Code Reviews For Remote Teams: Processes, Tools, And Best Practices

Conducting code reviews for remote teams can be tricky because you've got the element of distance. Here's the process, tools & best practices
Code Reviews For Remote Teams: Processes, Tools, and Best Practices

Code reviews are an important part of any software role. During a code review, one or more developers will review another developers’ code and make comments and suggestions for improvement.

Code reviews typically take place after the code has been implemented. Their purpose is to check for bugs, issues, and complexities before moving the project to the next stage of development.

Types of Code Reviews

Developers can use several different code review types to check their work:

Formal or technical reviews, also called Fagan inspections, are very structured and focused on finding defects in the code. They are not commonly used in practice.
Synchronous reviews, where developers work together to review code, often include discussion-based meeting reviews, code peer review such as pair programming, and instant reviews where one developer watches another developer write code and makes suggestions on the fly.
Asynchronous reviews, also known as pull request code reviews, are the most common code reviews. Developers use tools to send review requests and their team members perform the code review online by making comments and suggestions on their own time.

Why Are Code Reviews Important?

What are the main code review benefits? The first and most obvious reason, of course, is that code reviews improve the code.

An extra set of eyes (or two, or ten) allows developers to catch a mistake before the project goes off track and ensures that the code adheres to guidelines.

There’s no such thing as perfect code: there is only better code. A regular code review process will lead to continuous improvement, where every merge is better than the one before.

Another reason why code review is important is that when done properly, they can improve morale. They provide unique learning opportunities for everyone and enable communication across the team.

Finally, code reviews are especially important for remote workers as they prevent silos from forming.

Developers that are working in isolation may become accustomed to their own coding processes and become disjointed from the larger picture. Working together on various code reviews can prevent this from becoming an issue.

The Process: How To Do a Code Review

Before beginning any code review, it’s important to set expectations and goals. Make sure that the whole team is aligned on the purpose of the code and understands how to conduct a code review.

Use code review checklists to keep developers and reviewers on the same page.

Reviewers should leave comments or questions around the following topics:

● Design: Are design principles properly followed?
● Functionality: Does the code work as expected?
● Complexity: Are there any areas where code could be simplified?
● Naming conventions: Is everything properly and clearly named? A code review template can be especially helpful in this area.
● Comments and documentation: Are there any parts of the code that need further explanation?
● Consistency: Does the code make sense throughout?
● Context: Does the code fit within the company guidelines and the larger picture of the project?
● Adaptability: Will the code be easy to change for future improvements?

After all reviewers have made their comments, the developer can go through and address questions, make changes, or defend their code until the software code review process creates a final, functional product.

Code Review Checklist

Tools For a Code Review

Code reviews have countless benefits. But when they’re used improperly, they can be a major source of conflict and delay projects by days or even weeks.

That’s why it’s important to use code review software that makes it easy to communicate, discuss changes, and make edits all on one platform.

GitHub, a popular open source code review tool used by over 65 million developers, acts almost as a social media platform where teams can collaborate and work remotely with ease.

The best code review tool is one that fits into your teams’ processes and gets everybody excited to be involved.

And code reviews don’t have to rely solely on your team, either. Automated code review is becoming more popular as more teams turn to code review tools to better analyze their code.

There are a number of automated code review tools, like GitLab and JetBrains Space, that can spot bugs, errors, and other issues in your code.

Common Code Review Issues

As helpful and often essential as code reviews can be, they also come with some major potential downfalls.

Some of the problems that commonly impact code reviews include:

It takes too long to receive feedback. Developers submit their code for review and have to wait days for individuals to review and respond.
Feedback is too vague. Brief comments are hard to act on. This can create negativity around the whole idea of code reviews and cause resentment, frustration, or a lack of motivation for the developer.
Personality conflicts are inevitable. When different developers with their own background, expertise, and methods all contribute to one project, there are bound to be some differences in opinion.
Developers have to juggle multiple tasks. If workers are already feeling too busy or overwhelmed, they may not prioritize code reviews or put in their full effort.
Longer code is more difficult to review. While a short piece of code might get suggestions on every line, developers are more likely to gloss over small issues in a large piece of code.

So what’s a developer to do? Follow established code review best practices and work hard to make every code review experience a positive one.

Managing Code Reviews For Remote Teams

Even though most code reviews take place asynchronously, there are some special considerations for remote developers, especially those who work in different time zones.

