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Three tips for acquiring a remote heart beat

When you are a member of a remote team, one of your most important tasks as an employee is to ensure everyone is able to see what you are up to. I have worked in a remote team for about a year and in semi-remote scenarios for an even longer period, therefor it is time to share some of my experiences on how to communicate progress (or lack there of).

There is some responsibility on whoever manages a team to ensure these things are working. There are however some things which has to be the responsibility of the individuals. This is what I will be discussing here.

Create your own remote heart ❤ beat 📈

Showing your team when you are working and how that is going is essential to getting a good team vibe. In order to get this feeling in a remote setting you need to generate a remote heart beat to show “proof of life”.

  • Actively use status flags in chat tools
  • Telling your story through the commit history
  • Show work that is not complete
  • When communicating progress (or lack there of) take the time to do it properly so people actually understand how things are going

📣 Yell it form the roof tops! 📣

The developer stereotype is that of the lone wolf working in silence only to emerge from the cave with The Ultimate Solution™!
In 2019 this way of working should be dead and only be told as a tale to scare your grand kids. As a developer you are expected to contribute to a team and ensure you move forward together. What this means is that the way you work needs to accommodate for the fact that you are not working in a vacuum. This fact becomes even more important when the team is spread out in different physical locations. Your way of doing your work needs to be louder in order for your team mates to get an insight into how things are going.

Keep the information flowing of information

Ever since the emergence of Git I have been a big fan of making many small commits, as opposed to committing large chunks at a time. Luckily a “commit often” approach is ideal for remote work. It automatically gives you a heart beat and it does enables you to communicate progress without status reports.

Take pride in committing

If you take the time to write a good commit message (this is very much an aspiration for me, it is not like I am very good at this!) a team member can read the days list of commits and get a decent overview of what’s happened the past day.

When completing something, ensure it’s communicated somewhere

Picture of a leaf forest in daytime with fallen trees on the ground in the sunshine.
Photo by Chelsea Bock on Unsplash

If a tree falls in a forrest” is a philosophical exercise which applies to remote work. When you fix a bug, it’s nice to others to know right? It is one thing to move the card in your task management tool of choice, however that is usually not something everyone in a company keeps a close eye on. When you fix a bug or complete a feature there are several things you could do when applicable:

  • Add a piece of documentation to the end user documentation.
  • Update the help pages FAQ / company blog / etc with news of the new feature or solved issue.
  • Notify your customer success team about a bug being fixed.
  • Humbly blog on your company communication tool of choice (mailing list, chat, whatever)

Take a screenshot or screen recording of a feature you have implemented and post it somewhere customer success and sales also see it. Remember, sales are only as informed as you make them. In order for them to do a better job, they rely on information from developers such as yourself.

Embrace showing work that is half done

Not everything you do as a developer is a commit and if that takes up most of your day, how do you enable others to see what you are working on? Taking the plunge and dare to show things which are not complete can feel a bit scary at times, but if you build a team culture where that is common it will be hugely beneficial for the entire team.

Develop skills in handling feedback on half-done work

As developers we talk a lot about feedback cycles and rapid responses to code that gets pushed into production. It is equally important to get early feedback on things which aren’t code.

Let’s say you are redesigning a form and you have just started on the task and you realize you are not quite certain what the interaction should be. You could implement everything and then get feedback or you could quickly create a sample implementation and create a videos which shows off what you have done.
Doing the latter you get rapid feedback with the added benefit of showing the rest of the team what you are working on. Having shown something early makes it easier for others to give quality feedback later on as they have a rough idea of what it is you are working on. Engaging in dialog early on when developing a feature is also time saving. A lack of context when talking about something is a common source of misunderstandings.

By showing off to your sketches, screen shots or small screen recordings you enable your fellow team members to get an insight into your progress. It’s also a nice way to bond the team and it is also an indication of a healthy team if members don’t feel intimidated by doing this.

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