How to Manage Remote Teams [and Help Them Thrive] with Dana Lawson

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Dana LawsonIf you’re in a leadership position in the engineering industry and have suddenly been thrust into working remotely, it may feel like your world has been turned upside down. In this episode of Simple Leadership, Dana Lawson and I discuss a few tips to help you manage remote teams. You want your team to thrive and be successful during a time of great uncertainty.

Dana describes herself as an atypical engineer. She wanted to attend college to be an artist but soon realized the ‘starving artist’ lifestyle wasn’t going to cut it. She took the ASVAB test when she joined the military and scored high in engineering categories. In the last 20 years, she’s worked in every tech position possible—most recently, she is the VP of Engineering at GitHub. Listen to hear her unique story!

Learn how to manage remote teams and help them thrive in this episode of Simple #Leadership with Dana Lawson. #Leaders #RemoteWork #WorkFromHome #RemoteTeams Click To Tweet

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:38] Dana Lawson: from art major to engineer
  • [6:18] How Dana found herself in a leadership role
  • [9:02] Mistakes Dana has learned from throughout her career
  • [12:27] We got to eat dinner at Al Gore’s house
  • [15:48] Tips and strategies for managing remotely
  • [26:38] Don’t forget these aren’t just transactional relationships
  • [30:42] How to onboard a new hire completely remotely
  • [34:45] What happens when the process doesn’t go well?
  • [37:04] Help remote employees advocate for themselves

You have to embrace a leadership mindset

Dana states that “Anybody can be a leader, it’s just how much you wanna unlock it”. She believes it’s an attribute that’s been ingrained in her personality. She’s naturally an A-Type and has never been afraid to speak her mind. In whatever capacity she was working in, she always took the initiative to move the ball forward.

You don’t have to have a management title to be a leader. 

She just believes that some of us gravitate towards being a leader more than others—but that we all have the calling to lead in some way. Dana argues, “Anybody has the ability to go influence change and bring up the people around them to do great things”.

Tips and strategies to manage remote teams

Dana shared some tips she’s learned from a managerial role:

  • Write it down. Have a good practice of writing things down. Track what’s being done throughout the day. Reiterate tasks and instructions multiple times through different modes of communication whenever possible.
  • Form a daily structure for your team and yourself. Don’t stop the practices you already have in place because you suddenly have this new obstacle of working from home. You can still hold the same meetings, just do them virtually.
  • Take advantage of ALL the communication tools available to you. Slack and online chats are great, but if the conversation is going to be longer than 5 minutes, hop in a video chat (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime) or a phone call. 90% of communication is non-verbal and it’s okay to jump from chat to a call.
  • Invest in some camera gear: This is my tip here, but get a decent webcam off of Amazon and use appropriate lighting when using Zoom or other video applications.

To keep things light-hearted—though partially serious—Dana points out that you have be on-point with your emoji game. There’s verbal communication, non-verbal, and emoji verbal. Humans have reverted to Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Oddly enough, each company has its own set of social norms with emojis—so learn quickly.

Dana Lawson—VP of Engineering at GitHub—shares some tips and strategies to manage remote teams in this episode of Simple #Leadership with Dana Lawson. #Leaders #RemoteWork #WorkFromHome #RemoteTeams Click To Tweet

These aren’t just transactional relationships

Don’t forget there are humans on the other side of your communication. How would you interact with someone in the office? What about pleasantries like “Hey, good morning!” or “How are you today?”. Dana points out you can ask about your team’s families, learn about their dog, and keep apprised of their life like you would in the office.

A distributed workforce still needs to feel like they’re part of the office family. Dana points out that you want to build empathy even when you won’t have the physical contact that you would in an office setting. Especially now, with many people working from home due to the Coronavirus, people are anxious. They’re worried about their jobs and their livelihood.

As a manager, you’ll have to learn how to empathize with them and how to quell their fears. You’ll likely have to help them focus on the projects at-hand and iterate that you are in this together. Above all, Dana recommends being realistic about your deadlines. Transitioning into working remotely won’t be 100% smooth and you have to have grace through the process.

How to onboard a new hire 100% remotely

Dana believes the easiest way to onboard remotely is to be completely intentional with everything you do. Schedule every onboarding task and learning opportunity into their calendar Direct them to all of the tools and processes they’ll need. Email them with links to training documents, with a schedule of when to go through them. Dana points out this is a great time to record training videos. It helps break up written policies and gives new hires a face and voice to connect to.

