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With physical meetings out of the question during this time, there’s hardly any difference between working with a company in the same city or one on the other side of the world. In this series, we’ll look at best practices in remote collaboration, and how you can make the best out of it in working with both internal teams and third-party partners or suppliers.
Over the last weeks, businesses around the world (some more than others) have been forced to adjust and adapt to the new reality of a world facing a pandemic.
Previously onsite teams have now shifted to remote work, and we’ve seen how video conferencing and online real-time collaboration tools have grown to be the new normal.
While there were inevitable hiccups along the way, we’ve come to realize that working together without being in the same location is possible… and actually works.
Of course, it’s not like remote collaboration is a new concept. Home-based jobs have been on the rise for years now, and some businesses have adapted a completely online and remote workforce.
But even as we go increasingly digital, most companies still place high importance on face-to-face meetings and collaborating on a project in the same room.
There are certain advantages to being in the same geographical area with your suppliers: with software projects, for instance, it’s very convenient to be able to meet onsite for project planning or even quick status and catch-ups.
With the current situation, though, physical meetings have been rendered impractical, and may even continue to be less than ideal for a long while.
1902 Software and remote work
Our own team at 1902 Software, who’ve always worked in the same physical office until March 2020, has temporarily shifted to a remote working model.
Working from home may be new for us, but remote collaboration isn’t.
Being an export company, our clients have always been located in other countries from different parts of the world. And we’re learning that collaborating remotely within the team in the same region is not so different from collaborating with clients from Denmark, Australia, Norway, Sweden, or the USA—after all, when we can’t meet physically, remote is remote.
So we’ve put together a list of things to consider when working with an offshore partner or supplier, some tools to help you with remote collaboration, and a collection of best practices we’ve been doing that can help you work better in a remote setup.
Working with offshore software developers
Offshoring is a type of outsourcing, where you subcontract certain tasks or business processes to a company located in another country, often to cut back on costs.
Software projects—like web or app development, support and maintenance of systems, and even graphic design—are some of the most outsourced tasks among companies, especially for some where it’s not practical to hire in-house developers and/or designers.
Due to the complex nature of these tasks, many businesses prefer to outsource to companies within the same city or country rather than to offshore companies, considering factors such as cultural understanding, time difference, and of course, proximity.
But without the advantage of physical accessibility during this time (2020), there’s not much difference in working with local vs offshore suppliers.
Of course, there are still challenges that arise from the factors mentioned above, but with the right supplier, you’ll find that offshore collaboration has its own benefits as well.
Here are some pros and cons that you can consider when working with an offshore software developer:
1. Time difference
Some people might consider it a disadvantage to work with a team from a different time zone, but over the years, we (and most of our clients) have found it beneficial.
For instance, our clients from Europe can send us small tasks at the end of the workday and find them finished the next morning when they come in to work.
Still, it’s important that you and your supplier at least have overlapping work hours so that you can still have live meetings for project status updates (our own standard is at least four).
2. Cultural barriers
In software projects, the cultural factor mostly affects the work relationship between the supplier and client and not the work itself—as opposed to certain work that really requires cultural understanding, like SEO and marketing, for example.
Maintaining transparent and consistent communication is one way to resolve cultural differences with your supplier.
As long as both parties are clear on the project requirements and task expectations right from the start of the collaboration, the project is likely to go on smoothly despite being from different backgrounds.
3. Cost savings
You can save a lot by getting development done with offshore software development companies.
At 1902 Software, our rates are almost 50% lower than local agencies, especially in Europe, US, and Australia. (See our price list.)
Often, higher cost is associated with higher quality, which is why companies are willing to go with more expensive agencies than save with outsourcing companies. This is not always the case, though.
Always see for yourself and check client reviews and portfolio of previous projects to check your prospective supplier’s output quality and reputation.
4. Privacy and security
Data privacy is an important factor for customer trust and overall brand reputation these days, so make sure to work with a supplier with tight privacy and security measures in place to avoid compromising your data.
At 1902 Software, we have standard data processing agreements that we sign with our clients at the start of every project, to help them comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation’s (GDPR) clauses on transferring and processing EU data in third countries.
