Turing Distinguished Leader Series: Building and Managing Remote Teams
The Turing Distinguished Leader Series features engineering leaders in conversation with Jonathan Siddharth, Co-Founder and CEO of Turing.com. The series dives deeper into distributed teams—the emerging new-normal model for lean, productive, and global teams. With every session, the host and guest speakers take the audience through the benefits, challenges, and solutions for remote-first companies—all of this straight from people who are building global remote teams themselves.
The advantages of boundaryless teams outweigh their challenges with every passing day. The distinguished engineering leaders shed light on exactly why that is happening in each of the sessions.
Here are the key takeaways:
Remote over Hybrid
Long-term sustainable remote work environments are on the rise. Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, explains why: “A lot of engineering leaders are keeping some office space and trying to go hybrid. There’s this thought that hybrid is going to be the best of both worlds. But without a lot of intentionalities, hybrid organizations can easily become the worst of both worlds. You do not want to foster an environment where a subset of your organization works office-first, and another subset works remote-first. You want everyone working remote-first because that makes your company more resilient to future crises.”
Vishal Punwani, CEO and co-founder of Sophya, agrees. He shares why remote has the edge over hybrid setup: “I think my company used to believe a lot more in what hybrid could be, but our thinking has evolved. This might sound contentious, but we believe that hybrid is a delay tactic. One of my friends said the other day: “Off-site is the new on-site.” So I think the hybrid model will not last for very long; instead, it will develop into a corporate structure that enables people to work from anywhere forever.”
Leading a remote team requires a unique set of skills
Henrik Hussfelt, the Director of Engineering at Proxy, shares a few insights for a first-time leader of remote teams: “Starting a new position can be challenging. As an engineering leader, you are always playing a puzzle, figuring out which pieces go where. The only way to do that successfully is by interacting with as many people as possible.”
Hussfelt also suggests that when you start with something new, it’s always a good idea to expose yourself as you have no clue what you’re doing. “You can always tell them [your colleagues] that they need to explain it [new processes] to you like you’re a five-year-old. I suggest you tell them that you’re going to keep asking these questions until you get it so that you can do a better job supporting [the organization],” he says.
Michael Immell, Director of Engineering at Rachio, adds that finding a mentor in your first days is essential. “As an engineering leader, you need to know that you’re going to make mistakes. There are going to be good days and rough days. Find a mentor you believe is a good leader. You must reach out to them and say: ‘I enjoy the way you lead your organization. Could you spare some time to work with me on some things that I want to get better at?’ Having a mentor can be very helpful,” Immell notes.
Murph adds: “You should hire a Head of Remote or put someone in charge of the remote transition. There’s nothing more important to the company than signaling that this [going remote] is a serious and long-term consideration.”
Kelly Graiadei, Founder and GP at f7 Ventures, shares why leaders should be mindful about culture: “You’re moving fast as a founder and an engineering leader, and you have a whole bunch of competing priorities. But what should be on that priority list is being intentional about the culture from the very start. Letting negative culture run away from you at the beginning can be incredibly damaging. So it’s essential to be thoughtful about that upfront. Then, as a founder, you need to model a lot of that behavior.”
Remote prioritizes talent and flexibility
Remote work has altered the job landscape in favor of the skilled, opening a sea of opportunities for people across the globe. “Talent is everywhere. But there are many talented people out there who are unwilling to move [for a job]. Now, we’re seeing a change where these talented people can be anywhere and work with anyone. And this is just the beginning of that paradigm shift,” explains Hussfelt.
According to GitLab’s research one in three people said that if their work refused to allow flexibility coming out of COVID, they would just find another job.
Murph believes that this trend will only rise post-pandemic. “People are already enjoying the freedom and autonomy of remote work during the worst of times. So from a talent acquisition and retention standpoint, there’s no going back [to the office] for many people. So engineering leaders and organizations are going to have to answer the question as to what is their stance on workplace flexibility,” he adds.
Immell sheds light on how the shift to remote has resulted in happier employees. He says: “Remote work is giving people back a lot of their time. Data shows that people have higher job satisfaction, and they’re putting in a little more time because they have their offices set up at home. They’re feeling better about their company and their job. Most importantly, they feel supported. So I think that’s the greatest opportunity.”
Remote is about balance and transparency
Graziadei shares why transparency is intrinsic to managing distributed teams: “As an engineering leader, you need to keep some basics in mind—things like time zones, for example. Everyone needs to feel respected. They should not think that that one team should always have the team meeting at midnight. You need to rotate so that each time zone has to flex and give at different times. You also have to just be thoughtful around reading the room and reading language differences. If someone’s quieter, allow them to take the floor and be heard.”
Hussfelt elaborates on why transparency is the key to success for remote organizations. “You should create channels in which team members can talk about their issues and get help from everyone collaboratively. You should try and set a culture where it’s okay to ask any question. This way, you’re going to have a much easier way to onboard new people and keep the information flowing,” he notes.
Punwani agrees. He says that remote engineering leaders should be upfront about their organization’s values and expectations: “Good relationships are at the foundation of a remote-first organization. A quote goes, ‘Your culture is what happens when the founder isn’t around.’ What that means is that not only do you have to have excellent standards, but you have to have clearly articulated principles. And so it starts from the hiring process. You need to be upfront with all of your candidates and tell them this is who we are and this is what it will be like to work with us.
The Turing Distinguishes Leader Series features exceptional engineering leaders sharing their perspectives on building and managing remote, distributed teams. The series aims to equip engineering leaders at high-growth startups and large tech companies with tactical best practices to help people become more effective engineering managers. The focus of this initiative is to help remote teams achieve excellence in a boundaryless world.
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