Communication breakdown, it’s always the same. I’m having a nervous breakdown, drive me insane!
Being a SaaS entrepreneur is exciting, but also exceptionally challenging. These effects are compounded by having a globally distributed team, with several employees working completely remotely from their homes every day. Our main office is in San Francisco, and our development team is headquartered in New York. We also have contractors working from as far away as Poland and the Ukraine.
But remote teams provide some advantages as well, especially for software engineers who are in high demand. You can have round the clock technical support due to employees working in several time zones. And access to a global talent pool means access to the right person for every role, regardless of their physical location.
Whether your development teams are remote or in-house, improving communication is critical. Here are 5 benefits that every company can experience by improving internal communication:
1) Technical Meets Non-Technical
So much of what developers do is requested by creative, rather than technical employees. There is something comforting for members of your marketing team about sitting down to explain a technical need with a piece of paper and a pen (or a white board). With the right communication skills and an open mind, both the engineer and the marketer can quickly get on the same page.
With remote teams however, this simple practice can be difficult to duplicate. That can significantly extend the timeline for any project. By using software solutions like Trello, Basecamp, and Zoom, you won’t have to fly people across the country or the globe every week to explain a complex feature upgrade.
No collaboration tool can replace employees meeting and talking about their work. Getting the team together in-person at least once per year will create the camraderie necessary to build solid relationships between employees on different teams. Then they will have better rapport when they have to work together via communication tools.
2) The Ever-Evolving Product
In the evolutionary world of software, agility is highly selected for. Being able to quickly iterate, test, and push changes live can mean the difference between succeeding or succumbing to competition.
It starts by communicating with customers to know not only what they are asking for, but why. Learn the finer details of how they use the product to inform the tough decisions of prioritizing upgrades. Understand which designs or features are likely to change over time, knowing what will be modified and what is likely to stay static. This will inform how engineers approaches the coding process.
According to The Guardian, “the work done at the design stage can reduce mistakes in the implementation stage…Different people can work on it in different places, at different speeds, with relative autonomy from each other.”
Think about designing a house. The door is ordinarily placed in the front, with only tiny allowances made for how it will look and what materials will be used. Windows, on the other hand vary greatly in their size and placement.
When customer-facing employees explain that a certain software feature should be the equivalent of a door and not a window (i.e. it is unlikely to change based on use), engineers can save time and money planning the early development, as well as planning for any changes in the future.
3) Less is More
It is possible for creative employees to over-communicate and essentially try to write the program for the developers in English instead of code. While their intentions are good, developers find trying to translate these messages quite time consuming and frustrating.
Think through what’s needed and why, then communicate it as concisely as possible. A good creative person explains his or her needs in a way that leaves few unknowns unresolved. A good developer is then able to think about how the user will perceive what is being built.
4) The Short-Term Employee
Let’s face it, software engineers are in high demand – a fact that will be unlikely to change for some time. Once you find great talent, you have to provide something in exchange for their skills and creativity.
Provide on-the-job training and mentorship. This sends the message that you believe in the employee and value them so much, that you are willing to aid their career development. This gesture makes the job more interesting and also inspires loyalty in your organization.
Be supportive and create collaborative environments where everyone knows that their own success is paramount. Explain the greater business goals and the goals of each individual department. Every employee will feel a sense of personal fulfillment and team camaraderie when anyone at the company succeeds.
5) Communication Rituals
Having the right conversations during product planning stages can drastically reduce cost, wasted time and morale depletion during the execution phase.
Ask employees weekly questions like these:
- What are the challenges you are facing? Where are you stuck?
- Anything in your work world that’s less than stellar/causing frustration or delays?
- What’s going well? What are you proud of this week?
You may not get brutal honesty right off the bat. But as managers learn to respond by acknowledging concerns and offering support instead of criticism, trust and transparency will increase. Eventually the organization will fall into a regular cadence of communication.
Employee feedback can be tough to hear but it’s far better than silence, especially when serious issues are not being shared. When a company addresses the concerns of their employees, those employees can focus on the needs of the customer.
When leaders are focused on company-wide communication, strong bonds are formed that transcend team dynamics to create something even more potent. Loyalty, morale, productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness can all improve for remote software engineers or for any other employee in a physical office or even a virtual workspace.
Image Credits: Juhan Sonin, NASA, Roland Tanglao, VFS Digital Design