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I have a distributed scrum team and the developer in question is one of my best (produces quality code, knows his tech stack, can communicate well, etc). However, he keeps feeling like he doesn't produce code fast enough or that he isn't as responsive and can't 'keep up with' the rest of the team and the teams momentum.

His ideal work environment is certainly a collaborative creative setup but because we are a distributed team, we don't have the best in-person collaboration. We are constantly on Slack (even post our standups there) but today he said that he actually gets more work done when he closes slack and tunes out from all the messages.

He is in a different timezone than the rest of the team but it's not too bad and he does work out of a WeWork (shared office space) so he can be with other coders (even if they aren't working the same projects).

What can I do to identify the root problem and how can I solve it in general? I feel that if I can't solve this, he is going to leave which will really hurt the team overall...

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    Is there an actual problem, in other words has anyone complained about his work performance? It sounds as if he produces high quality code so his perception of not being as fast as the rest of the team may well be offset by a reduction in rework (i.e. higher quality means less defects etc). He sounds like an awesome Dev. Perhaps may need some reassurance? Working remotely can be quite isolating so it sounds like he's doing a great job. – ChrisFNZ Oct 31 at 22:37
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    Have you told him he's one of your best developers and why? Is he paid like one of your best developers? – thursdaysgeek Oct 31 at 22:39
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    He has brought it up these concerns. I'm just trying to be proactive (to avoid the 'I found another job because this one was X' you know). @thursdaysgeek, I have told him this (and he is paid well) but he's a bit too modest. – Matt Oct 31 at 22:49
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    Start by reading "Peopleware", by Tom Demarco. It is EXTREMELY well-established that programmers get more better work done when they can shut off all interruptions, by e.g. closing an office door, closing Slack, and tuning out from all messages. Then TELL him that he is one of your best guys, AND TREAT HIM LIKE THE VALUABLE ASSET HE IS!!! (Hint: The sincerest compliment a company can give an employee is to pay him more money.) – John R. Strohm Oct 31 at 23:04
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    Is he above the average age? – PM 77-1 Nov 1 at 0:10
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Is the real problem actually with this developer at all?

You say he's your best - producing quality code, technically highly literate - but he feels he's a bad fit for the team, based around rather more nebulous ideas of velocity and responsiveness. Are the rest of the team making rapid progress (or at least, the illusion thereof) by doing shoddy work? Are they constantly in the team Slack channels when they should be concentrating on code? Do they flit from one small task to the next, giving the impression that they are all over the codebase (at a superficial level, natch) while your star is trying to focus on deeper issues?

There is a problem with distributed working in that it amplifies the disconnection felt by cultural outliers. He may have the company of other developers at other employers, but that may make things worse if he's finding kindred spirits who reinforce his feelings of not fitting in. In an ideal world he would spend at least some time physically with the rest of the team so that they can learn from him and build some mutual empathy.

  • These are good points, but I think the answer might benefit from some concrete suggestions on what can be done in order to improve the situation. – simplemind Nov 1 at 11:37
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What can I do to identify the root problem and how can I solve it in general?

Instead of trying to solve the root cause, just ask him directly what he wants and what would it take for him to enjoy his job and stay here. If it is just an issue of using (or not using) Slack or some other tool, it should be reasonably within your power to allow him that freedom. After all, these tools are meant for getting the work done faster not slower!

However, he keeps feeling like he doesn't produce code fast enough or that he isn't as responsive and can't 'keep up with' the rest of the team

This is a different problem. Sounds more like a humble excuse to get out of the job rather than revealing the true reason. If you are happy with his work, then you need to reassure him that his pace is not a concern at all and you are quite happy with his output. May be even consider giving him an award for the quality of work.

Even after your reassurances and with you giving him more flexibility on how he works, if he is not happy, there is not much you can do. It is best to let him move-on.

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today he said that he actually gets more work done when he closes slack and tunes out from all the messages

Well, you have your answer. He cannot do all he can do, because of the interruptions. This is not a mild thing, it is very important.

To understand it better, read more about the flow state of mind.


To be bale to handle the situation better, try to get more information by discussing with the guy. Of course, face to face would be better, but at least an audio-video conference should be doable.

Keep in mind that hings that mind seem small and unimportant to you might be deal-breakers for him. Ask him to make an attempt to prioritize the problems, and their impact on his work and expectations. In that way, you will be on the same page, regarding the understanding of the situation.

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my management style so I'm trying to figure out what I need to change.

Yes, you're getting too involved on a personal level.

You should give praise where it's due, reassurance likewise, but not get involved in much dialogue over either. Managers should take a step back from people's personal issues and let them handle those themselves. You're a manager, not their mum (unless it's a family business)

  • One thing is not getting involved in really personal things, like family issues. And even then, sometimes a manager can listen and help deal with the impacts that outside problems generate at work. Another thing entirely is following up on team member's motivation, which is this question all about, and coaching them about their career. – Spidey Nov 2 at 8:07
  • @Kilisi - This is a horrible answer. One of the best managers in my professional career, reached out to myself and my family to make sure I was alright after some surgery I had.This personal professional relationship allow me to request some additional freedoms in order to recover from the surgery after I returned to work (I had to treat an open wound during work hours the treatment center was closed after work hours).If it had not been for that personal professional relationship I would have had to take leave which after the surgery I didn't have. A good manager will have that relationship – Donald Nov 2 at 16:36
  • @Donald surgery is a bit different from an employee fishing for compliments. I wouldn't bat an eye at helping an employee or colleague out in a medical situation, but sparing with the normal praise is a good policy, it means more. – Kilisi Nov 2 at 19:44
  • @Kilisi - The employee seems discouraged, which could eventually result in the employee leaving, in an attempt to regain some control in their life. I am not suggesting the author becomes friends with the employee, but they clearly should reach out, to see if it's something the manager can resolve. – Donald Nov 2 at 22:36
  • @Donald it's not clear to me. It's someone fishing for an ego boost. Good manager shouldn't feed ego boosts like a puppet on a string. Already told them their works fine.... reiterating it several times is playing a game. – Kilisi Nov 2 at 23:55

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