5. Diverse skillset, knowledge, and experience
With many technical talents around the world, it can be limiting for your project to consider only local companies or freelancers.
Through outsourcing, you can take advantage of getting an experienced team in your project, at half the usual cost.
Our developers go through months of in-house technical training before working on client projects and continue to attend refresher workshops and knowledge-sharing sessions.
Many of them have earned technical certifications in the platforms that they work with as well.
Working with an offshore software developer may be challenging in some respects, but that holds true even for your local agencies as well.
Ultimately, it’s about choosing to work with a software development company that can deliver what you need—near or remote.
Tools for remote collaboration
In a remote work setup, the stack of tools you use can hugely affect how effective your collaboration will be.
Fortunately, modern technology is more than capable of supporting a seamless remote workflow—it’s just a matter of choosing the right ones that fit your team culture and project requirements.
Real-time collaboration tools
Real-time collaboration tools ease the drawback of distance in remote work by allowing you to work as if you are side-by-side with your colleague or supplier.
These tools let multiple people edit a document or a file at the same time and see each other’s changes as they happen—here are some examples:
1. Microsoft Teams – Part of the Office 365 line, Microsoft Teams is primarily a communication platform where you can chat and video-conference with people within or outside your organization.
Aside from this, though, Microsoft Teams lets you easily collaborate with other people in the project by working on word documents, excel sheets, or powerpoint presentations simultaneously.
Changes reflect in real-time, so you can discuss revisions in a video call and polish a file at the same time—almost better than a face-to-face meeting.
2. Google Drive – Aside from being a free cloud-based storage, Google Drive also offers a software office suite including Docs, Sheets, and Slides (similar to Microsoft Office) that you can access and collaborate on online.
Inviting people to collaborate a file with you is as easy as sharing a link, but if you’re working on confidential documents, you can also choose to restrict access and editing to invited emails only.
3. Miro – Brainstorming for new projects and campaigns often involves drawing on a whiteboard and getting live feedback in a conference room—digitally, this practice has been made possible by online whiteboard apps like Miro where teams can draw, annotate, and collaborate on a “whiteboard” just like in face-to-face brainstorming sessions.
4. InVision – InVision offers a suite of design tools that helps not only designers, but also other people in the project.
It has a variety of features for prototyping, managing design feedback, and a real-time “whiteboard” tool for co-creating and annotating designs.
Project management systems
A project management system is a platform where you can manage different aspects of the project at its different stages, from initial estimation and planning, to resource allocation and keeping track of the progress until launch and deployment.
Often, it’s also where communication between everyone involved in the project is facilitated and kept, so that everyone can have a full view of the project in one place.
Here are some of the most popular project management systems:
1. Zoho Projects – Zoho Projects is a cloud-based platform that lets you manage project activities and collaborate with a remote team, with features such as project timesheets, task automation and management, as well as issue tracking.
2. Asana – Asana is another project management tool built for easily monitoring task and project status.
Some of its key features include boards, which provide an easy overview of task progress, timeline for planning project deadlines, and calendar for scheduling and task adjustments.
3. Podio – Podio gets your team working in sync by providing a centralized platform for all conversations, processes, tasks, and workflows.
It also comes with a straightforward interface that helps everyone involved easily adjust to the system.
4. Bitrix24 – Bitrix offers both web-based and on-premise solutions depending on the needs of your business.
It can be used as a private social network within the company, a CRM platform, and a task management tool.
Other tools for remote work
Here are a few other useful tools that you can consider for collaborating remotely:
1. Facebook Workplace – Workplace is Facebook’s commercial communication tool for businesses.
It offers some features similar to the free social network, like Groups and Chats, along with others like Auto-translate for easier global collaboration among teams.
2. Slack – Slack is a “collaboration software” that contains features for team communication (chat, voice, and video) as well as file management and sharing.
It can easily be integrated with most popular apps and tools like G Suite, Dropbox, Github, Salesforce, and more.
2. PasswordState – Working at home does not provide the same technical security as a maintained office network, so it’s important to manage critical information like passwords and credentials in a secure platform.
PasswordState makes it easy for teams to share and access passwords for company accounts in a secure environment.
