Home What Engineering Leaders are Doing to Boost Their Teams’ Well-Being and Productivity While WFH

What Engineering Leaders are Doing to Boost Their Teams’ Well-Being and Productivity While WFH

Since March, much of the workforce has shifted to a remote work environment in accordance with social distancing recommendations. According to PwC’s Workforce Pulse Survey, companies’ COVID-19 safety measures are now table stakes. Working remotely may be a reality for the foreseeable future, as many employees are not confident that safety measures like mandatory testing, shut-down protocols, hygiene policies, and contact tracing, will keep them safe. Only 36% of the 150+ developers Coderbyte surveyed said that they are eager to return to the office.

Regardless of what the future of work holds, engineering leaders are adapting how they manage and hire remote development teams. For those that have been furloughed or laid off, now is the time to reinvent habits and skills for a new economy. 

I talked to six uplifting engineering leaders from Lambda School, Friendbuy and others to understand their perspectives and recommendations on how to keep moving forward during this radical shift in the way we work.

Engineering leaders

Increasing productivity and maintaining focus while working remotely

“Organizing chaos, which is also one of Lambda School’s values, has allowed me and my teams to continue to be productive when so many operating procedures have changed. Since we no longer have the benefit of nudging the person sitting next to us and seeking help, we need to ensure that help is available when needed. Improving our documentation and making it discoverable is one of the best ways to make this happen. I encourage my teams to create new documentation as much as possible and update the existing ones. This has allowed us to ensure smooth onboarding of new hires, properly manage projects and project status, consistently document and update tribal knowledge, run efficient processes, and more without the luxury of nudging your neighbor.”
– Himanshu Gahlot

“There are many things that I take advantage of in order to stay up-to-date with engineering trends. It’s about having a mindset of learning and constantly improving. I’ve found that when you have that attitude, your brain automatically picks up information when you least expect it. For example, when browsing LinkedIn for potential candidates or scrolling through Twitter, I might come across an article on tech or process improvement or notice what the people I follow are liking or retweeting. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have built strong relationships with some of the best engineering minds in the industry. I’m frequently in touch with them and we discuss engineering related topics often. It’s become a great source for me to dig deeper into things that I either find interesting or help me solve a problem. Other than that, I follow the Software Engineering Daily podcast. I regularly visit the engineering blogs of companies with strong engineering cultures to see how others are solving their problems.”
– Nimish Parmar

“I’ve invested in improving my workspace to help me with productivity and health. Because of the lack of activity, I’ve got both a standing desk and an ergonomic chair. I’ve also created a workspace separate from where I rest in order to keep things organized and disciplined.”
– Arjun Srivastava

Improving morale and maintaining culture

“I’ve been spending more time implementing ways to boost team morale during quarantine. To that effect, I have been collaborating with other engineering leaders in the company to organize virtual outings (e.g. GoGame virtual game), virtual happy hours, making meetings more fun and useful for the team by altering meeting agendas to include topics that interest the team, and so on. I think these are some of the most worthwhile investments I have made professionally, which are already showing positive outcomes in the form of improved team health and vibe as measured by regular team surveys and feedback.”
– Himanshu Gahlot

“Home Partners is driven extensively by social interaction and networking between employees.  With social distancing and the complete work from home roll-out, our company took several steps to ensure continuity of such culture:

  • Several virtual clubs were created on Microsoft Teams for people to share their off-work activities during quarantine.
  • Every day, there’s a company-wide email sent out called “Daily Dose” with internet memes and other satirical pictures/videos on the current situation.
  • None of the company-wide all hands were canceled; all of them regularly happened virtually.
  • The company continued to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestone events for employees once a month virtually.
  • Individual groups organized virtual happy hours and social connecting events like game evenings.
  • In the absence of face-to-face connection, the number of meetings and stand-ups went up in order to over-communicate daily work activities.”
    – Anshul Agarwal

