How to Communicate with a Team Based in a Different Location

Neil Chintomby

Engineering Manager at Roblox



Even though June had previously implemented a work from home policy on an as-needed basis, a lot of my team was still working in the office.

There were many problems to solve when moving to New York. The most important of which was how do I stay in contact with product and engineering leaders and how do I get my direct reports comfortable and still connected with me working remotely?

Incidentally, there were a few instances where I hadn’t learned that we had killed a particular feature until I spoke to someone in the office about it.

Actions taken

  • Even before leaving the San Francisco office, I got buy-in from everyone that I worked with at the company to stand by me through the transition. I spoke to everyone, including the founders, who made sure I was supported during my transition to New York.
  • I make sure to travel at least every quarter in order to meet with my core team. I use this time to do things that require high bandwidth communication, like product roadmaps and making important decisions that would take much longer online. I also meet with designers, product and quality, and the director of software to make critical in-person decisions.
  • When not in the office, I make sure to over-communicate by asking questions and being very curious rather than shy about proposing that someone jump on a call with me to fill in the gaps. Likewise, I make sure to maintain regular communication with product leaders and decision-makers.
  • I try to uncomplicate the notion around video calls. We did this at June by creating a Zoom account with the necessary plugins added to Google Calendar in order to directly and easily link our meetings with calendar invites.

Lessons learned

  • What worked well for me was starting the conversation early on, even before moving remotely. Not everyone may be able to do this, but if you can, discuss your transition with the team and get everyone to commit to making that process better.
  • Disseminating important product decisions quickly and widely is something that should be proactively reiterated to all decision-makers. As a manager, I wasn’t in touch with my own manager as much as I used to be and therefore too often fell out of the loop on important decisions.
  • I realize in-person meetings might be a bit more difficult given the current COVID-19 environment where everyone is working online from different places. Under normal circumstances, however, I think it is reasonably important to meet as a team in person every six to eight weeks.
  • By replacing in-person or video call conversations, especially standups, with asynchronous updates, we lost the serendipity of offering up a solution of how to unblock someone in real-time. Video one on ones are critical for a manager to tap into a team’s feelings. You can really read people’s intonations and tone during a video call.
  • We ended up ditching standups all together once they went asynchronous. I personally believe that standups, especially in video format, are very important and work better than written standups.
  • Simplifying video calls by not adding any overhead work helped eliminate excuses linked to technology problems.

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Neil Chintomby

Engineering Manager at Roblox

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionTeam & Project Management

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