Since Pinpoint was founded, a large percentage of our team has worked remotely. As many other companies now find themselves making an unplanned, rushed transition to remote-only teams, we wanted to share some reasons why we love working remotely and what works for our team — as well as some of the areas are continuing to work on. 

There are clear benefits to working remotely, especially for software engineers who require long stretches of uninterrupted concentration for “deep work.” In addition to boosting productivity, working remotely has been proven to have additional benefits, such as:

  • Reduces your company’s carbon footprint by reducing the number of cars on the road
  • Extends your hiring pool outside of a specific region
  • Improves employee satisfaction due to more flexibility and a better work/life balance 

Regardless of the benefits, there still remains a stigma and difficult challenges around a remote work culture at many companies. Some of the primary challenges that companies experience include:

  • Maintaining collaboration and communication between teams
  • Keeping work progressing 
  • Improving team morale and dynamics 

At Pinpoint, our team of developers, data engineers and data scientists live and work around the globe, though our headquarters is in Austin. Some of our team does work in the Austin office, but those team members are the minority — and their physical location has no influence on how productive they are. We proactively take steps to keep teams connected, avoid burnout, and work together on moving work forward. 

Before we dive into what does work for us, there have been some unexpected challenges that we’ve encountered as we have transitioned into a fully remote team — sharing your office space with a new “assistant to the regional manager,” also known as kids who have been displaced from school. This highlights one thing that is very different about the current ‘remote’ transition and everyday remote workers: most people who regularly work at home have childcare or school-age children, as well as an established routine.

wfh-slack


Bringing Remote Teams Together 

A big area of focus for remote teams is how to emulate some of the benefits of working in the same physical location, such as real-time collaboration and culture building.  

Here are the things we’ve done to build a company culture and create a ‘team’ feeling, even when we’re not in the same physical space. 

      • War rooms: This is our term for our dedicated Google Hangouts — we have one each for our development and production environments. This gives team members an easy way to check in with other team members.  
      • Company retreats: We are a team of engineers and sales shouldn’t have all the fun. Twice a year, we host a week-long all-company retreat. At the retreats, we bring together employees from across the globe to completely unplug from the day-to-day to focus on teambuilding, revisiting our mission and goals for the year and host a hack-a-thon.   
      • Lunch and learns: Every Friday, we have one team member give an hour-long training to the rest of the team. It can be technical or business-related, and can be directly related to something we’re working on at Pinpoint or something of more general interest.  
      • Virtual happy hours: This gives us a way to connect virtually with everyone on the team and see everyone’s home office set-up, meet kids and pets, and chat. It’s like a regular happy hour — no agenda, more personal than work-related — but held over video conference. 
Virtual Happy Hour

 

Ensuring an Individual’s Success 

Remote or not, engineering managers have the responsibility to set engineers up for success. Since we can’t meet around the watercooler or grab a cup of coffee with individual team members, we have to look for other ways to have the same types of conversations. Here’s what we do:

  • Weekly 1:1s: We use 15five to have weekly conversations about how team members are doing and to make sure no one has frustrations or bottlenecks that need to be addressed. 
  • Remote office setup: Some of us have spent most of our careers working remotely, and we proactively encourage information and resource sharing among team members about office set-up, office furniture, tools and other tips for success with remote work. 
  • Flexible work hours and unlimited PTO: Flexibility is one of the big advantages of remote work, and we ensure everyone has access to flexible hours that we think makes everyone more productive.  

Using Data to Track Our Progress

We are fundamentally a data-driven company, and we think data is important for all companies. We also believe that using data or metrics in isolation, especially for performance comparisons, is a fool’s errand. We use only meaningful metrics across our teams, regardless of work location, to ensure we are making progress towards our goals. To us, “meaningful metrics” are not just basic roll-ups of data like the number of issues in the backlog or lines of code. We look for insights by evaluating many data points in context so we can understand what is working and what isn’t. 

A unified view of activity from across all the systems used to build software helps our teams better understand what work has been completed and what work needs their attention. They can see activity streams from fellow team members related to their own issues and can quickly jump back into work even if they are in a different time zone or stepped out for lunch. 

Reviewing trends in key metrics, such as cycle time, helps us understand if there are outliers or disconnects in process, scoping issues, or architectural problems that we fix to improve our workflow. 

Here are some additional posts that help illustrate how we use metrics across engineering teams:

Tools We Use

Building a remote workforce requires taking proactive steps to build a company culture — but it also requires the right tools. As well as the obvious engineering tools like Jira and GitHub, we use a couple dedicated tools to help us work together remotely. Here are our favorites: 

    • Video: Whether it’s Slack video, Google Hangouts or Zoom, we always use video for our standups and war rooms. Krisp helps improve audio quality on all the video platforms. 
    • Slack: Real-time collaboration on work, just staying in touch, and building culture is crucial to building a team. We have non-work channels such as #family and #goodreads to share updates about things that matter to us beyond the day-to-day project work. This is a good way to get to know each other in the same way we would if we could easily grab coffee together in a physical office.
    • Pinpoint: We are fortunate enough to get to build a product that helps us in our everyday work. We use Pinpoint during our standups to see an aggregated view of pull requests and issues and examine any work that needs attention so we can build a game plan for the day in real-time.  
    • Notion: A platform for keeping, sharing and organizing notes. This helps us keep track of what we agree on during calls; it’s easier than just keeping everything in Google Docs, especially when we need to find something. 
    • 15five: A general platform for driving productive 1:1s, we rely on 15five to make sure team members stay engaged, no matter where they work. 

Engineering organizations are lucky, in some ways — there are plenty of professions that are not possible to do remotely. As long as organizations proactively create opportunities for engineers to collaborate easily, build real rapport with their team members, and work towards individual and team goals, a remote workforce can be at least as productive and happy as (if not more than) an in-person one. 

Now that you’re ready for that productive remote life, let’s get back to the best part of working remotely: the cats.

Cat coworker


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