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remote software development teams listening skills

7 Ways to Ensure Your Remote Software Development Teams Are Really Listening

Team communication is often a bumpy two-way street, but when that street runs down an internet connection there are always more potholes, especially when remote software development teams are spread out across multiple locations.

Here some useful tips for giving your remote Nearshore teams a much greater handling on a vital communication skill that is becoming a lost art.

Throw Out All Multi-Tasking…

Access to unlimited information over the internet is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to remote software development teams, as their means of communication during most meetings – the computer – is also their means of web surfing. Not only that, but it’s also the most vital part of their tool belt for building programs and creating your clients’ products, so they are always glued to it.

Whatever video conferencing or chat software you use to communicate, if it is accessed from your team members’ workstations lay down the rule that when they are in a remote meeting they avoid web browsing, coding, emailing, or doing anything that distracts them from the task at hand: listening to the other team members and communicating effectively.

…And Put Everything on Silent

Expanding on the ban of multi-tasking, how many times has a notification “ding” or a desk vibration disrupted your chain of thought? It’s distracting, attention-destroying, and sometimes infuriating for whoever you are on the call with.

Everyone has at least one device alongside their usual workstation, so before you start the meeting ask them all to switch them to silent, or better yet “do not disturb”, to avoid any interruptions whatsoever.

“Keep their surroundings with the least amount of background noise and make sure they focus on the discussion, without paying attention to distractions like email, social networks, or their phones,” said David Sandoval at iTexico.

Don’t Assume That All People Have the Same Listening (or English) Ability

When it comes to Nearshore IT services, English language skills are key for communicating with clients in the US. While your fresh recruits may have displayed an aptitude for speaking and listening during the recruitment process, it may be a different matter when clients are involved.

As part of your language training, you could role play a difficult client, preferably using a fast-speaking tone and a native accent, to really find out how their comprehension stacks up.

Furthermore, everyone has a different attention span, so getting to know the members of your remote software development teams and understanding how they individually respond to different methods of communication is a vital part of developing their listening skills. Remember that two-way street?

When it comes to English listening skills, specifically, Paula Menegazzo, a Senior Teacher at Belatrix Software, says that a great way to improve is to spend time with English radio and television media.

“They should listen intently to English-speaking radio news, and then read the transcription if it is available,” she said. “Or, we ask people to listen to – not watch – the BBC or CNN daily news two times, as this makes sure they understand the gist of the story. Only then should they watch the video with English subtitles to understand all the details.”

Ask People to Actively Respond

When people respond with one-word answers or a tired-sounding “uh huh”, you can confidently assume they didn’t listen to or understand what was said.

The best way to fix this is to train people to affirm that they understood by telling people they agree with the perspective, complementing their viewpoint, or adding to the point constructively. People should be telling their team mates that they are following the conversation, or at least speak up to ask for confirmation.

Developers can only provide the right solution if everyone understands how the client business works, so don’t move on until everyone has confirmed their understanding. This is especially true when cultures and languages cross over.

“When it comes to comprehension, developers should also listen to several types of accents so they understand how to complete sentences in their heads,” said Sandoval. “Then, they can repeat and summarize what the other person said in their own words, so things are not lost in translation and the key points are kept intact.”

Use Pictures to Paint 1,000 Words (and Clarify What Was Heard)

In a physical location, teams have access to whiteboards, pens, paper, and notepads that serve as great tools for clarifying a point through flow charts, diagrams, and doodles. Today’s collaborative tools like SharePoint, Slack, etc., all have similar digital tools to achieve the same objective.

Once the meeting is over and some technical details have to be clarified, ask your remote software development teams to share their visual representations of the workflow or project details. This achieves two things: it highlights any bad listeners and allows the team to better visualize the project goals with a reference point to turn to.

Encourage Q&A Sessions

A great way to know if people were listening is if they ask questions linked directly to the discussion. This can often be difficult for people who don’t like to be put on the spot, so try preparing people to ask questions by telling them at the start of the meeting to expect a Q&A and the end.

This is especially important when dealing with clients and developers on the same call. Often, the business side and the technical side of the conversation can go over each respective sides’ heads, so actively encouraging them to ask questions is vital to both building rapport and strengthening the ability to listen to all perspectives.

“There is a reason for this,” writes Mary Brodie from InPower Coaching. “If you don’t understand what’s being discussed, most likely that means you don’t understand what’s being built. Then, it’s highly likely the business team won’t get the solution necessary. You may experience needless rework because you didn’t ask a few questions. Everyone on a technical project understands that these projects can be difficult. The team needs to have patience to understand business or technology concepts that may be new to other group members.”

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Work on Your Own Listening Skills

Practice what you preach! If the members of your remote software development teams are telling you important thing during meetings and you forget them by the time the next session rolls around, what example does that set for your colleagues?

Above all, empathy is a critical skill for both IT services managers and their remote teams, because without the ability to understand and empathize with a clients’ needs — which is only possible by listening intently to their concerns and challenges — it will be near impossible to get on the same page.

For more Corporate Coaching tips and advice, check out the following articles:

Or visit our dedicated Corporate Coaching page by clicking here.

Matt Kendall

During his 2+ years as Chief Editor at Nearshore Americas, Matt Kendall operated at the heart of both the Nearshore BPO and IT services industries, reporting on the most impactful stories and trends in the sector.

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