The Keys to Successful Remote Collaboration Between Product and Engineering Teams

July 24, 2020

Adam Fischer, an executive at Clearcover, never thought he’d miss saying a quick hello in the hallway or tapping a shoulder for a quick breakout session. But then a pandemic struck.

Casual, quick interactions are one of the most anecdotally missed parts about working in an office environment. But they don’t have to be the hardest to replace — they just have to be scheduled. 

Fischer said his team set up all-day Zoom rooms on their calendars, allowing people the chance to pop in and chat. Three other engineering managers across Chicago agree daily meetings are needed for project updates and performance, but also social interactions and a daily laugh, too.  

And like a casual chat in the office, meetings don’t have to be formal. Emphasizing constructive criticism, brainstorming and empathy — especially if technical difficulties arise — allow for coworkers to easily replicate an office atmosphere from their own homes.

 

Adam Fischer
Chief Product and Technology Officer 

At car insurance company Clearcover, Chief Product and Technology Officer Adam Fischer said that, since each scrum team already had a remote member, best practices for digital whiteboarding were already implemented when the company switched to full-time remote. But to replace the hallway hello, all-day Zoom rooms were introduced. 

  

What tools have been most impactful for helping you recreate activities like whiteboarding or sprint planning in a remote setting?

For teams that whiteboard constantly, like our product design team, we ensure they all have iPads with an Apple Pencil. From there, we use Reflector 3 from Squirrels to easily mirror our iOS devices so they can be shared on a Zoom screen-share. We also recently have been leaning into using MURAL, and we were able to run a MoSCoW prioritization meeting for our machine learning team’s Q3 roadmap. Ultimately, we empower our teams to stay productive and work to procure tools that will support their success in collaborating.

 

Retrospectives are the most important practice we have, and they’ve been critical to building our bonds.”

How are your product and engineering teams communicating differently now that everyone is remote, and why?

We were uniquely positioned to handle the switch to fully remote because most of our Scrum teams already had at least one remote member. We already had best practices in place for remote whiteboarding, Agile ceremonies, etc., so the remote switch was seamless. 

We do miss the hallway conversations and the ability to tap folks on the shoulder or do a breakout session. So we’re experimenting with having persistent Zoom rooms where teams can pop in and out to say hello. With the increased use of Slack, we also published a company-wide etiquette guideline that encourages inclusive and considerate conversation. We’re always seeking new ways to enhance our virtual interactions so they feel as personal and friendly as our in-person ones. 

 

What’s the most important practice your team follows to ensure successful remote collaboration between your product and engineering teams? What impact has this practice had on how your teams work together?

Retrospectives are the most important practice we have, and they’ve been critical to building our bonds. Teams need to have the space to have transparent, honest and “blameless” retrospectives, which allows us to discuss openly what is working and what isn’t. We are all trying to figure out this new normal together. Retros ensure we’re meeting on a regular cadence to inspect how our new remote performance is working and how we can improve our ways of functioning. 

 

Joel Binder
Senior Product Manager

For Senior Product Manager Joel Binder, remote work has actually brought his team closer at Pangea Money Transfer. Google Hangouts give coworkers a window into each other’s lives, and Donuts randomly pair virtual coffee dates with people outside their team.

 

What tools have been most impactful for helping you recreate activities like whiteboarding or sprint planning in a remote setting?

We are all Google Hangouts, all the time. While it’s certainly not the same as meeting face-to-face, it’s created windows into our co-workers’ lives that we’ve really enjoyed. We’re all in this craziness together, and overhearing piano practice and watching kids play in the background has built a level of intimacy that couldn’t exist in the office.

Along with Hangouts, we’ve leaned heavily on our pre-pandemic tools for remote collaboration. For brainstorming and other highly collaborative activities, we’ll use Google Sheets and Docs so everyone has the opportunity to contribute. For more structured meetings, like sprint planning, we’ll screen-share the Jira backlog so everyone can align around the work planned.

 

Focus on the fundamentals.”

How are your product and engineering teams communicating differently now that everyone is remote, and why?

Even before we were all remote, we were heavy Slack users. But now that we’re not face-to-face, we’ve made the conscious effort to move more conversations from private or one-on-one chats to public and group chats. This not only gives more people an opportunity to help solve problems; it simulates the “overheard in the hallway” effect that can provide useful awareness for future conversations.

Soon after the stay-at-home order went into effect, we realized there’s no such thing as a casual run-in when working remotely, and we missed having casual conversations over lunch or while grabbing an afternoon snack. We tried casual group happy hours over Hangouts. While it was nice to see each other, it left little room for side conversations. 

In early May, we started using Donut to randomly pair Pangeans for a virtual coffee, and it’s been a hit. I’ve met not only with members of the dev team but also folks from our customer service team, fraud monitoring and even our CEO. It’s been great to hear how everyone’s managing the pandemic and share whatever tips we can. Plus, the extra touchpoints have ensured extra cross-functional conversations that have kept us from getting too siloed.

 

What’s the most important practice your team follows to ensure successful remote collaboration between your product and engineering teams? What impact has this practice had on how your teams work together?

Focus on the fundamentals. Since we all went remote in March, we’ve been sticking to our sprint ceremonies religiously. Although sprint planning and demos have moved from our large conference room to Google Hangouts, we’ve continued to maintain the same cadence and agenda for all sprint meetings. We’ve continued to maintain Jira as the source of truth for all things dev-related, and our daily standups keep us aligned throughout the sprint. By keeping our processes consistent, we’ve been able to maintain stability and predictability in our dev pipeline.

 

Pradeep Keshary, CTO at healthtech company CareAdvisors, said that whether his team is in the office or remote, constructive criticism and being open to new ideas are the keys to collaboration. Using digital tools like Slack, Asana and Trello prior to a full remote move has made communication between coworkers a seamless transition. 

