Remote Teams: A view from inside Polymorph

In December 2019, reports of a new virus in China made headlines. Not long thereafter lockdown became a very familiar term globally.  

Initially, we thought that the virus would never come to South Africa, but oh boy were we wrong.

Early in February 2020, we heard of the first few local cases which led to the South African government hastily imposing the first round of lockdown. This meant no working at the office, no social events, barely being able to go to the stores to buy food. It was pandemonium for office workers in South Africa.  But deep down I was not concerned about this, I somehow knew that our company would be okay.

I had confidence in Polymorph’s leadership. I knew we had years of experience of remote working and that we have an amazing group of employees that would do anything to overcome whatever lay ahead. 

Those thoughts in my mind were not even cold when the first Slack messages came through with plans of action from management to ensure that everyone had what they needed to continue working from home until the lockdown was lifted. Within days of being notified to work from home, we were supplied with all the necessary equipment including software that allows us to function as we would have normally.  We also implemented virtual social events to keep the social interactions between employees alive. This included events like digital lunch rooms where we shared meals together, Friday games hour where we played games together, game tournaments, and a plethora of other virtual social activities.

Since we already had such a good foundation to work from, the effort it took to adapt was minimal.  Our clients could hardly believe that we could, within days, continue to deliver value to them as if nothing happened.

Nevertheless, I have to address the difficulties that we experienced too. It is not always easy to look at our own mistakes but if we do not, then we miss valuable learning opportunities. The software development industry saw immense growth in this period as the request for software products became greater.  This meant that even though we had mitigated all risks and made sure that our employees were happy, the opportunity for valuable colleagues to move to large well-known players in the industry was suddenly a reality.  We have lost a few really great developers and other colleagues during this time – a reality in our industry that we simply had to deal with.  Questions such as  “could I have done something differently” or “would we have achieved a different outcome if we had rather done it this way” ran through our minds.  Like they say, “hindsight is always 20/20”

On the other hand, we also managed to appoint a few really amazing developers who instantly formed part of our team as if nothing had changed.  They jumped in the river and the Polymorph current was strong enough to pull them along.

Reflecting on the past two years, there are a few things that I have learnt and I’m sharing these in my list of “Successful remote teams” below:

 

  • Employees are people first and foremost: Treat your employees with respect, care for them, empower them to achieve more, be there for them when things are tough, and give them the tools they need.  Keep an eye on your team, working from home blurs the lines between work and family/home time which could result in their work-life balance being skewed and even in burnout.  Make sure that work does not creep into their family or home time and remember: Happy people do good work.
  • Working remotely does not prevent you from delivering value to your clients. This is just another opportunity for you to prove to them that they made the right choice by working with you. You just need to look a bit deeper and a bit harder to find the correct value drivers.
  • Meetings can be much shorter, to the point, and structured when having it online.  Developers prefer short and to the point meetings as it allows them to quickly get back to what they love. This made me revisit how meetings in the new virtual workspace should be structured and what it should look like to keep them as efficient as possible.
  • Just because we know how to work remotely does not mean we should be ignorant to learning new ways of working remotely.  Ultimately we are agile due to the nature of our work, and we should accordingly be open to learning new ways and be willing to change and adapt our way of working to be better for the team.

 

The world is slowly moving back to normality and so too will your teams. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to change and stay with the times, keep an ear on the ground for your team’s needs, and be ready to move in a new direction when the time is right.  Do not underestimate the value of a remote team but also remember the benefits of colocation. There is a fine balance between the two; find it and have a productive, happy group of people who continues to deliver value.

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Hanco Binneman
Hanco Binneman
Product Manager

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