“We have a distributed team that’s spread out across the world, including Uruguay, Philippines, and Egypt, which comes with added challenges when not everyone has met each other in person. When we first started our virtual weekly coffee hour, the turn out wasn’t great. Then we assigned someone to plan a few questions and games for each session, which helped everyone to open up. Now people volunteer to help with any planning, and it’s something everyone looks forward to every week. The company can plan structured events first, and if employees enjoy it, they’ll want to keep it going themselves.”
– Dan Zhou

“We believe that company culture is a set of beliefs and behaviors that we embody every single day. In that regard, nothing’s changed. However, we’re communicating and collaborating a lot more across the board to make sure that we’re upholding our values consistently. We host virtual happy hours within the company regularly. We’re also trying out virtual events via Offsyte.co
– Nimish Parmar

“Although our company structure adopted remote working long before quarantine, we would usually have in-person team dinners, outings and gatherings to bring everyone together and allow human connection. During quarantine, Biscuit & Chai is maintaining this by having the occasional team lunch delivered to everyone with a zoom meetup where we all take a break and just talk about fun things, creating slack channels to share fun memes and/or just talk about hobbies, interests, ideas and support, and we are even planning a group virtual karaoke.”
– Arjun Srivastava

“We try to have video chats to mimic face to face conversations very often, as well as doing group activities like physical exercises over a video call. The tech team is usually on group calls from morning to evening to mimic the environment of the office. This isn’t a must or only to discuss work but also to joke with each other and have random conversations like we usually would have in the office.”
– Kushal Patel

Installing feedback loops for continuous improvement

 “As an engineering leader, it is very important for me to gather feedback from my team on how they are feeling about their work, peers, manager, etc. With the transition to fully remote work, it has become a bit difficult for managers to understand the vibe in the team because you may not get to meet with your team members outside of explicit meetings. We no longer have hallway conversations and there are no morning greetings or team lunches or coffee breaks or one-off conversations. Chat/text based conversations are often not enough to understand the true feelings and may lead to misunderstandings. Therefore, a manager needs better ways to understand the general vibe in the team. I have started relying, now more than ever, on team surveys, feedback, and sprint retrospectives to understand my teams’ health and take proactive actions on issues reported by the team. While team surveys and sprint retrospectives have always been part of my management strategy, my reliance on them have increased a lot more in this transition to fully remote work. I use officevibe.com and retrospect.team for team surveys/feedback and sprint retrospectives, respectively.”
– Himanshu Gahlot

One of the best investments I’ve made for my team during quarantine is to allow them more time for their personal and professional growth. I rolled out a growth plan program for my team where I conducted individual sessions with my reports to understand their growth needs, chart out a plan of activities they’d like to pursue, and plan how they could accelerate some of the growth items during quarantine with additional time available. My team, while delivering on the business requests and regular project work, is now also able to focus on skill development personally driven by them.”
– Anshul Agarwal

Advice for developers looking for jobs during the pandemic

“One of the most important skills that companies seek in software engineering candidates is their algorithmic and coding ability. Job seekers should continue to refine this skill. This can be achieved in various ways, including but not limited to, enrolling in relevant online courses, sharpening their coding skills through LeetCode/GeekForGeeks, learning skills which are most relevant for today’s job market by enrolling in online bootcamps like Lambda School, reading relevant books, and so on.”
– Himanshu Gahlot

“One of the challenges about being furloughed is that you may be faced with the uncertainty of not knowing when your company will bring you back. Everyone’s situation is unique, and some people have immediate responsibilities and need to prioritize finding a new job. But if you have the financial runway, this could be the time to do something you’ve always wanted to do. I have friends and colleagues who are taking online classes with the goal of making a career transition, going back to school for a graduate degree, or even considering starting their own businesses. The opportunity cost has never been lower to try something new.”
– Dan Zhou

“Jobs may not be as easy to come by, so keep yourself occupied and if a job does come your way, do not let the opportunity pass you by, especially if you need to keep yourself moving. Learn a new technology and keep yourself up to date with the latest trends. Also, do what you are passionate about and keep yourself busy, so that you don’t end up with more mental stress. It might also make sense to look for remote opportunities to keep yourself going.”
– Kushal Patel