Set expectations, especially on timing. Most companies require developers to complete a code review within one business day to streamline the review process. Follow a code review guide to make sure that your team understands the implications of not providing timely feedback.
Encourage focus. Don’t ask your developers to drop what they’re doing as soon as a code review comes in. In fact, if they’re in the middle of working on their own project, interrupting them could cost you more in the long run. Encourage them to complete code reviews at a time that makes sense, such as first thing in the morning or when returning from a break.
Don’t ask for too much. Code reviews require a lot of brain power. They should be a smaller part of a developer’s day, not their entire workload. Reviewing code for more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time won’t be as effective.
Make timely requests. If you need reviews from workers in another time zone, try to send your request during their scheduled working hours.
Give context. Remember that remote teams don’t have the same opportunities for informal communication. Before beginning, make sure that your entire team understands what they are reviewing and why. Use code review guidelines or a checklist for code review to fill in any gaps.
Require active participation. The process can be stressful, particularly if it’s a developer’s first code review. Take the pressure off of individuals by ensuring that everybody gets involved.

Managing Code Reviews for Remote Teams

Best Practices For Remote Code Reviews

To complete a strong code review, you have to leave good comments.

The best code reviewer knows how to perform code review, is always kind to the developer, and leaves valuable comments full of constructive feedback and recommendations for improvement.

Critique The Code, Not The Developer

Every comment should be focused purely on the code. Keep the developer out of it.

For example, instead of saying, “Why did you do it this way?”, try “In my experience, this works better if you try it this way”.

Or instead of a negative comment like, “You made this confusing. Fix it.”, you could ask, “Do you think an extra line could add some clarity here?”

Be Kind And Respectful

It’s not always enough to keep your comments about the code and not the person. Coding is a difficult job, and bluntly criticizing a project that somebody has put hours into is almost as bad as being rude directly to them.

When you don’t have the opportunity to meet and discuss in person, it’s especially important to be positive and helpful in your comments. Negativity is sure to cause problems in the internal culture.

Watch your tone in every comment and follow these guidelines for kindness in code reviews:

Start positive. Praise any good code, and show that you understand what they’ve done.
Assume that you don’t know the full picture. Ask for clarification on why they did something a certain way. There might be a reason that you don’t know about.
Avoid demanding, insulting, or passive-aggressive language. Stay patient, friendly, and don’t say anything to make someone feel like they’re not good at coding.

Leave Longer And Fewer Comments

Give the full context of your suggestion in every comment. By explaining why you made your comment, you are creating a learning opportunity for the developer and increasing the likelihood of meaningful changes.

Code reviews are essential to the success of the business, and they usually have to take place quickly. If you leave vague or unclear comments, the developer will have to follow up with their own questions or commentary. This can turn a simple fix into a lengthy process.

Additionally, focus your attention on the issues that matter most. Leaving a high number of comments for insignificant changes can cause frustration and delays for the developer. Never make suggestions for the sake of it: sometimes it’s ok to simply say “looks good to me.”

Don’t Be a “Backseat Coder”

Leaving too many comments can turn you into a “backseat coder”. It’s important to focus on the code itself and not compare it to how you may have completed the same project.

Are there any issues in it, or will it work as is? Avoid making comments that only serve to match your coding preferences.

Give Guidance And Suggestions

It’s usually unhelpful to call out a problem in the code without making any recommendations on how to fix it. Provide ideas or suggestions that the developer can use when incorporating your comments.

That said, it’s important to find a balance between giving guidance and making demands.

Give the developer a chance to dispute your comments by asking something like, “What are your thoughts on doing x?” This is a more gentle way to point them in the right direction without taking control.

Expect Pushback

Every code reviewer might have their own opinion on how a certain piece of code should look. And that’s okay. The problem occurs when developers listen to personal preference and get defensive over their own viewpoints.

If there’s ever a debate, go to established principles and standards, not personal ideas. Review best practices and make a decision that is most valid for all purposes.

Improve Code Reviews In Your Business

Code reviews are essential to any software company. But when they’re improperly managed, they’re a source of delays, frustration, and confusion.

Use the right techniques and strategies to keep every developer positively engaged in the code review process and you’re sure to see the benefits.

Like code reviews, hiring remote developers can also work well with the right process. At Revelo, we specialize in building remote engineering teams without the overhead.

Focus on building your product while we handle HR, payroll, and taxes. Hire a developer through Revelo.

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