How to manage and engage remote engineering teams.

Executives need to fundamentally change how engineering teams are managed as they look to remain remote or hybrid. More nuanced issues come into play after tackling the tactical aspects of a distributed workforce like home office equipment, a comfortable space where employees can get work done and reliable meeting, calendar and communication tools.

When a minority of engineering team members worked remotely, they knew that they needed to make a concerted effort to connect and be a part of the group. The expectations of offsite employees have changed dramatically when the majority are remote. This brings up new questions of communication, culture, loyalty, problem-solving and retention for organizations that built their business with an in-person team.

Shifting engineering team structure is fundamental.

Changing the way engineering teams work requires fundamental changes. Some of the changes that our engineering teams have tried have been effective.

The revised team structure breaks larger engineering teams into smaller groups. Smaller groups allow for more parallel streams of work and help engineers feel more valued and engaged.
Overhauling our design process to get a champion or anchor from the developers early on. Product and design requests are translated into technical specifications by this anchor and the lead of the feature. Each member of the team gets a chance to grow their skills as a technical lead when their role rotates between them.
Small groups of dedicated designers are given the power to make small adjustments mid-flight. Standups would be able to operate as mini working sessions to iron out technical details that would normally be dealt with by in-person quick questions.
Making real changes to the way work gets done with a strong emphasis on sprint retros is a way to do that. sprint retros became a powerful tool to get feedback on improving the process when used in conjunction with an initiative.
Keeping teams accountable by encouraging transparency and clear communication as a tradeoff for their independence. We encouraged note-taking and regular updates, as well as clear goal-setting from the teams at the beginning of each sprint It was easy to see when things were not working because teams were held accountable to their goals.
We are experimenting with a four-day workweek to see if we can drive more productivity. This was perhaps the boldest of our experiments, as we demonstrated trust in our team and set clear expectations for outcomes. At a time when it was easy to switch jobs, this has motivated our team and raised their spirits.

What were some things done in the office? For us, it was group brainstorms, in-person one-on-ones, summer Fridays, and vibe checks. Here are some of the ways we made them work for remote teams.

Digital whiteboards are great for group discussions. Digital sticky notes as well. This has allowed distributed engineering teams to contribute in different ways.
If it isn’t technically “leaving the office early,” give people the afternoon off. If you want to get some undisturbed work done before the weekend, try shutting off notifications on Friday and Monday. Mental health days off for the whole company is a great idea.
Something is lacking with one-on-ones with zoom. Half of the one-on-one meeting should be spent talking about other things.
Open office hours dedicated to work culture; surveys from time to time to gather quick informal feedback or think about other ways to elicit ongoing feedback from every employee, including engineering teams are some of the ways that vibe check can be done.

Culture and well-being should be created.

Social bonding, inspiring projects and the possibility for growth is what keeps most employees at companies. A question a lot of executives are asking themselves is, “How do you fulfill the need for social bonding when most employees, including your engineering team, are remote?” How do you bond socially and remotely? Getting team members talking outside of work is one of the goals that we have identified.

We have built culture in a number of ways.

Friday lunch and online games are available.
There are different ongoing events like Iron Chef-style cookoffs and photography challenges.
They have leaders share how they spent their weekends. We believe in showing a healthy work life balance from the top down and encouraging our team to take the time they need to relax.
Working on a system to avoid pinging people after hours for non-urgent issues, figuring out how to surface urgent issues via slack, and working on a system to avoid pinging people after hours for non-urgent issues

Above all, manage with honesty.

Most people have been exhausted over the last two years. If you want to engage the people you work with, you have to be aware of the difficulties they are going through outside of work. Without managers that care about their teams, you will inevitably fail to keep the best people around. The kind of culture people want to be a part of is driven by leaders who are compassionate.

It is possible to share a link on a social networking website.

While building constructive culture, engaging workers individually and helping staff avoid burnout have always been organizationally demanding, they are intensified by the constant, always-on notion of DevOps. It also has to do with the way they are. Read further.