What we can learn about remote engineering from Zapier

You can hire the right people, even if they don’t live where you live.  Zapier publishes a guide to Remote Work, that is one of the most in-depth sources of honest information on remote working that I have found on the web. A must-read for development managers.  I’ve highlighted some important take-aways:

A focus on process

“Process, at a small company, is more about providing a feedback loop so that you can measure progress for both the company and the people in the company.”

Monthly One-on-Ones

Keeps the manager and team members on the same page, and great for informally letting employees know where they stand, and receiving feedback that they would otherwise not give. There are 4 questions the manager asks: “what’s one thing you’re excited about, what’s one thing you’re worried about, what’s one thing I can do better to help him with your job, and what’s one thing you can do better to improve at your job.”

A culture of accountability

They call it “Friday updates”, where every person on the team posts an update about what they shipped. The idea comes from Agile “Sprint Reviews”. In Agile, teams aim for a shippable product that is being built. Part of this is to demo the new features.

Building culture in-person

Zapier aims to bring the team together twice per year. Studies have shown that in-person meeting significantly improves the collaboration of remote teams.  TeamFound recommends one in-person meeting each year, rotating developers, so not the whole team, but one or two members at a time visit the home office.

Trust is the foundation

“Remote teams have to trust their teammates. There is simply no way around it.” Zapier facilitates building trust via a culture of accountability, a major component of which is “Friday Updates”, their version of Sprint Reviews. Also, each teammate shares weekly updates on their internal blog (P2).

“Everyone does support”

Zapier sought-out a way to ground engineers in the needs of customers.  They want to assure feature building isn’t done in a vacuum. They do this by rotating engineers into bug fixing and customer support.

Weekly Hangouts

Enable the team to virtually get together once per week, and do lighting talks, demos, and otherwise share experiences.

Great resources

Checkout the list of resources Zapier highlights from some of the more outspoken managers of remote teams (scroll to bottom).  https://zapier.com/learn/the-ultimate-guide-to-remote-working/how-manage-remote-team/