How To Effectively Hire And Manage Remote Teams
CTO at dotOrg Technology
Signal Sciences' engineering organization is primarily remote. While I have managed remote teams before, the companies had usually been mostly together with just one small team being remote. When I started working at Signal Sciences, I faced a new situation, as almost everyone was remote and I had to figure out how to apply performance and scale measurements to a team that I couldn't interact with face-to-face on a daily basis. One of the challenges of managing people in remote teams is that different team members' levels of communication can vary widely. Some team members will be very vocal and will talk all the time in Slack. Others are intimidated by that and because of this stay very quiet and don't engage as much.
I spent a lot of time researching other companies that were predominantly remote and talking with some of their employees and managers. This allowed me to gain insight into how they handled things and how they defined success in a remote work situation. We primarily use Slack for inter-team communication. One of the ways we made slack communication easier was to create different channels to cater for the different team members' cadences of communication. For those who wanted to chat all the time we created more of a random chat channel, so they could engage without clogging up the technical or data channel. Written communication, regardless of how well it is crafted, can still sometimes cause misunderstandings as tone can be lost of misinterpreted. Sometime there is no replacement for face to face communication. For those situations, we use Zoom video chat extensively on a daily basis. Every quarter, we bring the whole team together in one location where we review and celebrate what was accomplished and plan for the coming quarter. We take this also as an opportunity for shared learning, cross team planning and various team building and socializing activities. We also focussed on how we hired people. We weren't just hiring people with a strong technical background, or people with strong communication skills. Remote team members also need to be able to advocate for themselves. This is because if as a manager I'm unable to see you, it's hard for me to tell if you're struggling with something. We had hired some great engineers who weren't good at advocating for themselves. Unfortunately, by the time I found out they were unhappy, they were so frustrated that it took a long time to unwind all of the issues they were facing.
Even if you just have one team member working remotely, you then have to treat the whole team as though it's remote. This means thinking about how you structure communication channels, and when hiring a remote team, being careful to hire people who are willing and able to come to you with difficulties they were facing. I do this by asking in interviews for examples where they faced a challenge and felt unable to address it and how they went about handling the situation. The best way ensure the success of your remote employees is to give them autonomy and ownership over things. If you have someone working in New York who's dependent on someone working in Tokyo, it's difficult because of the timezones being so different. By defining the responsibilities each team member has and giving them ownership and telling them they have ownership, the team member will feel as though they can move forward with things without being bottlenecked.
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