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The Full Guide to Managing Remote Developers Effectively

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Do you know what is the number one concern of startup founders when it comes to hiring remote developers? It actually goes somewhere along the lines of “How the hell are we going to make this work?!”

And it’s a genuine concern. We all know that things can get tricky even when everybody sits in the same room, so the vision of a developer across the country (or across the ocean) being responsible for key components of a project might seem uncomfortable.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Working well with remote developers doesn’t have to be difficult, stressful, or unpredictable. All it takes is a bit of a good will and good old business planning. So here is our guide on how to make working with remote developers work.

9 tips on working with remote developers

1. Have a game plan ready to go

remote developer

It is crucial to have a detailed plan ready to go before you hire your remote developer for the project.

If you are unsure about what you REALLY need and how long it should take, you are sure to find yourself in an awful place. Why? Because people just can’t read your mind.

If you intended on just “rolling with the punches”, you will end up spending too much money, wasting your and your developer’s time, getting work that is not up to the standard “you had in mind” (but nobody else knew about it) and creating a TON of frustration for you and everybody else involved in the project.

So, do your homework. Spending a little bit of time beforehand thinking things through, and planning goals and deliverables will save you both time and money down the line.

Added bonus: By being as detailed as possible, you give yourself the best chance at finding the best developer for the job.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

remote developer

When working remotely, proper two-way communication is essential.

A. Share the background story

First of all, sharing some background story sets up the context for the project they will be working on. The more your developers understand about your goals, the better they can think creatively to deliver what you need.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of having a goal and a project to believe in and being able to see how the work will contribute to your success. While it may seem like it would take too much time, doing this up front can actually improve clarity, prevent misunderstandings, and save time later on.

B. Set yourself up for success

Remember that your developer’s performance depends directly on yours. Many project managers are very quick to put the blame on freelancers when a project goes wrong.

In reality, though, more often than not, projects go wrong due to a lack of communication and willingness to put in enough prep time on your side.

Freelance developers are usually very motivated to complete a job on time, and to your satisfaction. Delivering quality work on time is exactly what allows them to live the lifestyle they enjoy.

Be straightforward about your expectations. Set up tangible goals early on and mutually agree on deadlines of the deliverables. Don’t constantly change your project requirements—you will be wasting your own time and money.

Don’t leave anything open-ended.

Your developer can’t read your mind or see your vision unless you explicitly share those with them.

C. Check in frequently

While you might not be getting a chance for a daily catch up at the office, regular check-ins with your remote developers are a must. They keep both parties on the same page and help manage mutual expectations accordingly.

If you have any questions or concerns about the progress of the project, don’t hesitate to speak to your developer.

Successful project delivery is a two-way street. Even five minutes at the end of a week will make a difference. Find out what went right and what went wrong that week.

D. Give feedback

Let them know you appreciate their help if they are acing your project.
And if they are underperforming, don’t beat around the bush. Constructive feedback given in a timely manner can save the project and your relationship with a freelance developer.

Just be flexible—if something is slightly off but it won’t affect the final product’s performance or functionality, don’t make a huge deal out of it. The developer you are working with will surely appreciate your flexibility, and they will also be more understanding if something changes on your end, or if you need extra help outside of the original scope of work.

3. Take your developer’s feedback under consideration

freelance developer

Given the nature of the remote development business, chances are, your freelance developers have seen it all. They have seen amazing project executions, and they have seen disastrous failures.

They are pros in their fields and that expertise is exactly what you are paying them for. Sometimes, even a quick chat with them might offer an interesting perspective on what you are working on. A few good questions to start with:

  • Where do projects like these typically go wrong?
  • What could we do differently?
  • Do you have everything you need to deliver the project?

4. NDAs

remote developer

Given the nature of development work, chances are that your developers might be working on some proprietary code, algorithms, know-hows (etc), or need access to other confidential information during the life of the project.

Of course, exercise your best judgment, be reasonable and keep in mind that not everybody is out there to get you and run away with your idea ☺

But if it’s beyond what others could find in your 10-page business plan, it’s tangible, it contains the details of a successful execution, client databases, the nitty-gritty of the core platform, or key proprietary algorithms; it would be advisable to go beyond the “gentlemen agreement” and ask them to sign an NDA.

5. Don’t let time zones get in the way

remote developer

Different time zones don’t need to get in the way of successful project execution (and life). Keep in mind, that even with a 9-hour difference, nobody needs to stay up till midnight or wake up at 4AM to make things work!

A 3AM meeting to discuss the project is never justifiable, and there is ALWAYS a time that’s reasonable for both parties involved. 5PM your time and 8AM developer’s time is very workable.

If the time difference is significant, finding a mutual compromise on time zone management early on is the best way to get things done.

6. Don’t shortchange your freelancer developer…

remote developer

Don’t try to shortchange your developer—the price tags might seem a bit higher than you would think, but that’s because they are experts in their respective fields and they can deliver what you need with a laser focus.

When hiring freelance developers, also keep in mind that you are getting what you are paying for. If you want a top PRO to work on your app and make it bulletproof, be prepared to pay the top dollar for their time and talent.

7. … and remember to value their time like you value your own.

Don’t do unpaid test projects. Everyone’s time is valuable.

If your client asked you to deliver this “unpaid test project” that would take about five hours of your time to complete before even deciding if you are good enough to work for them moving forwards, would you feel like they value your time and appreciate you? I don’t think so.

Don’t be a client that you would hate to work with yourself.

8. Say “please” and “thank you”.

remote developer

Say thank you as often as possible. Showing appreciation for a job well done is a great relationship builder. Treat them as well as you would treat your own employees because they actually are.

Also worth keeping in mind: it’s simply human nature to work harder for people we like☺

9. Deal with conflicts like a champ

remote developer

The absolute best way to deal with potential conflicts while working on a project is to be proactive about them.

Lack of clear communication is the number one cause of project conflicts. Of course, misunderstandings happen, but you can do your best to mitigate any adverse feelings by being very specific about things like timeframes, scope of the project, and payment schedules.

Be honest and respectful of the agreement you have made. If an issue was to escalate, there is no need to panic. If you absolutely can’t come to terms with your freelance developer, ask somebody you trust to get involved and help resolve the issue. Chances are, you are just too emotionally involved to be able to see things clearly for what they are.

Working with remote developers hired via a trusted agency will also provide a safety net in the unlikely event of a disagreement.

Final word

Following these nine simple steps should make your work with remote developers both enjoyable and productive. If you have any other tips on working with remote developers, please share with us in the comments.

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Mary Goldspink
Mary Goldspink
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Startups coach, a passionate optimist and an engineer. Enterprenuer, a former COO at Unbits ( iOT start-up, acquired by Wearable World).
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