Remoter Podcast

Managing remote-first teams part 2 - present day edition

Episode Summary

Today, an important part of managing remote-first teams is to trust your team. As a leader, micro-managing and tracking everything they do isn't a healthy nor desired approach. In this episode, we discuss performance-based management (PBM) and a couple of ways to go about it- with OKRs, KPIs, and for Torre, our daily stand-ups.

Episode Notes

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A big thank you to our post-production wizard, Vanesa Monroy.

Episode Transcription

[A moderately paced, trip hop song that is best described as chill and cruising. Synth and techno drums are the primary instruments in this track. This is our podcast background music, it starts playing at the very beginning]

Andres: 00:00 Hi, I'm Andrés.

Josephine: 00:04 And I'm Josephine. Welcome to the Remoter Podcast.

Andres: 00:07 Follow us on season one of this journey as we cover anything and everything you need to know in order to successfully build and scale a remote first team. As someone who's been working remotely for over a decade, our CEO, Alexander Torrenegra shares his personal experiences, lessons learned and advice for those of you who are curious and interested in exploring the future of work.

Josephine: 00:33 This podcast is brought to you by Torre, the end to end recruitment solution for Remoters. Get our free AI powered sourcing and processing tools, or let Torre recruit on your behalf at Torre dot co, that's T O R R E. Dot. C O.

[Music stops playing]

Andres: 00:52 Josephine, how would you like to be managed as if you were a Kiwi Campus robot? Like the ones we discussed on the last, on the last um

Josephine: 01:00 Like you mean if I was the actual robot?

Andres: 01:04 Yeah. If instead of you having the, the leadership structure and the, you know, tools we have for management at Torre, um you were managed as if you were, you know, the robot on the, on the street. And we will monitor everything you do and we will see your screen and watch everything you do. How do you feel about that?

Josephine: 01:21 Well, if I was a robot, like Wall-E for example and with emotions and all, I would not really like that. I don't, I don't want someone monitoring my every movement and every but, but at the same time, that's the whole point of the Kiwi Campus robots. They have to be monitored because they have to someone has to make sure they're going the right way. Someone has to make sure that they're not, like they haven't fallen, they couldn't get up, you know? So that's a tough question. But if I were, if I were a robot with emotions, I would not want to be monitored.

Andres: 01:58 Well, you are not a robot and you do have emotions.

Josephine: 02:01 As a human being. Yes. And I don't want to be monitored.

Andres: 02:05 Okay. So in this episode we're going to be talking about managing remote teams, which is quite challenging. But on the same token, I feel it's the way to manage teams anyway. We're going to be going deep into performance driven management and a little bit of the issues of managing with other management styles as well. So I hope you, I hope you enjoy this and I hope you never have to work as if you were a robot.

Erik: 02:31 So Alex, you have a team that's completely remote. You can't manage just by walking around, the classic sort of thing and all that. How do you make it work?

Alex: 02:39 Actually you you could, okay, virtually walk around. I mean there are some companies where they monitor the remote employees by taking screenshots of the computer.

Andres: 02:49 I wouldn't be able to work there.

Alex: 02:53 Well there is a very, I'm not going to mention the name, but there is a very large marketplace out there for finding freelancers who has a business model, heavily depends on that service on, on their system, capturing screenshots of the people that you hire through the system so that you can verify that they actually worked and you pay them. I don't believe that's the way to go. I do believe that it's significantly better when you do performance based management, or outcomes based management/leadership, and this depends a lot on what kind of company you have. What the size of the company, what you're building, what you're offering. If you're doing consulting, it is one way, if you are doing a start up with a product, it is a different way.

Alex: 03:36 If you have a scale up, it's a different way and there are many, many tools out there for the scale ups that we have. We use for example, OKRs, we use KPIs. Every person in the team has one or several KPIs. Every team has KPIs, the company has KPIs and with OKRs. And individual team and company levels and sub team levels as well.

Erik: 03:56 But it has to be measurable in some way.

Alex: 03:58 Yeah, it has to be measurable and traceable. Okay. And you need people that are motivated and happy with that kind of leadership. Not everyone definitely is, is happy with performance based management, but I believe that most creative people are, because it helps them keep on track and, and push themselves to to be the best they can. One of the roles that is the most difficult to track based on performance is engineers, is software developers.

Alex: 04:29 It's very difficult to put a KPI. We have tried to put KPIs, we have tried to put like, how many points do you develop? We have tried to measure the number of hours that the person was actually using the software that it should be used to code. We also have made management tools in which you compare the number of code lines that a person has created versus the code lines that other members of the team have created. And based on that we kind of determine how well you are doing or not. And all of them has been a waste of time. After years of experimenting with different things, I'm happy with the way that we are doing at right now. And the way we do it, it's we measure two things on engineers primarily. One is, "to what degree they hit their estimates" and B, "how many rounds of back and forth it requires for the product designer to sign off their work after they have released their work live."

