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Managing the transition to a remote team.

Joseph Perla

Engineering Manager at Lyft

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Problem

"Lyft is based in SF, but in Mid 2016, one of my most senior engineers wanted to move back to where he grew up in Seattle. He was a productive member of the team and built all of our server backends. He would feel happier and more productive although it would complicate the team organization. At stake was the cohesiveness, efficiency, and happiness of the team. I decided to do it, because he was senior and independent enough to operate with less supervision, and pay special attention to making this split teamwork as well as before."

Actions taken

"He moved in June 2016, and I immediately let my manager know that I was open to further team members in Seattle. It hypothesized that it would feel better from a team perspective if he didn't feel totally alone, and if he could lean on team members in Seattle. He would also be able to do team outings with the small pod in Seattle, when he couldn't with the folks in SF. We soon had another senior engineer in Seattle transfer from the ads team to our team, and with that also the responsibilities of the passenger ads stack at Lyft. Another opportunity arose to hire a junior engineer who knew algorithms, but had little real world experience. Normally, I would not work with such a junior engineer remotely, but with 2 other senior engineers in Seattle I committed to helping Lyft give her an offer. No other team in Seattle would have been able to mentor her and we otherwise would have lost this promising young engineer.

Team social inclusion was a big goal of mine, I did not want the situation to feel like we were just managing 2 separate teams. I instituted a cross-office team lunch every Wednesday where we booked a large room in SF as well as Seattle, and had lunch over videoconferencing while telling stories about weekends and talked about Lyft gossip. We also doubled the number of team meetings to two 1-hour meetings a week. I scheduled the meetings next to the all-hands meetings so that I minimize the number of interruptions to engineers. This would be one of the few times the Seattle office got to have face time with the people in Seattle, and the extra time allowed us to show and tell more of our projects to each other, both ways.

We still have issues with participation in meetings from Seattle. Specifically, our microphone setups make it hard to hear pretty often, and sometimes the connection is flaky. Their voice coming through the tinny speaker can easily get crowded out, so we in SF have become more sensitive to give them space for that. This makes it harder to engage Seattle and we have taken extra effort to ask if they have any questions or comments after each presentation, but we all want to do it. We found that the wired connections are more reliable than the WiFi. The microphone and speakers should be improved.

At least once a quarter, all 3 Seattle engineers would come down for the quarterly planning period for a week. We made sure to schedule team offsites to hike on Angel Island or team cooking events during this in-person time. This facilitated both efficient planning and social connections. I made sure to visit Seattle frequently, showing them that they are as important to the team as the SF engineers. I connected the junior engineer in Seattle as a mentor for another new engineer in SF. This was something the Seattle engineer wanted, and was a bit of a stretch for her, but I knew it would further enhance the bonds between teams. Seattle has few young, junior engineers, so this bond to another one in SF would be appreciated. Finally, I encouraged them to come individually to work on project sprints during the quarter at least one extra week per quarter. They enjoy this very much, especially the junior engineer visiting her mentee."

Lessons learned

"The engineers were happy and productive. This experience showed me that it is possible to manage a team that is split between two locations, although it requires a bit more time, solid videoconferencing technology, and regular trips. The focus was on increasing communication about the work each engineer was performing, as well as bridging social connections with mentorship and maximizing in-person interactions. Nevertheless, the extra time paid off in the cohesiveness and efficiency of a team that trusts each other across state lines."


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Joseph Perla

Engineering Manager at Lyft


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