Beyond the software that you’ll use for remote collaboration, it’s also important for everyone working on a project to adapt the right mindset in order to make the most out of your tools and achieve a smooth workflow.
With many viable options in the market, it can be tempting to try out different sets of apps and move from one to another across different projects.
While you may have to test out different tools to arrive at the best one that fits your business or project, it’s best to decide on a final core stack that you’ll want to use and make your team stick to it.
This avoids a scenario where you’ll have to go through different data on different tools just to check one project detail, and makes it easy for you to onboard any new team member or supplier.
At 1902 Software, we strictly use our own project management system regardless of the size or nature of the project we’re working on.
This makes it easier for both our team and customers alike to stay on top of project progress as well as internal company news and updates.
Best practices for remote collaboration
Over 20+ years, our project managers have become pros at remote collaboration.
They’ve only ever met the clients who’ve come to visit our office in Manila, but still managed to successfully complete 1200+ projects anyway.
(It works; just read our reviews on Google.)
So we asked some of our project managers to share some insights on how they made it work when we’re working on the other side of the world from our clients, and how they’re adjusting to the new remote setup we now have internally.
Maintain regular status updates
Consistent communication throughout the whole project is an important practice, especially when you’re in different locations and time zones.
Marcelo, one of our Magento project managers, says that his most important tip for making remote collaboration work is having regular meetings to have status updates and even discuss upcoming projects.
It keeps everyone involved up-to-date on latest developments and makes sure that we’re heading in the right direction.
Make sure all project details are in one place
Jerome, Mobile App project manager, ensures clear and transparent communication with clients by keeping all project details in our in-house project management system.
“Since everything is centralized in [our project management system], our clients have complete access to all project information that we also have access to.”
With software projects, especially for mobile apps that are usually complex, project details can easily get all over the place with countless discussions and back-and-forth consultations.
This is why it’s important to have one place where everyone involved in the project—from the stakeholders on the clients’ side, to our own developers, designers, and testers—can easily keep track of all communication and current project status.
When starting your software project, it’s important to establish a system early on so that you know that you and your supplier are always on the same page.
Put important items in writing
For Mark, Umbraco project manager, it’s important to always have a written meeting summary after a Skype call with a client.
Similarly, Merry Kris—another Magento project manager—makes sure to write in chat the task description for her team of developers on top of verbal instructions.
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with teammates or third-party partners, putting things in writing helps a lot in keeping track of what has been agreed on—especially when it comes to software projects, where it’s commonplace to come up with various changes even when development is already underway.
Having a written record to supplement voice or video meetings is a reliable reference throughout the whole project and can clear up any misunderstandings and ambiguities in your discussions, which also makes way for a good working relationship.
Turn on video for calls
One of the good things about physical meetings is getting to be face-to-face with the person—being able to read non-verbal cues in their body language as much as listen to what they’re saying.
While video conferencing is not a fully adequate alternative to this, it’s still better than voice-only meetings or even email exchanges.
At 1902 Software, Peter (founder and owner), has made it part of the culture to always turn on video for meetings.
It’s a small thing, but it contributes significantly to the whole meeting experience, and “forces” you to be in a professional state even while working from home.
Make it a habit to reply to emails right away
One of the things that people are concerned with in remote work setups, especially when outsourcing or offshoring tasks, is communication amidst huge time differences.
This is why at 1902 Software, we only work with companies in time zones with four overlapping hours with our own working hours, to make sure that we have enough time to hold meetings.
On top of this, Ryan, who heads our WordPress department, says that one of his keys to successful collaboration with clients is promptly replying to their messages/emails: “Even when I can’t attend to their concern right away, like when it’s outside office hours, I still reply to let them know I got their message and that I’ll get back to them the next day.”
This habit should come from both sides, though.
Replying to your software developer’s emails or questions promptly will avoid delays in projects, since they don’t have to pause and wait for your answer, and in the meantime move on to another task.
(Get to know our project managers)
Working from home as a team and collaborating remotely with international clients and partners is not that different, and both are not without any challenges.
We hope this series provided some insights on how you can better work and collaborate remotely, and if you want to learn more about remote collaboration work or how to get the most out of an offshore IT collaboration, our team will gladly help. Contact us today.