Five insights on running a fast-paced remote engineering team

Covid-19 plunged the workforce into remote work worldwide. Two and half years later, even as vaccines have allowed us to resume in-person work, remote work is here to stay.

According to recent research by Mckinsey, 58% of Americans reported having the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week and 35% of respondents report having the option to work from home five days a week—87% of them took these remote working opportunities. This dynamic is widespread across demographics, occupations, and geographies.

This is because remote work offers employees remarkable flexibility and freedom as compared to traditional work arrangements. However, for senior leadership management, remote teams can be a whole new ball game.

As I continue to lead a remote team of engineers at Fluxx, here are five of my best practices to apply and pitfalls to avoid through the journey.

Do your homework when hiring

Always do your homework when hiring a remote employee. This means understanding how compatible they will be with your team.  

How would you know? Ask them these questions: What makes them thrive at work? What are their non-negotiables at work? What have been some of their major career challenges and successes? 

Now map these answers back to see if they fit into your team’s personal work ethos and that of your larger organization.

Manage with trust and autonomy

Now that you’ve hired the right people, show trust in your discretion and their abilities. Tracking what each team member is doing at the fine-grain level isn’t efficient in remote working—it’s only a recipe for acute anxiety. 

To move forward with momentum you must manage your team with autonomy. When employees feel they are in control of what they are doing it creates more job satisfaction, productivity, and engagement. 

The fine balance is to give your team the room to take action and only step in when they’re stuck or you intuitively feel a project is going off-track. 

The only lead you must track is the overarching one—is your department serving the overall mission of the company? Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Maintain equality across employees

Within the engineering team at Fluxx Labs, we work to make sure everyone feels equal whether they’re internal to the company or external engineers. This means everyone has equal access to resources like company data, major meetings, and all the Slack channels. There’s no discrimination in terms of the importance or difficulty of projects allocated among internal and external teammates. Everyone’s opinion matters.  

This democratic process was a blessing for my department when we made the transition to completely remote during the pandemic. Throughout the period of change, we didn’t struggle with decision-making and forward momentum. 

If you find that the word “they” comes up when referring to your external team members or if the word “we” doesn’t include your embedded engineers, you likely have a problem. Work can be done well only if relationships and dynamics across your team feel seamless.

Keep it fresh with collaboration

According to this study by Gallup, burnout is an even bigger issue for remote teams (than for office staff)—amplified by distance, personal stressors, and lack of face-to-face communication.

That is why, when I onboard remote teams I let them know that they’re not supposed to try and do everything alone. Putting on your headphones and just doing what is on your plate is not our culture. Instead, I encourage my team members to ask for help as early and often as they need it.  

It’s true that collaboration is the most overused word in business, but collaboration is what keeps teams motivated and energized—especially if they’re new to remote. 

Listen, learn, and adapt

With most new systems, you’ll never get everything right on the first attempt. Especially when working with people that aren’t from your time zone—even if they know the same coding language as you (as is the case with engineers.)

If so-called “set strategies” handed down by peers aren’t working for your projects, embrace shifting needs by finding opportunities and changing course. Be willing to listen, learn, and adapt with your remote team.

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