 

What tools have been most impactful for helping you recreate activities like whiteboarding or sprint planning in a remote setting?

Being open to new ideas, sharing constructive criticism and reaching a consensus are the principles our product and engineering teams use to guide conversations, wherever their physical presence may be. 

Our product and engineering teams use Trello to manage sprints, Asana for project management, Slack for messaging and Daily.co for video conferencing. Because these are the same tools we used prior to transitioning, remote work hasn’t been a hindrance to collaboration. The main difference is we now greet each other in meetings with “can you hear me?”

 

Whether during one-on-ones, collaboration sessions or team meetings, it’s important to be empathetic.”

How are your product and engineering teams communicating differently now that everyone is remote, and why?

Now that we’re remote, our teams rely even more on Slack and Daily.co for collaboration. We use Slack to quickly share documents or snippets of code and facilitate light discussion, and we use Daily.co for standups, screen-sharing and sprint planning. An increased reliance on software for communication means we have to be more present. This includes making sure email and Slack notifications are turned on, checking notifications frequently and letting your team know that you are about to step out for lunch. This will decrease the snag that may exist if a question is left unanswered or a pull request has gone unnoticed.

It’s important to be mindful of technical issues that may occur as some of our collaboration tools are undergoing higher-than-usual loads that can result in bugs. For example, for a few days, I stopped receiving channel Slack messages on my laptop, even though I had not changed my notification preferences. One of our engineers had an important question regarding a server’s configuration, and our deployment was delayed because of the unnoticed notification. It wasn’t until I received an “@” mention that the notification was brought to my attention. Be deliberate in checking Slack and your email to make sure nothing has slipped through the cracks.

Because we are expanding our team during this period, we have had to change our onboarding process as well. Previously, a new hire would be able to meet each team member during a companywide lunch, tour the office and set up their desk. Now, our onboarding consists of a Daily.co lunch with the team, a tour of the tools we use for collaborating and providing new team members with home office equipment. Every month, we hold a game night, which consists of playing card games, board games and foosball, all in one night. Now, we can continue the light-hearted trash talking by getting everyone in a Daily.co call while playing Jackbox Party Pack. 

 

What’s the most important practice your team follows to ensure successful remote collaboration between your product and engineering teams? What impact has this practice had on how your teams work together?

Whether during one-on-ones, collaboration sessions or team meetings, it’s important to be empathetic. This practice is at the core of our communication principles. Freely sharing ideas, conducting constructive criticism and reaching consensus are processes that can only be done effectively when we put ourselves in the shoes of others. I have been at companies that attempt to make practicing empathy a policy, such as mandatory all-hands meetings where team members share one thing they are grateful for. However, practices that force every employee to be positive every morning at 9 a.m. will drain them, and some practices are too personal for everyone to share. Although those approaches are well-intentioned, practicing empathy has to be done organically.

 

Technology Manager Vic Emond said scheduled meetings are necessary to check in on co-workers and project status updates at architect learning platform Black Spectacles. However, if there are no major concerns, meetings don’t have to last the entire allotted time.  

 

What tools have been most impactful for helping you recreate activities like whiteboarding or sprint planning in a remote setting?

Screen-sharing is obviously a good substitute for whiteboarding. I personally do some of my sticky note-taking in Photoshop or Illustrator. I just feel really comfortable in those programs, so it kind of eliminates the middleman of whiteboarding, inputting to Photoshop or Illustrator and then sharing with the dev team. Slack is also a great tool because you have an ability to draw with your mouse to circle things, draw and highlight.  

 

We have a regular cadence of really short meetings to keep everyone on the same page.”

How are your product and engineering teams communicating differently now that everyone is remote, and why?

We have heavily scheduled meetings due to the remote environment. We don’t have the ability to turn around and mention something to someone like we would in the office. We have to have meetings set which are 20-30 minutes long. The Slack dial-in feature is a lot quicker and easier, so we’ve adopted that as well.  

 

What’s the most important practice your team follows to ensure successful remote collaboration between your product and engineering teams? What impact has this practice had on how your teams work together?

We have a regular cadence of really short meetings to keep everyone on the same page. The development team has implemented a 15-minute meeting every morning. I ask, “What do I need to get you guys? Am I a blocker?” It’s intentionally supposed to be 15 minutes or less because it’s just a daily huddle specifically for our engineering and development team.

 

Jobs from companies in this blog46 open jobs
All Jobs
Finance
Data + Analytics
Design + UX
Dev + Engineer
Marketing
Operations
Product
Sales
Content
Content
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Design + UX
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Content
new
Black Spectacles
Remote
Marketing
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Developer
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Marketing
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Marketing
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Developer
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Operations
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Developer
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Developer
new
Pangea Money Transfer
Chicago
Marketing
new
Pangea Money Transfer
Chicago
Developer
new
Pangea Money Transfer
Chicago
Developer
new
Pangea Money Transfer
Chicago
Product
new
Pangea Money Transfer
Chicago
Finance
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Finance
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Finance
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Developer
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Operations
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Developer
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Product
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Marketing
new
CareAdvisors
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
CareAdvisors
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
CareAdvisors
Chicago
Developer
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Product
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Design + UX
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Developer
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Product
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Developer
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Marketing
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Content
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Sales
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Design + UX
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Marketing
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Developer
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Developer
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Sales
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Developer
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Content
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Design + UX
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Content
new
Black Spectacles
Chicago
Sales
new
Clearcover
Chicago
Marketing
new
Clearcover
Chicago

Chicago startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Software Engineer Jobs in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Sales Jobs in Chicago