Managing in a remote world  -  Tips from InVision's director of engineering

17 April, 2020

In the weeks since Covid-19 became a pandemic, our lives have been reshaped into something of a new norm. A new norm that entails sheltering in place, cooking meals in our own kitchen, spending virtual time with family and friends, educating our children using online platforms, and of course, working from home!

For many of us, this crisis represents an opportunity to learn the skill of working and leading remotely. For this reason, Plato has launched a new Ask Me Anything (AMA) series to answer your questions about working remotely. In part 2 of Managing in a Remote World, we welcome Ryan Scheuermann**, Director of Engineering at InVision. Ryan leads a team of 60 people at InVision, which is a fully distributed organization.** InVision is the third fully distributed company that he’s worked for, with a total of 15 years experience working remotely.‍

Joined by Global Head of Solutions Engineering at Karat**,** Shannon Hogue**,** they explored topics like running remote interviews, onboarding remotely, tools for collaboration, questions for remote one-one-ones, optimizing across different time zones, fostering social connections, and the overall impact the crisis has had on individuals and companies alike. Although this live AMA event has already occurred, we’ve recorded it for you to watch again and again! Head over to our Youtube channel to watch this event or the whole series on Managing in a Remote World.

We’ve also captured some of the highlights:

Sentiments on working during a crisis‍

Ryan: It’s interesting. We’re all dealing with a whole new set of distractions. Not only are we all suddenly working full time at home, but we’re also caretakers, educators, and completely socially isolated. It’s a difficult time for everyone which is why I think it’s important to talk about the current situation, share personal stories and experiences, and to stay connected to other people.

Supporting those working remote for the first time‍‍

Ryan: First, acknowledge the situation and the distractions that are present. Then work with individuals to figure out how their days will be organized. Perhaps they may need to take some time off to assess what this new life is and how to manage it. Obviously, it’s not the same as before. So support people as they find their new routine and determine a new schedule that fits their needs.

Management techniques during the pandemic‍

Ryan: I’m spending more time making sure that people feel safe at work. We have a lot more vocal conversations around how we are all feeling, giving people an outlet to talk about things, and reassuring them that we’re going to work through this and figure things out together.

Fostering social connections

Ryan: As a manager, I intentionally find times to be social, foster a connection, and build empathy between team members.

  • Have social conversations at the beginning and end of every meeting
  • Conduct house tours — Individuals walk around with their laptop showing the team their home
  • Share family histories
  • Journey lines — An anecdote about your career path from the beginnings until now

Optimizing across various time zones

- One standard time zone: People are really good at understanding the difference in time between their time zone and one other time zone. Therefore, if you can standardize one time zone for the team, for example Eastern Standard time (EST), and timestamp everything as EST, then everyone can easily orient themselves around that time.

- Video connections are irreplaceable in asynchronous communication. Without it you’re going to miss out on social and emotional cues that you need to view in order to manage effectively.

- Collaborating: If you’re going to collaborate on a particular subject, then do so around a specified artifact. This can be a Google doc, whiteboard, or prototype. A document that can be viewed and edited in real-time. This serves as organizational memory and can shape thinking around the subject.

Tools for remote collaboration

  • Google docs
  • Freehand
  • Screen sharing

Onboarding and engaging new team members

  • Get IT setup done well before the first day.
  • Have an onboarding checklist.
  • Providing documentation that they will need to read.
  • Supplying resources for tips and tricks on how to effectively manage yourself as a remote worker.
  • Have a structured learning/training course that new hires will have to go into.
  • Set up an onboarding buddy system- This person’s responsibility is to get the new hire up to speed, productive, and engaged beginning a week ahead of time.

Remote one-on-one questions

R‍yan: I ask specific engagement level questions that get to the heart of where an individual’s head and morale are at. We get to know each other and build trust during these conversations. But then trust also requires us to take action.

  • Gallup Q12: One of the approaches I use is orienting the conversation around a single question from the Gallup Q12 survey. This is a series of 12 questions that helps leadership better understand employee engagement. For me, it acts more as a conversation starter and gives folks an opportunity to think about how they’re engaging.
  • Anything you want to know from me as a director that you don’t feel like you have a clear understanding of about the company or the strategy?
  • What things are slowing you down in your job right now? Where’s the drag?

Steering remote teams in the right direction

R‍yan: I think teams need to have a north star. If they don’t, they tend to go off in all sorts of different directions. Therefore, set goals and expectations for the team. Inform them of how their work connects to the broader business perspective and give them context for that perspective. Have genuine conversations around where the company stands, where the product is, what the customer demand is, and how they connect to the strategy of it all. Not only that, you need to then continuously reiterate this information to folks, otherwise people are going to come up with their own ideas and run with those.

Work-life integration

Ryan: Working from home means that you can’t separate your work-life from your home-life. You are literally peering into people’s homes every single day. And now with the crisis, you’re probably sharing your home with the rest of your family which means kids and dogs are going to be seen and heard. Though, when working for fully distributed companies, this is part of the cultural DNA. It’s just that now everyone is in the same situation so people’s dynamics around the topic have completely changed.

———

We hope you enjoyed this informative AMA as much as we did! We want to thank Director of Engineering at InVision, Ryan Scheuermann, and Shannon Hogue, Global Head of Solutions Engineering at Karat, for joining us.

In these difficult circumstances we would like to wish everyone the best. Please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay connected! This AMA was produced by the mentorship platform Plato. Visit us at Platohq.com.

Written by Ashley R. Bentley

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.