The world of work is increasingly remote. Even before Covid-19 shifted many companies into the work-from-home mode, Gallup noted that 43% of U.S. employees were working remotely (at least some of the time) in 2016. Freelancing has been accelerating much of remote work. According to Upwork, 35% of the U.S. workforce freelanced in 2019. Freelancing income is now nearly $1 trillion, roughly 5% of the U.S. GDP. 

Software testing is both challenged by, and benefiting from, remote and distributed work. Note that I define remote work as activities that are physically separated from a primary office; distributed work has no core office — each person is working where, when and how makes the most sense.

Distributed approaches are a key element of networked testing, which I previously wrote about. (Note also that the phrase “distributed testing” is sometimes used to describe software-driven load and stress testing. Here, I focus on humans who are in distributed locations and who are performing functional, usability, localization, and other forms of manual software testing).

Stepping back, I offer nine observations on distributed quality assurance (QA) and remote testing. These observations can help drive best practices as you explore the evolution of your testing strategy.

1. Location freedom is attractive. People are happy working from places they choose. Owl Labs notes that remote work can cut employee turnover by 25%. Further, for mobile app testing, location-specific testing (e.g., QSR pickups and media streaming) is often required.

2. Great technology matters. Without exceptional test management software and integrated systems, distributed testing is dead in the water. Tool selection is pivotal.

3. Documentation is critical. For testers to move fast and operate without others nearby, exceptional documentation (often video-based) is needed. Test and run instructions must be especially clear.

4. Burstable teams move fast. In my last article, I outlined how burstable testing works. With on-demand, large (often 10 to 50 or more), distributed teams of freelance QA experts, testing can begin and conclude rapidly.

5. Quiet enables focus. According to a survey conducted by FlexJobs, 75% of remote workers report fewer distractions, and 65% of people think they work best from home. Software testing requires intense concentration, which can be difficult in traditional offices.

6. Humans need connection. While most of us love quiet for deep work, we are still inherently social. With distributed teams, encounters need to be intentional, planned and ritualized. Gratitude, appreciation and recognization are especially critical to a sense of purpose and engagement.

7. Real-world devices are illuminating. While device labs offer easy access, their cleansing methods and centralized locations sometimes mask real-world experiences. Accordingly, testing dozens (or even hundreds) of device/OS combinations via local, loaded, real-world hardware — in the hands of humans — can highlight issues not otherwise discoverable.

8. Management is different. Leading a team of remote, potentially freelance testers is very different from traditional on-premise employee management. As Harvard Business Review has noted, the best managers check in regularly on remote workers. They build human relationships that transcend cycles, projects, and boundaries.

9. Expert freelancers win. While the bar to starting freelance, distributed QA work is often low, great discoveries and actionable insights come most often from expert testing pros. Who exactly tests your software is important — as is training, preparation, management and ongoing learning.

Compared to traditional testing and QA, remote and distributed software testing has the potential to increase testing coverage, better replicate user experiences, discover more issues, move faster and deliver better economics. Yet it’s not an easy method to pull off. Coordinating dozens of testers in multiple time zones isn’t for the faint of heart. Fortunately, there are a set of proven methods — and networked testing providers — that can help.

As you research and consider a networked testing partner, you may want to consider a few criteria, such as:

• Does the company have ample tester coverage in key locations?

• How will your potential partner manage device availability?

• Can the networked testing company deliver in languages important to you?

• Who are the actual testers who will work for you? Will they be consistent?

• How will your possible partner communicate with you and other members of the network?

With thoughtful research, consideration, design, and partnerships, your remote testing efforts can soar.

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