We manage an engineering team of 30 people, and 100 percent of them work remotely.

While a completely remote engineering team is atypical for a SaaS business, it's a strategy that has worked brilliantly for us. I sat down with Joel Schlundt, Hireology's Vice President of Engineering, to ask him to share his secrets of building an engaged and productive remote engineering team.  

Recruiting Remote Team Members

Joel explained that all remote employees must be held to the same standards as the rest of the team. "These team members need to exhibit your company core values and be cultural fits above all else," he told me.  

  • Look for candidates that are highly motivated and can work independently.  These type of people can typically navigate through the challenges of remote work more easily and can stay productive even when there are issues with communication or direction.  

  • Recruit everywhere.  Don't limit recruiting efforts to major metro areas.  There are talented engineers across the country; engineers are pretty smart and understand that the cost of living in smaller cities and rural areas is actually a really nice perk.  

  • Remote interviews are a great tool to help evaluate how people are going to be able to interact remotely.  Always try and include both video and audio for these remote interviews.  "We like to do full team meet and greets with candidates as a final stage of our interview process.  These types of scenarios can help evaluate culture fit, team chemistry, and candidate communication skills."

Communication with Remote Teams

Says Schlundt, "So many of the challenges that come with a remote team revolve around communication. You will need to continually invest in this area."

  • Hold regularly scheduled team meetings and make sure remote employees never go a day without interacting with at least two other people in the company.  

  • Be aware of water cooler conversations; these are the sidebar conversations that occur in the office to which remote workers rarely have access.  "This dynamic is a large issue with remote teams that can make people feel disconnected with the rest of the team," says Joel.  "Those conversations need to be shared and connecting with the remote members of the organization." 

  • Always make sure communication plans include the remote team and bake them into internal processes. If there is a group presentation, remote employees should be able to participate via video conference. One miss can be detrimental to team morale.  

Technology Required for Remote Teams

  • Invest in quality video conference technology.  Video is extremely important to facilitating clear and consistent communication with the remote team.  Conference rooms should be outfitted with camera and conference phones/omnidirectional microphone.

  • Computers for the entire team should have cameras or be able to connect to cameras.  "You want to make sure that the remote team can easily communication with anyone else in the company," counsels Schlundt.

  • Larger team or company meetings are considerably more effective with video.  Make sure that when there are larger gatherings that they can be broadcasted in a video conference. For larger meetings you will want to find a speaker phone/omnidirectional microphone that works well in those types of spaces.

  • When evaluating video conferencing services, make sure you find one that works well with your team size.  You will want to be able to have everyone join and share video and not all video conferencing services handle group video well.

  • Text chat tools like Slack or HipChat can quickly replace emails as the primary mode of text based communication for remote teams - you will need to think about how you can effectively search and archive important information that is shared.  

  • Being able to collaborate on shared documents is another important consideration.  Tools like Google Docs are great for remote teams and work well with video conferencing.  Make it as easy for a remote team member as an in office team member to work with shared documents/spreadsheets/presentations.  

Nailing Remote Workforce Culture

  • It is extremely important that your company culture is carried by the remote team.  If there are awards, ceremonies or activities that are happening, find ways to have the remote team participate.  There can be very creative ways via video that this can be done.

  • Bring the entire team together at least twice a year.  Plan special activities to help remote and in office team members bond and make sure there are strong cultural components included in that time together.  Schedule those times months in advance to help ease the burden of planning travel and time away from home.

  • Have other members of the in office team experience working remotely.  It helps build empathy for the remote team and can help surface issues and possible improvements.

Published on: Dec 23, 2017