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Building Distributed Engineering Teams

By John Lafleur 3 minutes read

TL;DR: Invaluable tips on setting your team to success as a remote company: “once you have one remote employee, you need to think of everyone as being a remote employee”

Why should have you have a remote team?

  • A significantly expanded candidate pool is a massive leg up on the competition.
  • It enables you to build a more diverse company. Hiring people who have distinct experiences, backgrounds, and cultures becomes more achievable when you look outside of Silicon Valley.

Aren’t Distributed Companies at a Disadvantage?

How can we guarantee a culture that fosters innovation even though employees aren’t in the same room?

Fine-tune your Recruiting Practices

  • When interviewing someone for a position outside of the San Francisco office, we focus on the person’s ability to self-manage, closely followed by concise and fluid communication, self-respect, and respect for others.
  • Whenever we speak with a candidate considering a remote position for the first time, we dive into the process and communicate pitfalls that other remote employees have encountered during their tenure.

Create a Connection

  • Strive to establish a personal connection very early into the process. Put a face to a name as soon as possible. We do this via video interviews and screening calls.
  • We ask new employees to spend at a minimum their first week working in the office.
  • We encourage and provide the means for remote employees to visit the office at intervals that make sense for their respective teams. Once a quarter we get together with the team for a few days to retrospect, share lessons learned, and plan for the quarter ahead.

Communicate Company Values

How to share the company’s core values to people who are not physically present in the shared office space?

  • As it turns out, instilling the company’s and teams’ values onto remote employees is no more difficult than with local ones.
  • Bring people into the office for their first week or two and use this time to review, discuss and most importantly practice these values first-hand.
  • There are cultural differences when you venture out into another country. Honestly, you do not have to go that far, you can find cultural differences between people in San Francisco, New York, and Portland as well, so you’ll have to ensure you handle it no matter what.

Treat Collocated and Distributed Equality

Over the years, I’ve seen and heard about many failed attempts at a distributed workforce from other companies. I can attribute these issues almost exclusively to failing to realize that, once you have one remote employee, you need to think of everyone as being a remote employee.

Virtual Water Cooler

Asynchronous communication allows us to filter distractions. However, it also filters out tonality and spontaneity — which are key components in the way we communicate with and understand others. We encourage virtual water coolers around topics people find interesting.

Focus on “Delivery Teams”

What about productivity? How do we know an engineer is going to be productive if we can’t see them? Hire self-managing people, keep the teams small, and focus on “Delivery Teams.” A delivery team is composed of people with complementing skill sets necessary to ship the product to production.



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