More than 500 people signed up for the webinar held by Andela, “Best Practices for Remote Engineering Teams: How Teams Can Thrive Without the Office.”

The response is a sign of the times. Engineering teams around the world are now working without an office, many for the first time. They want help.

Andela CTO David Blair and GitHub VP of Engineering Sha Ma shared best practices around communication, collaboration, and culture. You can watch a recorded version of the webinar here

The questions came in immediately, highlighting the urgency of the situation. We thought you might want to know what your colleagues are most concerned about. Here is a brief summary.

Performance and Trust

The most common questions were about performance–how to hold people accountable without sowing fear. These came as Sha emphasized creating a culture of trust. Having daily stand-ups to check the team’s and individuals’ progress can help with this. David talked about using data to assess performance, measuring productivity by work completed not by the perception of hours logged.

If a manager is concerned that remote workers will really, well, work, Sha stressed communication and advised managers to allow developers to show “what they are working on and working through.”

There was also a good deal of discussion about the human side of creating trust in an office-less environment, especially in this time of uncertainty and stress. “It is important that people feel safe,” Sha said. “People can’t be productive when they are fearful for their jobs or their health.” Part of the culture of trust, she said, is sharing personal stories and practicing kindness. Her team has a weekly family photo-sharing session in its retros, and a Slack channel for pet pictures. 

David also emphasized trust, saying, “start with empathy.” If someone’s performance is suffering, look for hidden issues that might be impacting someone’s life outside of work. 

Tools and How to Use Them

There were also questions and comments about tool use, including some recommendations from the audience. Without guidelines, Slack use can be chaotic with simultaneous conversations, one attendee said. Andela’s best practice is if a topic requires multiple Slack messages, the discussion should move to a Zoom meeting. Some people mentioned using permanent Zoom links between sites so that people literally can “walk by and say hi.”

Some additional tools recommended by the presenters included Kudoboard, which David’s team uses to give each other virtual high-fives. His team also uses Slack bots to send alerts when people make pull requests from GitHub as a way to keep one another informed. Sha’s team uses a home-grown app that employees can use to add compliments to each other for work and personal strengths. An audience member recommended Status Hero for virtual stand-ups. 

Hiring and Onboarding

Another topic that drew a lot of discussion was onboarding. GitHub used to fly new employees to its San Francisco office for onboarding, which isn’t happening for the time being. Sha and David both recommended creating thorough wiki pages to empower new team members with self-service direction. Sha also recommended giving new employees “buddies”–teammates they can ping for help and not be afraid to “ask stupid questions.”

As the world adapts to a rapidly changing social and occupational landscape, the new normal may be that there is no new normal. Being able to flex with evolving restrictions on travel and in-person activities will require businesses to continually discover new ways to work together and grow. Hiring and onboarding in a remote-first environment are among the things that they will need to learn. This will be diving deeper into these topics in our next webinar. Stay tuned!

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About the Author

Bill Peatman

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March 24, 2020

Hundreds of engineering leaders signed up for a webinar on remote work. Here’s what they wanted to know.

Bill Peatman

More than 500 people signed up for the webinar held by Andela, “Best Practices for Remote Engineering Teams: How Teams Can Thrive Without the Office.”

The response is a sign of the times. Engineering teams around the world are now working without an office, many for the first time. They want help.

Andela CTO David Blair and GitHub VP of Engineering Sha Ma shared best practices around communication, collaboration, and culture. You can watch a recorded version of the webinar here

The questions came in immediately, highlighting the urgency of the situation. We thought you might want to know what your colleagues are most concerned about. Here is a brief summary.

Performance and Trust

The most common questions were about performance–how to hold people accountable without sowing fear. These came as Sha emphasized creating a culture of trust. Having daily stand-ups to check the team’s and individuals’ progress can help with this. David talked about using data to assess performance, measuring productivity by work completed not by the perception of hours logged.

If a manager is concerned that remote workers will really, well, work, Sha stressed communication and advised managers to allow developers to show “what they are working on and working through.”

There was also a good deal of discussion about the human side of creating trust in an office-less environment, especially in this time of uncertainty and stress. “It is important that people feel safe,” Sha said. “People can’t be productive when they are fearful for their jobs or their health.” Part of the culture of trust, she said, is sharing personal stories and practicing kindness. Her team has a weekly family photo-sharing session in its retros, and a Slack channel for pet pictures. 

David also emphasized trust, saying, “start with empathy.” If someone’s performance is suffering, look for hidden issues that might be impacting someone’s life outside of work. 

Tools and How to Use Them

There were also questions and comments about tool use, including some recommendations from the audience. Without guidelines, Slack use can be chaotic with simultaneous conversations, one attendee said. Andela’s best practice is if a topic requires multiple Slack messages, the discussion should move to a Zoom meeting. Some people mentioned using permanent Zoom links between sites so that people literally can “walk by and say hi.”

Some additional tools recommended by the presenters included Kudoboard, which David’s team uses to give each other virtual high-fives. His team also uses Slack bots to send alerts when people make pull requests from GitHub as a way to keep one another informed. Sha’s team uses a home-grown app that employees can use to add compliments to each other for work and personal strengths. An audience member recommended Status Hero for virtual stand-ups. 

Hiring and Onboarding

Another topic that drew a lot of discussion was onboarding. GitHub used to fly new employees to its San Francisco office for onboarding, which isn’t happening for the time being. Sha and David both recommended creating thorough wiki pages to empower new team members with self-service direction. Sha also recommended giving new employees “buddies”–teammates they can ping for help and not be afraid to “ask stupid questions.”

As the world adapts to a rapidly changing social and occupational landscape, the new normal may be that there is no new normal. Being able to flex with evolving restrictions on travel and in-person activities will require businesses to continually discover new ways to work together and grow. Hiring and onboarding in a remote-first environment are among the things that they will need to learn. This will be diving deeper into these topics in our next webinar. Stay tuned!

featured_image
About the Author

Bill Peatman

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