Erik: 05:33 Okay. So how good it was right out of the box when they...

Alex: 05:36 Yes, indeed. Indeed. So the way we do this is, every morning we have what we call a daily or, or a stand-up. And we work remotely and some of us stand up, some of us, some of us don't. It's a meeting where we review what all of the other members of the team did the previous day as self reported by them. What they missed and what they are expected to complete the current day. We also add a couple of other questions, some of them philosophical, like what could make you faster, or did you have conversations with other members of the team that you should share with other members of the team for them to be on the same page, et cetera. But the most important questions are the ones that I, that I just mentioned. Now we don't want engineers to hit their estimates all the time because if they do, that means that they are overestimating significantly the amount of time it is going to take them. Nor we want them to miss their estimate all the time. I try to find a sweet spot of somewhere between 66 and 75%.

Erik: 06:43 Okay.

Alex: 06:44 I do have a person every week, the number of times each member of the team hit their goals the previous day during that week. So that gives me an average, a weekly average and a monthly average of that. Then we also measure the, very systematically, the number of QA, what we call QA or sign off rounds and we also report them on a weekly basis. And those numbers, are enough to know to what extent the person is doing a good job and for them to push the envelope as well.For them to try to get done as much as they can with the best quality they can.

Alex: 07:16 With the daily structure that we have is, when you start working, the first thing you have to do is you answer the questions of the daily on a daily channel that we have in our chatting tool. That is the questions that I mentioned. You write them down. And then at 6:30 AM Pacific time, we have that meeting. I try to wake up really early so that I don't end up blocking them by having their daily standup late in the morning. Then the first 15 minutes of that meeting, it's reading what everybody else wrote.

Erik: 07:46 Okay.

Alex: 07:47 Then, you write down ideas, comments, questions, things you could help your members of the team, down. And after everyone has read that and we ask who has topics, who has questions, who has comments? And then we go, we try to limit it to 15 minutes. So it's very quick. I mean 30 minutes is the entire meeting. So the area where we end up commenting back and forth, it's around 15 minutes max. We try to go through everyone that had a comment or a question or something like that and that's it. And it's really cool. We get to see everybody's face. It's funny because I mean for me, I always on my PJ's of course it's 6:30 AM and it's actually a good way of telling people, you know, don't worry about how you look on the webcams so much, right? It's okay, you're working from home or, or maybe you work out of a co-working space, but you decide to join the daily from your home before you take a shower and then go to the office. Whatever you pick your, your schedule. You can see we always have like a three month test period for new members of the team. During those first three months, they are always very sharp in those, in those meetings, well-dressed, recently showered, but as soon as they pass the test period, you start to think that they forget about how their hair looks and, and if that was so yeah, that meeting is a, it's quite a collection of a bad hair days.

Andres: 08:59 Uh one, one thing that's important about the standups, it's as the team grows, it's going to start being hard to have daily standups with, I dunno, 15, 20, 30 people, I don't think it's going to be possible. One thing that we do to save a lot of time is we keep the topics that are for one person or two people max in threads within the chats that we do because we have a, a channel in which everyone puts the dailies, we can comment or threads or thread each of the, of the dailies of all of our colleagues. And then we can go into details of questions or topics when, when it's a one or two person kind of kind of situation. And in the other hand or something else that's important about this is we're going a little bit deep here, but I want to give you the details of how we do it. If there's a topic that it's more than two people, but it's again, not the entire company, or not relevant for the entire company, then usually what we do is we keep them for the, for the end and just ask those, those individual members of the team to stay in the call a little bit after the, you know, 7:00 AM mark, which is usually when we end, when we end, when we end the calls. Another thing interesting about the dailies, is something, this is, this is kind of secret, but it's something quirky and geeky that we do. Uh and it's our war cry. I don't know if you know this by the way. We do something that's our war cry and basically a war cry, it has a structure in which someone of the team someone that accomplished these goals the previous day, volunteers to, to ask a question. And the question usually comes into format of, "so team to be able to" and then do something or accomplish something. And then the, "are we ready?" right?

Alex: 10:32 We can just demo it.

Andres: 10:34 Wait. Yeah. Well let's, today, we are going to demo it for you, Erik. This is an exclusive.

Alex: 10:38 Team to make this podcast kick ass, are we ready?

Alex and Andres: 10:41 BORN READY!

Alex: 10:41 And that's how we finish our daily meetings.

Andres: 10:48 So it's, it's very, I think it's very geeky when I do it. And when I'm boarding planes and I'm on the tarmac and we're aware about to take off and I'm shouting, "born ready," people look weird at me, particularly in the U.S. But, but it's fun. It's fun. It's something fun to do.

Erik: 11:03 What's really neat about what you've said though, is you start with a written description. So you're, you're alone and thoughtful. Just like the asynchronous brainstorming is a feature of remote work. But then you end the meeting being totally together, united as a team. So you start out thoughtful and then you become energized I guess.

