Cracking the Code for All-Remote Engineering Teams
Engineers from across the world have long dreamed about joining a Silicon Valley start-up. Until recently this dream was unattainable unless you lived in the Bay Area. Prior to 2020, companies considered to be the most innovative and tech-forward were still utilizing archaic means of attracting talent. They were recruiting locally and operating out of a physical campus until the pandemic forced a global paradigm shift. Firms that needed engineers didn’t fully embrace the remote distributed model, but instead either established “satellite offices” with fewer opportunities or engaged remote developers to work only on short-term projects.
The evidence points to the fact that remote work is here to stay. A recent Gallup poll found that over half of office workers would leave their current role for a job that offers flexible (at least partial) work-from-home opportunities. Translation: in order to remain competitive as a company, it’s time to fully embrace remote work for all positions — including engineers!
At Ergeon, we’ve operated as an all-remote globally distributed company from the start — but we know that this shift to all remote or hybrid models came suddenly for others. In either case, it can be a challenge to determine how to attract and support remote talent without losing momentum and for engineers to define how they engage in a remote start-up. Not to mention, it can be harder to formalize career growth paths for engineers working remotely.
Ergeon has worked hard to develop a remote model for our engineers that promotes transparency, creativity, growth and career satisfaction. Here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way and tools to incorporate in your toolbox for remote engineers.
From onboarding to company operations, we’ve found that transparency is key. Particularly with a remote model, a conscious effort needs to be made to promote information-sharing and visibility. We have had to constantly ask ourselves how we can make our company resources easier to access and understand.
When a new engineer joins the team, they are paired with a mentor (typically a more experienced engineer) who can help answer questions not covered in the self-study onboarding materials. New engineers also get immediate and complete access to cross-functional company tools and information. To keep this manageable, we have clear and consistent processes to communicate, document decisions and manage work. For example, our team’s Slack channels are organized by area (for ongoing team discussions) and feature (for specific feature questions) and are all public channels instead of direct messages. Hence, relevant discussions are visible to anyone who needs to get a picture of what’s going on. We are also actively avoiding the proliferation of external tools that make it difficult to understand progress across teams. All our engineering teams use Atlassian’s Jira Software to manage workflows, and can easily see the work of any other team members.
To provide a company-wide perspective, we record our previous all-hands meetings and share the most recent ones with new recruits. This way they can gather more high-level context of the business. Our company’s key functional metrics are shared in a weekly recurring meeting that engineers are encouraged to attend. We also document processes and workflows throughout the company in our internal Help Center (wiki) which we custom-built to meet our needs.
Avoid having these information-sharing measures be an ad hoc exercise. We have had to dedicate time and resources to maintaining and improving our organizational transparency.
Did you know that Google News, Gmail and AdSense were all dreamed up and initially developed by Google staffers during scheduled ‘creativity time?’ It’s true. Google made famous the “20% rule”- a business philosophy that basically states that staff should have dedicated time where they can pursue personal creative projects that they think might help the company!
At Ergeon, we’ve incorporated this concept through our Engineering Innovation Days. Our engineers have dedicated time to be creative and develop new tools and processes for the company. Some examples of innovation day projects include our 3D fence modeling tool available to customers on our website, and our highly popular internal cookbook, which re-used the code base for our customer-facing project showcase to publish staff-submitted recipes.
We also empower and encourage everyone to contribute to improving how the team operates. Ideas are suggested in the team Slack channels, and also in our monthly retrospectives where we discuss what worked and what didn’t, capturing insights into action items to be implemented in the next month. We even have a dedicated channel for sharing random tech updates and cool ideas, some of which materialize later as part of our Innovation Days.
The failure to clearly see the potential for career growth can deter new talent from joining your company and prevent existing talent from staying long-term. One of Ergeon’s values is to invest in people, and we invest in our engineers by providing meaningful career advancement opportunities.
Our engineering career ladder is structured, detailed and readily accessible to everyone in the company. By seeing exactly what is expected of an engineer at each level, our team can work with precise expectations and goals in mind. Everyone is held to the same transparent standards, and has the opportunity to grow and take on more responsibility as they meet a set of objective requirements. Mentors, managers and peers provide feedback along the way to ensure each engineer is making progress towards their professional goals.
Our HR team has implemented a quarterly/ bi-annual review process that is based on specific metrics so that it is fair and balanced for all team members. The frequency of these reviews (rather than annual reviews) allows Ergeoneers to be promoted at a more rapid pace.
Growth is not only empowered, but also celebrated. Promotions are rewarded with both a pay raise and a higher share in the company, and they are celebrated in company-wide Slack channels and meetings.
Long-lasting career satisfaction boils down to more than just metrics and completed projects. Our engineering team has put initiatives in place to make sure each member of the team feels truly valued.
The Engineering team has a weekly Slack poll where team members rate how they’re feeling that week on a scale of 1 to 10. Members of the Engineering team also fill out a bi-annual survey to share things like what can be improved about the job, the team and the workflow.
Our engineers are based in places all over the world, including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Uganda, Jamaica, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. The locations of our engineers may be diverse — but the feedback they give on our engineering surveys remains consistently focused on a few key areas:
“Everyone shares the same vision and is dedicated to the mission. This truly creates a family environment where we are all working for each other”
“Ergeon cares about my well-being and my professional growth as an individual”
“Flexibility to choose the tasks and spheres you work with. Freedom to be wherever you want and set-up your own comfortable work schedule.”
Having feedback directly from our engineers helps serve as a barometer for how well we’re doing as a company in creating a positive work environment for our team- and what areas we need to focus on for improvement.
In addition to these engineering-specific items, our engineers can also benefit from our many HR initiatives throughout the year. We have different HR ‘challenges’ each month of the year that focus on the mental, physical and emotional well-being of our Ergeoneers. Ensuring that engineers are engaged in the broader company momentum and goals is a critical part of our team’s success.
Engineering roles were among the first to shift to remote work, but not in a way that maximized value for the engineers or the companies they worked for. The remote model has the added benefit of broadening your hiring pool and increasing your company’s agility- but in order to be truly successful, it needs to be more thought out than simply a video chat every now and then. By focusing on promoting transparency, creativity, growth and career satisfaction, you’ll be able to attract and retain amazing engineering talent.
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