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Building Teams Remotely

Building A Team
Remote

21 July, 2021

Sameer Khanna, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Pager, was already a seasoned professional in the realm of working remotely when the pandemic hit.

Problem

One of my areas of interest is in building remote teams, even before the pandemic. When I joined my current company, working remotely was already very much a part of the culture. This knowledge and these skills helped us put our best foot forward when everything started to change. Some of our departments were not remote when the pandemic hit, so we were in a good position to help them make the transition.

Part of the challenge is in establishing a remote culture where people can converse and be heard on the same level and through the same channels. You need to create this quality of presence with those working from home so that they remain connected with everybody else. This is not necessarily an easy thing to do.

Actions taken

Working remotely is all about remaining visible. You have to think about ways that you can build trust with your team as a remote manager. You will not have the ability to do it in person over a cup of coffee or a drink after hours. You’re already at a disadvantage. It makes traditional management just a little bit harder.

What is the best way to build these vital relationships remotely? Even simple things like making sure that you’ve always got your video feed on when teleconferencing helps. It is difficult to make that human connection without having a face to match the voice to.

You also need to be mindful of boundaries, as well. When you see your team everyday at their desks, you can see when they’re busy and when they’re not. In the virtual world, however, these cues may not always be as obvious. I try not to bother people when they are focusing on something important.

When it comes to motivation, it always pays to show how much you appreciate your reports and their accomplishments. I praise good work publicly on Slack and other channels. You really need to make sure that you’re giving back to the team periodically. We sponsor group events and other activities in order to incentivize togetherness.

I, personally, find managing in a fully-remote environment to be much more challenging than managing in a traditional setting. It feels limiting at first without that immediate access to everybody. With that being said, however, people are finding ways to augment the experience so that it works in every situation. When everybody feels included, the distance becomes an afterthought.

Lessons learned

  • Having a strong set of tools will help you manage asynchronous tasks and communication. Working with agility under these conditions means leaning into products like Jira that help keep everybody aligned and on the same page. Try to avoid siloing all of your conversations into one single channel.
  • At my company, we use an app called Clockwise that syncs with all of our channels of communication. This makes it easier to show when people are available and when they’re in, say, a meeting.
  • When it comes to team celebrations, you have to get creative. There are plenty of ways to bring people together virtually, such as through a virtual happy hour or team dinner. Encourage people to engage with one another. It’s all about building that sense of trust.

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