Communication is key during the onboarding process and needs to be even more emphasized with a remote workforce. You can’t just tell them, “Connect with me if you have questions” or “Tell me if you have a problem”. As the manager, it is your job to consistently check-in, ask how they’re doing, and walk them through issues they may run into. Worst comes to worst, you can always push the onboarding process until you have a better system in place.

Listen to the whole episode to hear Dana and I talk about helping remote employees advocate for themselves and hear in detail our discussion on leading remotely and doing so successfully.

Learn how to onboard a new hire 100% remotely from GitHub VP of Engineering Dana Lawson in this episode of Simple #Leadership. #Leaders #RemoteWork #WorkFromHome #RemoteTeamsClick To Tweet

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Dana Lawson

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Your remote team doesn’t consist of transactional relationships. There are humans on the other side of the communication. Dana Lawson and I chat about leadership qualities in this episode of Simple #Leadership with Dana Lawson. #Leaders #RemoteWorkClick To Tweet

Read Full Transcript

Christian McCarrick  

This is simple leadership. Welcome. Thank you to our sponsor, all zero for helping make the internet a safer place by offering identities a service and support. We’re here to learn from New and seasoned technology leaders who all share a passion for improving the craft of technology management. Let’s take a deep dive into management and leadership challenges and best practices specific to Software Engineering and Technology teams. Do you want more engineering management leadership tactics and information? Subscribe at simple leadership.io to receive the latest updates from this podcast. Hi, I’m your host Cristian McCarrick. This is the simple leadership podcast. Welcome back. Today’s guest is Dana Lawson. Dana has 21 years of experience as an engineer and engineering leader. She has worn many hats to complement a product’s life cycle through her leadership roles that helped to envision New Relic and GitHub, where she currently serves as VP of engineering. With a background in Fine Arts. She brings your creative vision to chart new waters and lead the engineering team to the future on today’s show. We discuss an interesting dinner with Al Gore and tips for managers suddenly having to manage remote teams. Dana, welcome to the show.

 

Dana Lawson  

Thanks. I’m excited to be here.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Yeah. For my listeners, where are you actually dialing in from today?

 

Dana Lawson  

I am dialing in from Damascus, Oregon. In Oregon, it’s outside of Portland, Oregon. So in the Pacific Northwest,

 

Christian McCarrick  

excellent. You know, you almost teased it you couldn’t you know, we’ll get to a little bit of remote work later in the show. It could have been from any number of Damascus’s that are out in the in the world, right. But today it’s from Oregon.

 

Dana Lawson  

Today Damascus, Oregon, not as exciting as the other ones.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Yeah. Well, excellent. As I asked all of my guests on the show, if you could just give me a little bit of a brief background kind of what’s your story and how you got to be radar today?

 

Dana Lawson  

I don’t know sometimes I think I’m like the atypical engineer, but then you talk so many engineers and you realize we’re all a typical, so I got my background started in not thinking I was an engineer. I had this dream of being an artist, you know, it was a great conversation. In talking to my parents when I was like, I’m going to go to college for art, and my mom’s like “to paint?” and I was like “and draw!” .Renaissance! But I found very quickly being a starving artist, maybe not the best path long term, and in college I had the opportunity to take some computer assisted graphic and design classes. And this was back when, you know, Microsoft front page and HTML, all the great languages that still exists today. And I took some of those well, long story longer on a whim I joined the US military. It’s kind of a crazy way how I got there, but I went from art school, to the military. In the military, you have to take a test called the ASVAB. And it’s a skills assessment, and I scored really well in science and math and mechanical engineering. And I saw this job come up that said Information Systems operator Analysis and I was like computers need air conditioning. Why join the army and choose a job that needs air conditioning I’m going to be inside. And here I am 21 years later, I’ve been in every kind of position that you can be in for technology system administration, network, Product Management, sales engineering, every bit that you could be in are probably have been in it— support. And so, you know, that kind of windy path of just trying things out being curious and probably signing up for stuff I wasn’t qualified for, you know, you got to do

 

Christian McCarrick  

that certainly applies to myself too. But as long as you don’t think you’re gonna completely crash and burn if you think you have some aptitude to be able to learn the job, we all learn the job. So if anyone thinks that you have to meet like 100% of any job requirements, like you’re wrong, just apply for it if you think you know, don’t lie, but if they can do it, go ahead and do it. And I think that path to getting to where you are today actually makes you a better leader. Right? You have more empathy with the other teams you have more experience. I always love getting people on my teams to that have a sort of a bit of a Background?

