How remote tech teams can be as productive as in-person teams

H1B visa illo
The president's temporary ban on H1-B visa holders could push some tech companies to consider creating remote dev teams. (Getty Images)

In June, President Trump announced that H-1B visa holders will be temporarily banned from entering the United States. The order means that almost 525,000 workers are currently unable to return to the country for work. In particular, the tech industry has been hit hard by the decision, as 45 percent of Silicon Valley's total labor force are foreigners. 

While talks of offshoring are now increasing as an alternative solution, many employees and tech workers don't want to disrupt the strong teams they have already established. Not to mention, H-1B visa holders may fear that their job security has been compromised. Fortunately, tech companies can hire and train remote teams to be as productive as in-person teams. In fact, operating at a distance can be an opportunity to reskill and upskill staff. Here's how:

 

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Embrace new technology

In the remote revolution taking place, software, digital tools, and communication channels are essential to maintain efficient workflows. Naturally, these tools have to be utilized correctly for maximum productivity. Companies should offer virtual training and onboarding sessions for staff who are not familiar with the technology. Additionally, distributing internal guides on how to access, manage, and track work using technology, will provide employees with trusted resources that they can easily refer to for help. 

Offer flexibility

As teams adapt to a different working environment, pay attention to their progress and goals, as opposed to the amount of time they spend on tasks. It's important to have mutual trust between employees and employers, or the relationship may swiftly deteriorate. Encourage employees to be autonomous and accountable for the work they do; in turn, they'll feel more confident and develop a greater sense of loyalty to the company.

Flexibility equally allows for greater inclusion, which is a core part of the new normal. Being flexible with working hours and vacation days caters towards employees who may be care-giveres or who have other personal responsibilities. By being less rigid in company processes, employee wellbeing is positively impacted and ultimately leads to increased productivity. 

Computer technology company Dell has been working with remote teams for years. Human Resources Director Mohammed Chahdi says that flexibility is a core reason for the business' success as it "show[s] team members that [they are trusted] to organize their work in a way that meets both their personal and professional priorities."

Promote learning & knowledge-sharing

Employees want to be reassured that not working from the U.S won't jeopardize their career development. To facilitate an environment of learning (even at a distance), contact external speakers and thought-leaders to address the company and offer their unique insights. Similarly, hold companywide AMAs (Ask Me Anything meetings) with the management team, so staff can express themselves and address concerns. Elsewhere, emphasize data collection and give regular, transparent analyses about how going remote has affected the business - people can use this knowledge to prepare for long-term remote work protocols. 

For example, at Airbnb, virtual fireside chats are regularly hosted with industry leaders to spark conversations around current topics between experts and staff. The internal events allow employees to learn from specialists in a variety of fields and provide them with access to new pathways.

In terms of hiring, be conscious to bring people on board based on their skills and not solely their experience. COVID-19 has profoundly disrupted the recruitment landscape, with research showing that 54 percent of all employees will require reskilling and up-skilling as a result. To invest in the right people, their ability to cope in adverse conditions should be prioritized over the companies they have previously worked for.

Ingrain company culture

The logistics of remote teams can make it hard to integrate company DNA within processes. Nonetheless, remote teams still need to identify with a wider company culture. Have check-ins with individuals weekly - these could be one-on-one meetings, webinars or social events like virtual lunches and quizzes. The more contact companies have with staff, the better overall relations will be.

Remember to reassure workers about their position at the company too. Confirm their value, offer them praise, and be open about things happening with the business. At the same time, continue any professional development plans that were in place prior to the visa ban. Maintaining a level of normalcy is ideal for productive teams and reaffirms that they still have the same pathways to advance that existed before. This level of confidence simultaneously equips teams for future change, no matter how drastic. 

Twitter is known for its positive work culture, and after deciding to allow employees to work remotely on a full-time basis, the company has ensured that its culture is not compromised in the process. Twitter has been hosting global all-hands meetings on Slack, has reimbursed employees for home office set up expenses, and has introduced a program for staff to communicate their feelings and be heard by the company's leaders.

Phil Alves is founder and CEO of Devsquad, which provides companies with on-demand software development teams.

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