Fabienne Velhagen, Feelgood Manager at ServiceFactum

How to build and maintain good relationships remotely

We’ve gotten used to them by now: teams calls, zoom calls, online meetings. For a while, many things only worked remotely, and in general, we conduct conversations in our working lives more and more often via our screens and less face to face.

At ServiceFactum, this has somehow always been the case, because our teams are transnational, our contacts are mostly located abroad, and yet ServiceFactum stands out above all for good communication. I thought it would be interesting to find out exactly how we do this – so I sat down face to face with our two service managers: Bernd Wandt & Fabian Ambrosi for an interview.

What became clear to me personally was this: Whether on a personal or business level – good and regular communication is the be-all and end-all of establishing and maintaining a good relationship. But what does it actually mean in the deeper sense: “Good communication”? What tips can you possibly learn from them to build and maintain successful relationships with nearshore/offshore teams? Enjoy the interview!

Earning and building trust

Bernd and Fabian: Which 3 factors define a good relationship with a development center from your perspective?

Fabian Ambrosi: For me, trust is the most important factor for a good relationship. You have to build this up in order to create a relationship based on partnership, through which common goals can be defined and will also be achieved together. It must be noticeable that you are going in the same direction and want to go in the future.

Bernd Wandt: I can only confirm that trust is paramount: you have to work together in the long term and not just temporarily to earn trust. Another point is transparency, so that you know at all times what is happening in the development center in terms of cooperation. Of course, you definitely need  to live these relationships on all levels (from the operative project staff to the CEO). So to me the 3 factors are: Trust, transparency and lived relationships.

Fabian, how is it when you are new to it, how do you build trust & good collaboration with already existing teams?

Fabian Ambrosi: First of all, it’s very interesting and you face exciting challenges. Especially with existing customers or projects, you have to “prove” yourself in the beginning. You have to show that, in addition to management skills, you are also technically experienced. To achieve this, many personal meetings are important, especially at the beginning of a collaboration.

An example is the cooperation with one specific customer: In the beginning, the cooperation was very distant and the topics were discussed very formally on the basis of bullet points. Through more intensive and regular discussions, we have moved closer together in the partnership and live a much more open collaboration. Challenges are discussed openly and directly and we work together to find a solution.

Since we work remotely a lot, another key to good collaboration is definitely face-to-face meetings. These meetings help enormously to build a partnership through which you achieve goals together. And of course, you also get to know your counterpart privately to a certain extent, as private topics are also discussed in addition to daily business…

Bernd Wandt: …and you can also have a beer together sometime.


Strengthening and integration within software development teams

Bernd, how do you find good software development teams?

Bernd Wandt: That’s a good question! The first thing to do is to define: What does a “good team” actually mean? We always define this together with our customers, through absolute clarity / precision in the requirements. The top priority is: What do we want to achieve and what are we looking for? To achieve this, it is not enough to simply draw up a written document and pass it on. You have to talk about it, communicate comprehensively and approach it continuously. Once you have found an employee, the following question immediately arises: How can you further strengthen and integrate this employee? This can be done through team building and team design. Finding a good mix of different characters and seniorities is the only way to create a good team. Especially in the nearshore area – i.e. with remote teams that work in a distributed manner – the joint development processes become more important.

But the search process also plays an important role. After all, the ultimate goal is to achieve high speed in the search and hiring process. In the nearshore environment, every really good employee has diverse project opportunities. And he can choose the project, usually he does not wait until a customer has agreed everything internally. Effectiveness and goal orientation are required here.

Bernd and Fabian, how do you constantly monitor compliance with the quality criteria? Also with regard to communication?

Fabian Ambrosi: The nuts and bolts are the joint discussions – what’s currently on the agenda, what’s going well, what isn’t. It is important to notice early on if something is going in the wrong direction. In addition, clear quality processes are very helpful. This gives us the confidence and security that our partners have an understanding of quality and are continuously working on improvements. When it comes to communication, an important point is that it is also managed. Meetings need a clear agenda to get to the point and to the goal, especially in a remote context. That’s what we’re here for.

Bernd Wandt: Supplementary: First of all, we should agree on the quality criteria. Often enough, people do not talk about the criteria that lead to customer satisfaction – but quality is simply seen implicitly. All parties involved should be included in this process right from the start. Because bilateral communication with an attempt at subsequent coordination is difficult. Coming back to your question – how to check compliance with the quality criteria – This depends on the individual quality criteria. After a detailed clarification, one can define appropriate checking algorithms. These can be defined and accepted in status reports, during follow-up of action items or via protocol.


Clarification of disagreements and finding solutions

Bernd and Fabian: In every business relationship there are disagreements – how do you resolve them?

Bernd Wandt: In every business relationship there are disagreements – how do you resolve them?

Bernd Wandt: That’s right, disagreements happen all the time. This is often due to the fact that we often have different understandings of things. It is important to analyze the situation together. This is about openness and transparency, and each party must be open to compromise.

Our role – when I now talk about the interaction between customers and development centers – is a moderating, rather neutral position. We are interested in finding and implementing a joint solution that makes sense for everyone involved.

Fabian Ambrosi: …Yes, creating a space where all three parties can sit together and talk openly. The open conversation is the only way to really get to the goal. And as Bernd said, everyone should have the same goal in mind.

Bernd, what do customers particularly appreciate about the special ServiceFactum communication?

Bernd Wandt: That they have a responsible contact person who is consistently there for them and can make decisions. Of course – we’ve said this a few times now – we bring an openness and transparency. Basically, what distinguishes us is direct, targeted communication. That means we call the things by its name and try to find an implementable solution. This is appreciated not only by our customers but also by our development partners. We are not tactical, we are solution-oriented and solve the problems directly.

Barriers and personal challenges

Bernd and Fabian: Most relationships with the development centers are only possible via remote due to the distance. What are the communication barriers that you have to overcome? What do you personally find most difficult here?

Fabian Ambrosi: I think the biggest barrier is to build a good relationship that feels like it is not remote, or at least goes in a similar direction. The remote teams need to feel like they belong to the German team and see themselves as one team. This is much more difficult remotely and takes more time.

Another barrier is keeping in touch. It is very easy to postpone or cancel a remote meeting. Staying on the ball and motivating all sides requires more attention from the service manager.

Bernd Wandt: Remote activities live on regular communication. Irregular communication is “disappearing” – it is becoming less and less, because everyone actually knows what needs to be done, or thinks they do. That’s why we work a lot with regular meetings – i.e. consistently on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis – and always seek direct contact. The barriers we have to overcome are the physical distance and the cultural distance. Every country has its own culture, even if Poland, for example, seems very close, there are other cultural values that have to be taken into account. It is very important to really live long-term relationships here. People know each other – they appreciate each other. Another big barrier is maintaining relationships across different customer projects. A new customer, a new project always means a “disruption” in a relationship – the requirements change and suddenly everything is new. What is familiar no longer applies and must be set up anew. The big task for us is to pick up everyone involved again – and not to overlook anything. What I personally find most difficult is to raise a remote relationship to a level where trust becomes a matter of course. I try to get to grips with this through a long-term relationship and a lot of communication. If you talk to someone on a regular basis, a relationship automatically develops – this manifests itself through sporadic personal meetings.