for example, write something that paints a full picture: What exactly changed? Is the markup different? Did you edit a specific CSS class? The same goes when you’re writing code reviews. Avoid writing terse comments that might be taken the wrong way—this guide offers useful pointers on code review etiquette. We also like to include demos to aid in the pull request process (more on that below).
It may seem cumbersome to write a few extra sentences for each commit, but trust us—a little extra effort now can prevent confusion and miscommunication later. This post on writing commit messages is a helpful point of reference for creating good habits on your team.
Demo early, iterate often
We know, we know: Meetings are the worst. But sometimes an extra meeting at the start of a project can save you from a hassle down the road.
As you transition to remote work, consider building a few extra meetings into your workflow at the start of new projects. This gives devs a chance to demo their work and begin gathering feedback early in the process.
Our devs use screencasts to visually share work for code review, QA, and general team check-ins. See the video below for a great screencast example from one of our lead product developers, Scott Clark. (Bonus: Screen recordings have replay options, which eliminates the need for our whole team to be on a call at the same time.) Sticking to a mantra of “demo early, iterate often” saves your team from getting too far along in a project, only to be handed a long list of changes.
Take your daily standup online
Just because you’ve gone remote doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your daily standup meetings. Here at The Events Calendar, we connect for an asynchronous daily standup on Slack. Each team member shares what they’re working on, what they’ve recently completed, and any blockers standing in their way. We’re big fans of Status Hero, a tool that integrates well with Slack. It prompts team members to share updates that are then sent directly to a project manager.
In addition to a daily check-in, we like to hold regular video calls to incorporate an “in-person” experience and give the team some valuable facetime.
Track bugs and issues where everyone can see them
Maybe you’re used to tracking bugs in an ad-hoc system, but on a remote team, it’s important to streamline your tools and systems to keep everybody in the loop.
Our team tracks and labels issues in Jira, and we collaborate on code in GitHub. We know there are lots of teams that use tools like Jira and GitHub, but there are also plenty of teams that don’t—or who use it inconsistently, at best.
Here are some of the benefits of using a central repository for project code:
- Version control: Keeping a record of every change lets you easily roll back to a previous version if something goes wrong.
- Quality control: Enforcing code reviews before code can be merged into a master branch ensures that each update gets reviewed by more than one person.
- Continuous integration/deployment: Quality checks are more thorough and efficient with automated testing and deployments that are triggered with each merge.
- Communication: GitHub has several project management and communication tools built right in, including issue tracking, task assignments, and role permissions.
Enjoy the WFH perks
Ever work in an office where you worried you’d be judged if you ever left your desk? Let’s be honest: It’s impossible to stay focused for eight (or more) straight hours. Sometimes we need to stretch, move around, or enjoy lunch away from the screen. When you work at home, it’s easier to find that balance with periodic breaks to recharge.
So go ahead—take a walk. Grab a snack. Scratch your pup behind the ears. Dance like nobody’s watching, because nobody is. Soak up all the perks of WFH life.
Be patient with yourself and your team
Working remotely is perhaps the ultimate communication challenge; sometimes it’s just plain hard to read someone in a Slack message or on a conference call. A comment that seems flippant to you may have come have sounded playful to someone else. Be kind and patient with your team, ask for clarification when you need it, and remember that people generally have good intentions.
Working remotely requires extra empathy and compassion, but your team can still have awesome interpersonal relationships and camaraderie—you’ll get there by sharpening your communication skills as you come together through the screen.
For more advice on how to set yourself up for success while working from home, check out these tips from Modern Tribe.