Managing a Remote DevOps Team by Mike Hansen, Paula Thrasher & Ross Clanton

Apr 17, 2020 3:17:50 PM By Phil Vuollet

Remote working experiences come in all shapes and sizes. When working on a remote DevOps team, you might encounter some unique challenges other than the usual communication technology failures. DevOps requires a high level of communication, and the transition from in-person teams to remote teams can leave people in shock. In a presentation called “Managing a Remote DevOps Team,” a panel of experts—Mike Hansen, Paula Thrasher, and Ross Clanton—discuss these challenges.

Comfort With Tools Does Not Mean Comfort With Working Remotely

Although your team might use tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom in the office, using them on remote teams brings more reliance on them. These tools become your connection to your world inside the organization. Things like virtual happy hours, video chat, and screen sharing help bring teams and people together.

Managing remote teams means using chat, according to Paula Thrasher. You can’t just walk into someone’s office or tap on a shoulder.

However, that doesn’t mean privacy isn’t an issue. With chat tools, text messaging, and even email, you’ve got to form good habits. Respect each other’s privacy. As a reminder, most tools offer status settings so you can let others know that you’re on lunch or “off the clock.”

Onboarding in Remote Teams

Mike Hanson stresses being present and the value of having a good onboarding process. It’s important to set the expectations, define boundaries, and make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. This can keep people from burning out by keeping everyone focused.

It’s up to leadership in the organization to set the standard. Leaders should keep the whole team in mind. So, what does this mean when you have team members in different time zones?

Whether you’re a distributed company that’s in an office or you’re in a remote organization, time zone differences can cause issues with communications that delay projects. Being upfront about expectations and being aware of cultural differences can help ease the tensions that may form due to time zone differences (which may or may not also come with cultural differences).

Managing Distractions

When it comes to remote teams, most workers aren’t working in a private office. This means distractions come with the territory—dogs, children, and all the unpredictable things that come with being in an environment not designed with productivity in mind.

Here are some tips you can use to minimize distractions:

  • Establish a ritual.
  • Work in a room with a door that locks.
  • Have an “open door/closed door” policy.
  • Communicate with others in your environment about calls and appointments.

While this list covers distractions in your environment, it might not cover distractions in your virtual space. This comes down to the same principles that you would apply while working in person, but with a lower-touch form of communication.

The tools help, but you also need clarity in your communication. You don’t necessarily have visual radiators in your space. By visual radiators, we’re talking about kanban boards, other people’s screens, chatter in the room, and things like that. Those things are in the physical environment. So how do you translate those to the virtual environment?

Organizing Work for Productivity

Working remotely is a true test of how well your process works. If you can be productive in a remote environment, then you really know your team is productive.

In a way, it’s also a true test of your leadership. Followers of a good leader will continue to put in their best efforts whether you’re remote or not. So, working remotely is not only a test of your process, but it’s also a great way to better understand your leadership skills.

But here’s the crux of the matter, as it concerns productivity: how do we even measure it? We can’t (and perhaps never should have) measure based on hours put in. We have to rely more on output. Results are the true measure of success and productivity.

The good news is that there’s growing evidence that we’re becoming more productive as more companies are fully remote than ever before. In one way, it enables collaboration between functional teams that have been physically separated in the office. This tighter communication can lead to better outcomes.

Other Concerns With Remote Teams

One topic that comes up with remote teams is security. Making sure you’re set up with the right tools to either work outside the network or making sure your VPN can scale are two important considerations when going remote. You also have to give your people the tools they need or they’ll turn to potentially insecure tools for things like communications and file sharing.

You’ll want to integrate tools into the current environment. Remote tooling should work with the tools you use in the office rather than replace them. We need to be aware that mindset comes before tools. Ross Clanton says, put the right mindset first. If you have the right mindset for what your organization should be, all of the other things like process and tooling follow.

Tooling is there to support how you want your organization to function. If you need a hybrid environment, that’s one consideration. Another factor is the extent to which your business network is distributed. These are just a few factors that might determine which tools you use.

Main Takeaways

To sum up this topic, we’ll leave you with a few main takeaways from this conversation.

  • Start with the right mindset
  • Respect boundaries
  • Give your organization secure tools
  • Use those tools to keep the mindset
  • Step up the quality of your communications
  • Be present, virtually
  • Be humans!

We’re learning a lot as the world goes through so many transformations. One major transformation for so many people is going remote. We as a DevOps community are equipped technically to handle the changes, but we need to keep in mind the human aspects of these transformations. By aligning people and technology, we can make any transformation successful!

This post was written by Phil Vuollet. Phil leads software engineers on the path to high levels of productivity. He writes about topics relevant to technology and business, occasionally gives talks on the same topics, and is a family man who enjoys playing soccer and board games with his children.

Photo by Allie Smith