How to manage off-site and on-site teams together

Monica Bajaj

Vice President of Engineering at Okta, Inc.



I worked at NetApp and Cisco and I had to manage remote and local teams. At Cisco, there were 15 people working locally, and 5 people working remotely who reported directly to me. At Netapp , I had a team of 15 people ( local) and around 17 remote with 2 managers. It was felt that there was a huge gap between onsite and offsite teams, as there was no platform for communication, sharing of ideas, projects, or resources. Some of the teams were based in the US, but there were also teams in India and Israel. There was a huge timezone gap and it was quickly realized that nobody was communicating . There was no platform or opportunity for team members to talk, and the teams didn't have an ingrained culture of communication.

Actions taken

Culture, Transparency, Time zone and communication are the key elements to the success of bringing remote teams together . After doing some research into cultural differences, I decided to set up a monthly all-hands meetings, conducted via video, so that my entire group could relate the face to the name , share engineering updates, customer wins, and release/product updates. Recognizing the employees is always important during these group meetings via manager or via peers. Motivation and Recognition on time goes in a long way. Meeting in person: I went ahead and set up quarterly HQ visits for our Engineers from India to visit US for a week at a time and vice versa. This helped them understand the cultural differences, work environment and deliverables across sites. During their visits, clear goals were being set prior to their visit. This allowed the developers from remote sites to actively interact with the rest of the team. As a leader of this teams, I also visited India four times a year. My agenda was always preplanned in terms of meetings, topics to discuss, employees to recognize and plan for the upcoming tasks and understand the challenges of the team. My aim was to determine how my remote teams were doing and to hear any concerns they might have. On the first day of each visit, I would spend time giving kudos to the team members, and recognizing their contributions, as this went a long way in terms of building our relationship. Next, I spoke with them about our business needs and upcoming projects, so they had a good understanding of our overall vision. Sharing the overall product strategy and vision with your sister organizations is equally important to make them feel a part of the team. It's also important to not only spend time with your remote teams, but to also spend time with other parts of the company in the remote locations, so you can build relationships and communication. I also set up lunches and informal get together. This was helpful, as it let me speak with architects or lead developers one-on-one, and helped to build communication and trust.

Lessons learned

Product ownership and accountability are key to keep up motivation. I realized that if you have a single leader above the teams, it's much easier to get the message across without conflicts.. Messaging needs to come from the top, and rules around accountability should be very clear and transparent, so everyone understands they need to work across projects in an amicable way.

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Monica Bajaj

Vice President of Engineering at Okta, Inc.

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