September 8, 2020
How Hotjar, NextMatter, and RemoteMore Build Their Engineering Teams
Many people were forced to switch to fully remote work due to the ongoing health crisis caused by the outbreak of COVID—19. For us at ACELR8, it meant not only helping our clients with adjusting to the challenges of remote hiring but also keeping our amazing community of Talking Talent running. Yesterday, we hosted our very first webinar with the founders of Hotjar, Next Matter, and RemoteMore focused on building remote engineering teams.
Marc von Brockdorff, Co-Founder & Director of Engineering at Hotjar
Our first speaker, Marc von Brockdorff, is a Co-Founder & Director of Engineering at a company called Hotjar that created a set of tools for optimising websites' usability. He and his company have been fully remote for over 7 years.
‘Hire engineers with a high level of self-discipline, great communications skills and a bias for action. In remote environments, it is easy to procrastinate [...], so you need engineers who want to get work done.’
Here are some takeaways from Marc's presentation:
- Communication is the biggest challenge of working remotely. Pre-plan it and have a clear purpose for the messages and calls in mind
- Feeling alone and lost is the biggest difference of working remotely. Make sure that as a leader, you're easy to approach to avoid that.
- Have shared values and mindset of self-discipline, good communication skills, and get your job done
- Be autonomous and self-driven. At Hotjar, squads have full ownership of their areas
- Give clear outcomes as a leader and expect clear outputs from the team.
- Build trust with transparency. Give the company financial and key product metrics regularly and highlight the impact of one's work on the company. Cover not only wins but also failures
Jan Hugenroth, Founder of Next Matter
Next Matter is an early-stage, remote software company that develops a digital operating system for businesses. Jan, combining his passion for business and technology, is building a fully-remote team at his company.
‘You need to focus on the individuals and set the bar high for that individual. That is the only way you can build a system with individuals that work well, the rest will fall into place automatically.’
Here's a summary of Jan's talk:
- Building highly effective remote teams is hard — you have to focus on an individual and set the bar high for them
- You have to make the decision if you're going fully remote — there's not much in-between that works well
- To build a (remote) company you need: a goal and strategy, a team, and a way to connect them in processes and structures
- Build a team of craftsmen/-women for every function. Hire people who take ownership, empower each other, and honour one's craft
- You want to have people that work almost like one-person startups. They will work well as a team too
- Hire the best person only when you're not able to do the job yourself and you know exactly what's needed for the position
- To find the right people, create a signature role description: set clear expectations from the start, set the bar for each job consciously, and refine it be learning from companies that you admire
- Make recruitment personal: make the reach-out messages on LinkedIn stand out, meet with the candidates in-person if possible, and, again, align on the expectations early on
- Have a professional hiring process: learn how to interview remotely, hire only when it's a clear yes, and get feedback to improve the process
- Don't forget to come together in-person for dinners, workshops, and personal interactions
Boris Krastev, Co-Founder of RemoteMore
Our last speaker was Boris Krastev, Co-Founder of RemoteMore, a company that empowers businesses and people in tech to work remotely together. He manages and builds teams spread out over the globe, with the belief that great talent can come from everywhere.
‘Set up your process right, start small, keep iterating and reach world dominance, with people in many organisation all around the globe; you can do great things.’
Here's what Boris had to say:
- Have clear communication and information flows. Make sure that it's easy to communicate within the company and to find relevant information
- Encourage everyone to take ownership of their projects
- Have at least 4 hours of overlap if you work in multiple time zones
- Lastly, start small and keep reiterating your processes.
For some practical tips:
- Have Slack always on and use its Status feature to let your colleagues know what you are doing
- Use English to include everyone in the conversation, no matter their language and culture
- Have a distraction-free workspace
- Use professional equipment to avoid unnecessary technical problems
- Have a fast and reliable internet connection
- Digitalise your current processes. Think how can you implement something like a scrum whiteboard into a Trello board
Challenges of working remotely highlighted by Boris:
- It's not clear who is working on what at a given moment. Be sure to build trust and clearly define tasks
- To avoid isolation, communicate with your colleagues more than usual
- Switching-off after work might be a problem. You should set clear boundaries and follow a work schedule.
- If your team is half-remote, half-onsite, be sure to onboard the new employees in your office, have a good conferencing setup, do periodic check-ins, and plan (bi-)annual retreats
We finished the webinar with a Q&A session where all of the attendees were able to ask the speakers their questions via the chat.
How do you onboard remotely?
Marc: Finish onboarding as fast as it's possible. At Hotjar, they want their new engineers to deploy their first line of code during the first day.
Jan: Make sure that everyone comes into the office for the first week so that you can get to know each other. At Next Matter, everyone who joins the company has to create their own onboarding plan, with a clear plan of what they will have done by their first week, the first month, and three months into working in the company.
It’s your responsibility that you’re operational after the first week.
Boris: At RemoteMore, they ask everyone to draw a graph of their life experiences. The ups and downs show what the person has been through.
What are the benefits of working remotely?
Jan: It gives you much more time to build things. It's also valuable for the clients, who can get help no matter what time of the day it is.
Boris: Working remotely brings freedom. It allows you to find talent outside of your location and cultural circle.
Marc: The biggest benefit is in hiring — it opens you to a much bigger talent pool. It also makes the company more optimisation-driven.
How do you include the remote team with the onsite one?
Jan: You need to make a choice between onsite or remote, you cannot have a combination of two different setups. So even if you have a team onsite, you should go for fully remote setup, so communications are clear and concise for the whole team.
Marc and Boris: Mimic the remote processes for the onsite team.
What are the essential steps to take when switching to remote working?
Boris: Move your communication to a tool such as Slack and digitise all of your processes.
Marc: Start slow. It will take some time to get things right. Also, have weekly syncs on the progress of switching to remote.
Jan: Be mindful that you’re switching to remote and everyone is aware of that. It’s more than just changing processes — it’s changing the work environment for everyone in your company.
How do you assist the teams and the leaders with transitioning to remote work?
Boris: Keep everyone socialised. Find online activities that will help your team stick together. Also, clearly define the outcomes of one's work.
Jan: Make sure that everybody and all of the leaders have the toolkit to go remote. Get the toolkit right and then cascade it to the rest of the company.
Marc: It’s good to acknowledge that individuals perform differently. Try something like the user manuals to outline how to work with an employee.