Keeping a Distributed Team Motivated

As we are entering the second year of the pandemic, we keep seeing lockdowns all over the Globe and offices either closing down or being just partially open. Remote work is now a part of our present reality, and here to stay. Millions of companies have already shifted their businesses online and many realized that their teams can perform from their couches or dining tables at home. The undisputed benefits of distributed teams are: improved work-life balance, no tedious commuting in rush hours, and even increased levels of productivity. However, despite them all, we can pin down some concerns that we need to handle well. 

Worried about the pandemic and trying to keep our software developers safe, even two weeks before the official lockdown was in place, we advised all our employees to stay at home. In September, as Bulgaria and North Macedonia weren’t reporting many positive cases and weary of the lack of face-to-face communication, we reopened. Sadly, in a month, the positive cases surged in both countries. Since mid-October, we have gone back to entirely distributed teams and we have no plans to reopen the offices before the storm blows over completely.

For years now, as part of our company benefits package, we have enjoyed a work-from-home policy. That’s why we were somewhat prepared but never ever have we envisioned shifting all our teams to long-term remote work. As a software development company, we experienced no problems with system support, hardware and collaboration tools. However, when we are located at different places, the biggest challenge is keeping the inspiration and engagement up

We found out that to preserve our teams’ commitment and productivity, we don’t necessarily need new gimmicks and tricks. In fact, it turned out the majority of methods we used back at the offices can be adjusted and applied to remote work. We still struggle. But we keep trying our best and we believe we’re on the right track. Here are some of the strategies we found useful.

Keep the communication frequent, open and clear at all times

Ineffective communication is reason #1 for frustration. When we talk in person, there are non-verbal details like body language, facial expressions, tone of voice that can spark immediate motivation. However, when working remotely, all these details are left out. A good way to deal with this is to schedule regular video meetings with team-members. You can even start with "Ask me anything" or just a causal small talk about how things are going at home, etc. Make sure you are also encouraging all teammates to communicate with each other. Create a set of channels for them to interact as a replacement of the "watercooler chats" at the office.

Use the right tools and platforms 

There are plenty of collaboration tools and platforms helping people work remotely. Microsoft and Google have office suites tailored for the needs of companies and can substantially improve inter-company communication. As a software development company providing end-to-end solutions we offer the latest workplace mobility tools to our clients and that’s why it was no hassle for us to make use of them for own production teams. Whether it comes to IT, cloud, web applications, or network connectivity we can identify areas that need improvement and propose adequate solutions.

For project management, we use services such as Azure, Trello and Jira, and of course our own ERP system that we conveniently call Melon Office, for short. Beyond task distribution and setting clear deadlines, it features messages and company updates that help teams stay on track, well-informed and engaged. Whether working with a freelance team or with in-house talent, these tools come in handy.

Skill enhancement is inspiring

An employee training program is likely to keep anybody motivated. We do have training plans, that are certainly in need of improvement but the important thing is that we have been dedicating focused effort on growing and upgrading them. Also, we have our own  training system  Melon Learning – an e-learning management system that stores and delivers learning and assessment content, and tracks and measures learning progress. It's available as a product and in fact, with the start of the pandemic, the inquiries have doubled, including from outsourcing and investment companies and call centers. That prompted us to develop new functionalities including integrated Zoom online meetings – a very popular request recently for obvious reasons.

Provide the appropriate hardware for work

It is not enough to just rely on online tools, platforms, and systems to engage the teams. People associate their living space with recreation, not with work. We realized that many of our colleagues have no proper space and equipment to work from home. They never needed it. We made sure to check and help our teams with office essentials – the right desk, monitor(s), comfortable chair, fitness ball, keyboard, mouse, webcam, etc. When employees can rely on the appropriate equipment provided, they are more likely to feel secure, invested and productive. 

Focus on goals and results instead of micromanaging

With clear goals set, tasks and deadlines distributed within the teams, all that is left is to monitor results and keep an eye out for any issues, right? That’s what we might have thought. Well, not in all cases. 

From our experience with literally thousands of partners from all around the world, we’ve seen team leaders who require their teams to track every single step of a process and prefer to check up on them constantly to make sure people are doing their job. However, this approach creates tension and is likely to make teams more robotic and less creative.

We, at Melon, have tested and proved that the best results come when the team-members are granted with high level of autonomy coupled with matching responsibility.

Try to focus on results, reasonable deadlines, and give your team the freedom they need to work on their assigned tasks. At the end of the day, working remotely is a relatively new thing for many people, and being patient will likely help both sides stay productive and inspired.

Let your team know their work is appreciated

When software developers are delivering quality work and on time but their efforts are unnoticed they might end up feeling underappreciated and demotivated. It is crucial to reward deserving team members with a word of approval or even a surprise gift in the mail. It’s not only about the individual excitement of team members, but also to keep the company culture strong. Any upcoming holiday could be an occasion to do so.

And yes, we have confirmed that no matter how well a company and teams are performing with the new distributed ways of doing business, nothing beats face-to-face meetings. Either working together or just having a drink or two. That’s why we’re looking forward to spring and especially summer times to make the best of the sunny weather, parks and the bars in the open that abide by all the safety rules. 

Implementing these strategies can help you keep your team inspired and effective in a remote environment. Indeed, every team’s culture is strongly individual. Investing the time to find out what works best is surely something that pays off in the long term. 

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