“There’s no sugarcoating it. Getting let go, laid off or furloughed sucks. A lot! So I’m going to stay away from cliches and keep it real. These are unprecedented times, but at the same time, if you’re an engineer, you have everything it takes to succeed. There might be many reasons for not being fully employed right now, but there’s a high probability that most of them have nothing to do with you or your capabilities. The whole world has been turned upside down. Companies and businesses have to rethink their entire business models. There are countless articles out there to help you prepare, but here are some practical tips from me:

  • Start reaching out to your network immediately, if you haven’t done so already. Reach out to every single person you think could even remotely help you in any way possible. You might have helped others throughout your career, but this is the time to reach out and ask for help.
  • Post on LinkedIn and other social media platforms if you’ve been furloughed. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help you. Random strangers might pass along your profile to someone who might be able to help you in the most unexpected way. Don’t underestimate the network effect. People are a lot more willing to help these days, and every single view/comment/message helps.
  • Practice your interviewing skills. That means not just brushing up on algorithms, data structures and other relevant technical topics, but being fully prepared for all aspects of a technical interview. As a hiring manager, I strongly value drive, hunger and passion for delivering results, a collaborative mindset, clear and concise communication skills and friendly personality. Non-technical skills matter more than you think. Technical skills might be easier to acquire, but acquiring soft skills might be much more difficult.
  • Interview, interview and interview. The more interviews you do, the higher your chances of landing a new career that fits your criteria. Learn from each interview and improve. Put the classic Agile iterative process in action.
  • Above all, have a positive mindset. Engineering skills are very much in demand. Hiring top notch talent is still challenging for companies and you can use that to your advantage.”
    – Nimish Parmar

Predictions about the future of hiring

“Since many companies are going fully remote and most others are planning to provide this as a recommended option going forward, software engineering processes need to adjust themselves to become better compliant with remote work. A few companies like Gitlab and Basecamp have been operating as fully remote companies. They have published extensive guides on how working remotely can be made really efficient. I think, going forward, more companies will start adopting the best practices outlined by these companies. There is still a lot to be seen and learned in this new way of working which will be uncovered when different kinds of companies (e.g. differently sized, different kinds of products, mobile development and testing vs. simple web based products, etc.) start figuring out best practices of remote work that suit them. Fortunately, software engineering is one of the most suitable jobs for remote work, so it would be interesting to see how it tries to achieve the same or better level of productivity as the pre-remote era.”
– Himanshu Gahlot

“The pandemic has proved that technology can keep businesses going even if people are not physically present in their place of work; also, that many sectors and verticals can adopt technology to progress. Thus, the demand for software engineering is going to skyrocket, and remote working will definitely become a more prominent practice. Face-to-face interviews have been replaced with assessment tools leading the process, followed by a video chat to formalize the process. The need for assessment and psychometric tests have become even more important now and are in high demand.”
– Kushal Patel

“The biggest change will obviously be in how teams collaborate. Humans have a tremendous ability to adapt. I wasn’t a huge fan of working from home pre-COVID, but after being pretty much forced into working remotely, I feel like we at Friendbuy have adapted quite well. Besides the Zoom fatigue towards the end of the day, it’s been quite effective. We strongly emphasize the importance of collaboration and communication. Our Slack channels are ever more active. Our communication style has become frequent and impactful.”
– Nimish Parmar

Additional resources

At Coderbyte, we’re committed to helping forward-thinking technical talent acquisition leaders make an impact. We’ve put together a COVID-19 Report & Best Practices Guide based on surveying hundreds of software developers to better understand perceptions about remote work and company culture.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Daniel Borowski is the CEO and Founder at Coderbyte, a leading platform for code assessments and code interview prep. He has worked at leading tech companies including MongoDB, Meetup, and Buzzfeed.

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