 

Dana Lawson  

Oh, yeah, I think you know, especially when you are trying to build a global product that reaches people from all over the world, you want to have the diversity the diversity in thought. And engineering is such a creative field you can give me and you the same problem. And we come at it produce the same outcomes in totally wildly different ways. And it’s kind of code is our paintbrush boy that I always think of it.

 

Christian McCarrick  

That’s right. You might use front page, I might use something else.

 

Dana Lawson  

There’s a lot of us front page people out there.

 

Come on the 90s were hot.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Oh, yes, they were, you know, they’re they’re pretty good. So interesting to talk about empathy, you know, GitHub, global distributed, and Auth0 globally distributed as well. And I’ve often found that, you know, we didn’t set out to sell our product internationally or globally To start with, but people just started seeing the need, or it’s a global need for identity authentication. And then a lot of our early users became employees. And as you talk about empathy of thought like, that really helped us, I think, to grow into all these different markets organically because we had people there. They were evangelizing us, as well as, as you said, “Oh, this will never work in this culture”, or this is “You have to work this” and I think it just makes the product so much better.

 

Dana Lawson  

Oh, totally. You know, and, and that’s one of the like, pros of distributed work is you immediately have this insight that you may have not had, because you’ve bitten the bullet to find talent and all these different pockets. And so as your product skills, it’s like, wait a minute, I have people that probably have a perspective here, I can just go ask from this part of the world or this part of society that I may not have even considered. So I definitely think having teams like ours is one of those opportunity points you don’t actually like strategically Think about it for ourselves. Well, yeah, it was a little more interesting because it’s the whole primitive of open source software and bring in a whole bunch of randos around, gather to create amazing things. It was just a natural thing to kind of follow that cadence on how the engineering team is designed. But at the end of the day, though, you know, as companies grow, you have different personas. So it’s always interesting to see how that turns out.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Exactly. And this podcast is really about, it’s aimed at engineering managers and leaders. How did you get into being kind of a leader? Did that happen actually in the armed services in the army, or did that happen post actually, once you got into sort of technology or a completely different thing?

 

Dana Lawson  

You know, I don’t know.I honestly think it’s just an attribute that I’ve had ingrained in my like personality. Anybody can be a leader. It’s just how much you want to unlock it. And I’m bossy naturally. I’m kind of in A type to the extreme where I’m like, “Oh, I got an idea. Let’s go do it”, you know? “Oh, wait,” let her go do it. I’ve always just spoken my mind—good or bad. And really, my you know, professional leadership did start after the military. I was an engineer. You know as a as an individual contributor. And I happened to be the individual contributor that was always like, “Oh, look at this problem. Here’s an interesting way how to solve it”, “oh, this problem” or “that problem”, and was just taking the initiative to like, move the ball forward for our team. And I remember the day, my boss was like, you already are acting like the boss, why don’t you just be the boss. I was like, “Oh, no, I’m not gonna be the boss”. I’m just trying to make stuff happen. And they’re like, you’re kind of doing it. And so that started, they’re like, you know what, we’re officially going to just give you the agency, because you’re already taking it, get things done, and that really just started it and just being curious, and I think it’s about having a growth mindset. You know, leadership is such a loaded word. People think that only people with management titles are leaders. And it’s like, No, you should lead from any seat. Anybody has the ability to go influence change and bring up the people around them to do great things and I do believe that we all have that calling in us as humans, naturally, we were empathetic and want to help people. But some of us gravitate, you know, like, gravitate towards it more than others. And that’s kind of how I got my start. I never had like my sights on I’m going to be a manager, I want to manage people. In fact, when I ask people when they go into management, I said, Why do you want to be a manager? If I hear somebody say, “because I can control stuff”, I’m, like, really unhappy. I was like, I think management is getting in your way. It’s the exact opposite. It is the opposite of getting your way. There is no way you’re trying to just pave paths for things to happen. And make sure people are aligned. It’s like horse trading. You know, it’s a constant. “Hey, I give you this if you give me that”, especially at scale, so that’s how I fell into it.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Yeah, you’re a glorified broker. I think of it that way. 

 

Dana Lawson  

right. I do. I feel like I’m on the stock floor. And I’m like, hey, these are three of those words all day long. It’s just you know, Moving.

 

Christian McCarrick  

That’s right. That’s right. Interesting analogies, something else, I ask all my guests to anything that you can publicly talk about, about any mistakes, you might have made one thing that stands out or something you’ve learned from over the years that, you know, you’re like, ooh, especially maybe early on or even more recently, because I know I still make mistakes.

