Improving Communication Between Remote Teams

Sandhya Jaideep

ex-VP of Engineering at Tradeshift



Part of my team is based in Cupertino, another part in Raleigh on the East Coast of the US, and a few other team members work in various other places, both in the US and abroad. When I first started working for SugarCRM, the teams were working very independently but when they needed to coordinate there were a lot of crossed wires and communication breakdowns. In addition, there were a lot of trust issues between the remote and onsite teams. I needed to bridge this gap so my team worked as a coordinated entity.

Actions taken

The teams weren't regularly communicating with each other and this had led to part of the problems they were facing. While they all worked off of Jira tickets and had Scrum meetings, there was no time set aside for the whole team to connect with each other or for the lead from Cupertino and the lead from the East Coast to talk one-to-one. When you have regular communication through face-to-face video calls, or even through audio calls, you can see and hear both visual and verbal cues that you wouldn't pick up on via email or Slack. I started holding a weekly team meeting with all of my direct reports and set aside time on the agenda for people to just vent. While they were expected to do it constructively, it allowed them to explain their frustrations so that they could work on a solution together. The meeting also allowed me to discuss things happening outside of the group that weren't directly tied to the product we were building. A lot of things happen in company's and often these things don't get communicated down. When you are a remote office and suddenly hear about news you didn't know anything about you can end up feeling very cut off. This allowed me to communicate these things, whether it was about a change in insurance provider, where somebody who has left is now working, or just funny things that had happened during the week. In addition, I also encouraged more travel between the two main offices. Video calls are great but it's useful for people to meet face-to-face. I travel to Raleigh once a quarter but I also get the lead and some of the senior engineers from Raleigh to travel to Cupertino once a quarter. We also have sprint weeks twice a year. All the remote engineers travel to our HQ in Cupertino and take part in fun activities, training sessions, and mini hackathons. This allows people to get thrown into teams they don't usually work with and lets people get to know each other. This has worked amazingly well. My teams now all work really well with each other. So much so, that if one of them is having resource issues or if one of them has a lot of tickets they need to complete before a release and another team has the bandwidth, the team leads reach out to help one another. This is exactly where I wanted the teams to be.

Lessons learned

Don't take it for granted that people in your remote office understand everything that is happening in your HQ. Reaching out to people and including them as part of the core team is key. I had this realization when I first traveled to Raleigh and worked from there - being in a remote office can be difficult. When I was in Raleigh listening in to meetings happening in our HQ, there was a lot of information that I was missing out on. People will have disagreements and their own points of view. In fact, I encourage this within my team. However, when we need to get to a decision, I listen to everybody's point of view and then at some point, I make sure the team makes the decision, and ensure everyone commits to it and moves forward. A consensus-based approach for management doesn't always work - you have to allow discussions to take place, but at some point you have to decide on a path forward and then stick with that decision.

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Sandhya Jaideep

ex-VP of Engineering at Tradeshift

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationEngineering ManagementDiversity ImpactDiversity HiringOvercoming BiasAgile, Scrum & KanbanLeadership & StrategyTeam & Project ManagementDiversity & Inclusion

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