Alex: 11:21 Yeah. I have not thought about that flow in particular. I think. I think that's right. And by the way, the reason we do it like that is because people read four times faster than what they listened. So if I had to wait for other people to tell me what they did to answer those questions, it will take approximately three times as long for the meeting to be completed. So it's much faster for people just to, it takes longer for them to write it, but then it's much faster for the rest of the team to read it. And we that we can have dailies. Right now, our dailies are 18 people and I think we are hitting the limit, like 20 people max. Traditionally, a spoken standup daily meeting, you cannot have more than 10 because of that. It becomes too long.

Erik: 12:04 And you know what I also like about that is when you're working with people for whom they're working in their second language, you know, whatever it might be, have taking the time to sit down and write it makes it a lot more understandable. You don't have the accent, you can just get past it.

Alex: 12:19 You just have to have people from different cultures, even if they have English as their native language and it might become a bit difficult to make sense out of everyone. Right. That's true. Even within the U.S., you have to have people from some of the different states in here and it might be difficult for some of them to understand each other.

Erik: 12:36 Why don't you catch a New York accent? Yeah, forget about it.

Andres: 12:39 Oh Jesus. That was really hard. And particularly if you're like me and you'd like to talk a lot and then you extend and extend what you're saying, Jesus. Yeah. It's complicated.

Alex: 12:49 Makes you for a good podcaster. It doesn't make it for a good member of a daily stand up. This is spoken, right.

Andres: 12:55 We, in the other companies of the holding, I think they, I think that just out of joke in there in one of their stand-ups or something where a bunch of them, I don't know if they do it regularly, but once I was visiting them and they change the, "Are we ready? Born ready!" for , "Arewe were ready? Not ready!" And then, and then just because they were making fun of us, right. Because they were making fun of our, our war cry, they bonded. Like they felt more bonded cause they had like a common enemy, which was the "born ready." But yeah, I don't know if you knew that.

Alex: 13:24 Yeah, no actually there are studies that have shown that when people chant together, when they sing together, they bond more and it's easier for them to accomplish team tasks. So there is some science behind it.

Andres: 13:37 I'll explain the science to my fellow travellers in the next plane I shout and yeah.

Alex: 13:43 You can go around with the little pieces of paper that explains what you just did.

Andres: 13:46 This hasn't happened to me yet, but I've seen that people are starting to prepare like bags with like candy and earplugs and gum when they have a baby, right. So, so they give it out to people in the airplanes when they're flying, when they're flying. And they're like, "My baby's probably gonna cry a lot. I'm sorry. But you know, this is what happens." I think I'm going to have to prepare my own bag of candy. I'm probably going to shout in the middle of the airplane. You know, I have a daily stand up. This is how it works. Awesome.

Erik: 14:14 Born ready, woo-hoo!

Andres: 14:14 Born ready... Yeah, it's pretty geeky.

[Podcast music background track - stinger]

Andres: 14:26 Josephine, you have been to, I think four weeks, almost four weeks of dailies. How have they been so far for you?

Josephine: 14:34 Well, I remember the first one that I ever attended. I was taken aback because I was like, what is going on? And then all of a sudden everyone's like blarblabralbrr, static. Cause everyone's saying it at the same time. The, born ready that was mentioned.

Andres: 14:48 The war cry.

Josephine: 14:49 With the, yeah. So I at first I was a little bit shy and I was like, ah, do I really want to say this? But now I'm into it. It gets it, it gets us laughing. It gets us smiling, it lightens the mood and everything to start the day. And I think it's a really positive way to start the day.

Andres: 15:09 Yeah. It's kinda ridiculous. As I was saying when, when I have to do that and I'm on a plane.

Josephine: 15:13 Yeah.

Andres: 15:14 But re-regardless, I'd like to hear from the audience. I'd like to hear how you guys manage you know, your day to day, how you get aligned and if you ever do quicker things like we do when you remote routine.

Josephine: 15:25 And also if anyone wants to for some reason, join our dailies, let us know at you can sign up and we'd love to get you in on one of them.

Andres: 15:35 So Josephine, to have a bunch of people joining our dailies. Are we ready?

Jo & Andres: 15:40 BORN READY!

Josephine: 15:42 Sorry I had to move back a bit for the microphone, but I will see you next week on our next episode.

[Cue podcast background music track, same one used in the introduction]

Andres: 15:52 Thank you so much for tuning in. A few last words, if you enjoyed that episode, please...

Josephine: 15:57 Follow us on social media at Remoter Project and let us know what you think about the latest episode.

Andres: 16:02 We'd love for you to join us as we continue building the remoter library on our website, That's R E M O T E

Josephine: 16:11 If you want even more resources, sign up for our free Founding and Growing remotely online course. You can find out on our website or check the description for links. Don't forget to follow and subscribe to us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, SoundCloud, wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Andres: 16:27 And remember, we're here to make work fulfilling. So I'd like to ask you, what part will you play in shaping the future of work?