Managing remote engineers effectively comes with a host of considerations. Here are six to keep in mind
Dear 2020, we’d like our deep work back.
Our shift to remote work in 2020 moved the majority of face-to-face interactions into screens. Although initially we assumed this shift was a temporary adjustment, most of us now realize it’s just the opposite. Twitter, Facebook, Shopify, Slack, Box and more have publicly declared remote work is here to stay and they are not alone—84% of businesses now report they will increase remote work post-COVID-19 pandemic.
With our new reality came next-level distractions—homeschoolers, playful pets, social unrest and, oh yes, a scary global pandemic. Moreover, the lockdowns rewired our collaboration habits, stretched our bandwidth, and threatened our ability to focus on our best work.
As a result, managers—the forgotten middle of the workforce—are emerging as quiet heroes fighting to protect team effectiveness. At Uplevel, we’ve worked with engineers nationwide and have learned the top ways that managers can help their engineers empower their best work:
Mind the Meetings
Engineers want their managers to protect their time for deep work. They are constantly bombarded with changing priorities that require endless meetings, crushing their ability to dive in, solve problems and innovate. How bad is it? Of the 250 engineers and managers we interviewed, 50% of individual contributors reported that more than twice a week they don’t have enough time to do their work, with 19% of engineers reporting it’s an issue every day. Bottom line: If a meeting “coulda been an email,” make it so.
Say No to Micromanagement
Nobody likes the helicopter parents of work. The constant hover erodes trust, destroys morale and slows down otherwise efficient, effective people. Top performers will tell you, autonomy contributes to their overall happiness at work, and research continually tells us that happy employees are more productive and they stick around longer. Instead of spinning on the minutia, make it your mission to block distractions and tackle bottlenecks for them so they are empowered and available to do their best work. More than one-third—39%—of engineers are blocked on issues they can’t unblock themselves at least once a week. That’s a weekly chance to free your team to do their best work.
For the sake of protecting “the flow,” it’s a good time to go with the flow, too. Overly structured, old-school project management must give way to the fluid, flexible tools empowering us to get work done anytime, anywhere. Embrace a project management style that is as fluid as your team’s changing priorities and consider light-touch micro check-ins that leave room to revisit the game plan weekly.
More Comms, Not Less
Right now, it’s easy for individual contributors to feel both socially and professionally isolated. As a result, their confidence waivers and paranoid flares as they question whether their contributions make an impact or get noticed at all. Now is not the time to back off of communications. Don’t confuse this with “respecting personal boundaries.” If you’re worried that communicating will somehow exert unintended pressure, simply establish clear expectations and model them by example. A simple way to lean into communications is to make them more frequent, much shorter and less formal. By acting more like a coach than a manager, you’ll not only keep the team focused on the right tasks but you’ll also show them you care about their well-being beyond “the work.”
Lead By Example
The quickest way to zap trust and kill morale is by ignoring your own rules. Engineers want their managers to lead by example and consistently exhibit the same behaviors they expect from their teams. If it’s respecting work/life balance (and refraining from midnight emails), don’t hit the send button until it’s time. If it’s a commitment to stay present during group meetings, stop multitasking. If it’s a promise to wear pants on Zoom calls, put your pants on. You get the point: Don’t create rules for remote teams that you’re unwilling to follow yourself.
Create Opportunities To Connect
You’ve heard it time and again since March: We’re in this together. It’s true. No one rolled into the pandemic with a playbook; managers and their teams are winging it. Forced isolation is not a normal human state and it shows. Across the country, doctors report more cases of depression, domestic violence and substance abuse. In fact, a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the pandemic is taking its toll—45% of adults say this pandemic has affected their mental health. Another study by mental health provider Ginger found 69% of employees admit this pandemic has been the most stressful time of their career. How can you help? Use this collective behavioral beta test as an opportunity to show empathy and connect. Are team happy hours gone? Replace them with the dogs and cats of Zoom at the beginning of your weekly meeting. Are team lunches no longer doable? Have virtual outdoor picnics and encourage your team to get some fresh air. Be creative—it’s a great time to rally around the things that connect us as humans, not just teammates.
Thanks to the COVID pandemic, 64% of us now commute from our beds to our home office (or the kitchen table, or sofa). That’s a ninefold increase in four months. As it turns out, many of us don’t mind the change. A full 60% of us would actually prefer to keep it this way. If our engineering teams stay virtual, it’s our job to empower them so that remote work can still bring about their best work. As we embrace this ever-changing world, now is the time to tap into our empathy and communication and leverage the data and technology available to us to ensure we turn hardship into innovation.