While there might be murmurs of a ‘Great Return’ to the office in 2023, it’s unlikely we’ll see the back of remote and hybrid working anytime soon. Last month, 38% of UK workers worked from home at some point in the previous seven days, and a whopping 78% reported an improved work life balance WFH.
But it’s not all virtual donuts and games — remote working takes work. It takes time to work out how to effectively engage and motivate your team when you’re not sat next to each other every day in an office.
While some people might thrive working from home, others can find it isolating or distracting. And it can be harder for managers to pick up on the signs that someone in their team is struggling or burning out.
The good news is there’s things you can do to make working from home a success for your team.
In this article, we’ve focused in on engaging software engineering teams specifically, but a lot of our suggestions apply to other disciplines too.
Ways to engage your engineering team when working from home
Run remote code pairing sessions
Our Senior Frontend Engineer Rick suggests using Tuple to improve remote code pairing sessions;
“Previously, we were using things like Google Meet and Zoom, and while these are amazing for normal meetings, they lack the interactivity of Tuple, which allows us to have multiple cursors in play, and for us to be able to write code on each other’s screens while screen sharing amongst other useful features.
Being able to drive someone without using a mouse and a keyboard is a skill in itself, but sometimes it can be helpful to work directly on things together.”
Our engineering team tries to pair up regularly, to plan up front for tickets, jumping on a call when stuck and reviewing code together. Right now, the team’s trying out ‘forced’ pairing, where a bot randomly selects someone to partner with, so no one needs to make the first move.
Create a virtual office
I’ve been working remote for almost three years now. And while I love it for the most part, I miss the impromptu chats in the canteen, the lunchtime foosball tournaments, and generally just having people around to talk to, sense check and bounce ideas off.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to recreate face-to-face human interaction, but virtual office tools like Gather and Cosmos go some way to bridge the gap.
Try setting up a virtual office for your team, and encourage them to ‘sit’ at a workstation throughout the day. That way, people can drop in and ‘tap you on the shoulder’ should they need a quick chat.
While there’s no replacing the IRL buzz of a hard fought foosball game, you can also play virtual games in Cosmos.
Avoid meeting burnout
Meeting burnout is a very real thing. Rick recommends the following to avoid meeting overkill:
- Split into smaller, higher context teams to have more relevant, focused and shorter meetings
- Make longer, less interactive meetings optional, but record them for the team to watch async at a time that suits them better
- Factor breaks into longer meetings so people have a chance to grab a cup of tea or let the dog out
- Make meetings interactive where you can, giving everyone the opportunity to speak up, and get involved with polls and estimating.
Build a community
Building a culture in your organisation is tough at the best of times, but particularly difficult when your team is dispersed across the country and around the world. To combat feelings of isolation and disconnection, make an effort to create a sense of community among your team members.
Here at Progression we’re doing the following to engage our team:
- Organising regular virtual team-building activities
Over the last few months we’ve held caricature classes, team quizzes and remote gaming sessions, and we have a wellness week planned for January.
- Creating a virtual space for casual conversation
Donut makes this easy — each week Donut pairs up our team in Slack, and we book in 15 minutes for a chat about anything and everything (as long as it’s not about work)
- Running whole team Show & Tells
We run a biweekly Show & Tell to give the whole team a chance to come together, share their work, reflect and celebrate what we’ve achieved.
- Hosting face-to-face meetups
While Progression is a fully remote organisation, that doesn’t mean we don’t get together IRL every now and again. In fact, we try to meet every month, covering the cost of travel and accommodation for those living outside of town. Recent Progression days have included karaoke, darts, VR and a trip to the Cutty Sark.
Make feedback a habit
Providing regular feedback and support to your team couldn’t be more important when you’re all working from home. Get it right, and you’ll not only help them to improve their skills and output, but keep them motivated too.
Schedule regular 1:1s, we suggest weekly. We’ve written a whole guide already on how to get more from 1:1s with your engineering team, and the process we follow at Progression.
Read more: The complete guide to 1:1s for software engineers >
Complete a Check-in in Progression with each member of your team on a quarterly basis. Check-ins focus on the skills in your team’s framework, so they’re targeted and actionable. Identify strengths and blind spots, and add Actions to help them level up.
Give Feedback in-between the 1:1s and Check-ins to enable your team to grow all the time. Progression makes this easy — you can give in-the-moment Feedback via your team’s profile pages, in Slack or by simply entering feedback.new in your browser.
Give your team the option to work from an office
Remember, working alone can be challenging for some. I asked Robin, a developer here at Progression, for his advice on how to work remotely productively. His answer? ‘Don’t work from home (…) I find working from home very hard, as I get distracted a lot.’
Robin’s chosen to work in a co-working space, where he gets to meet other people working in his field. It’s a win-win — close to home (Robin lives in the Czech Republic, so commuting to our base in London regularly is impossible), but away from distractions.
By implementing these strategies, you can help engage and motivate your remote software engineering team, and ensure that they are able to effectively collaborate, communicate and feel a part of a community.
If you’re in any doubt, ask your team what they think’s missing right now. They know what they need better than anyone after all.