 

Dana Lawson  

Oh, I know. There’s such a good laundry list of stuff, you know, some of the themes when you’re early in your career, but the mistakes you make are especially if you like I said, you you gravitate to enabling people right, like I find fulfillment out of helping others and seeing them succeed. More so than I even see my own success, right. Like this is kind of I think, allow a lot of us are and so some of the early mistakes are, like over capitalizing on people pleasing, right? And taking on too much not saying no, because you’re trying to establish who you are. You want to come out with some wins. You want to show people that you’ve got it under control, and then what ends up happening is you spread yourself too thin, you start letting stuff fall off. And it’s like, “Oh great”. Instead of really doing things quality for this one thing in this one area, you’ve gone and over-consumed yourself. And now you’re doing a little bit and it’s not giving any value. And in fact, where you came from wanting to please people it turn into a pissing people off. And we all almost all new leaders fall into that trap because they’re so hungry. We’re so hungry, I’m hungry, give me more. And you almost want to prove yourself, right? Because we all have posture syndrome, no matter what level in the game we are. We’re like, “Oh, I have got to show these people that I am the right person for the job”. insecurity is a great natural thing to push us and not think that we can’t solve anything and that we don’t have big egos. I think insecurity actually plays well with with leaders, but I think also having too much of that you just make bad choices. So I say find the right level of confidence. Don’t try to please everybody, do a few things really well. And it almost seems like the basics. But I mean, I made mistakes. Not only doing that, but just other mistakes, of implementing, you know, massive design changes, like technical changes and Greenfield technology. Like I’m in there for the rewrite,

 

Christian McCarrick  

right, the rewrite that has to happen

 

Dana Lawson  

that’s 1.8 I was like, like, but I think those are okay, mistakes, to be honest, as long as they you know, don’t really impact the business. But I think the common leadership ones are just not narrowing in your focus. You know, because really ambitious people do want to solve big problems, but it’s like narrowing your focus, have some great wins and it will naturally happen in a lot of places where you’re scoping impact grows you I think it’s a constant reminder of, you know, you don’t have to try so hard. I don’t know, it’s it’s kind of like counterintuitive. Like, you don’t have to try so hard. But you got to work hard.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Yeah, no, that’s a great point. And I think it applies not only to new managers, but I think as managers take new roles, it also happens because you’ve still you fall back into that same trap, proving yourself. So I’ve done it. Control your whip. It’s a great advice for project management for yourself for personal life or in a ship like, yeah, it’s a great category of things to work on. Right, great points. Now, a little anecdote for my listeners to Dana, you and I, a couple months ago had the pleasure of attending a rather unique dinner. Why don’t you tell my listeners a little bit about that?

 

Dana Lawson  

So me and Christian met at a dinner at Al Gore’s house, and it’s a podcast so it’s kind of always fun to see like visual representations of like how we show up so I saw the email and it was like “it’s gonna be casual”. I had a dinosaur shirt on and a dress like I’m from Portland is always casual. We get to Al Gore’s house and everybody was like, “No way are you going to Al Gore’s house” I was like, “Yeah, I am” and they’re like, “How did you get that invite?” I’m like, “I don’t even know”. But I’m going. I’m going! I didn’t know what to expect. But we walk into you know, the lobby of the place and it’s like, oh, shit, like, we’re actually we’re at Al Gore’s house. I mean, suddenly kind of hit me like, wait a minute, you’re wearing a dinosaur shirt, at Al Gore’s house. Like it’s alright. You just be you. So we go up there. And it was a really compelling conversation. We were all in a circle hanging out with Al Gore eating some food and just talking about tech and some of the challenges that we face and it was almost like surreal. Yeah, you know, at the end  of the day I was like, I” can’t believe this just happened” cuz there’s people there wasn’t many. But that’s how we met but and I have pictures to prove it. So if you listeners out there, just like all my friends, or whatever pictures I was like, I have to prove that I was actually here.

 

Christian McCarrick  

That’s right—pictures or it didn’t happen. That’s right. I that’s actually that reminds me I’ll actually I have one too. I’ll it’s not the best, but I’ll put it up on the show notes page too. It’s SimpleLeadership.io. If you have one, send it over. So we can both put it up there to you know, proof of life there because it was so I thought it was a scam when I first got the email.

 

Dana Lawson  

But I’m showing up! For me, the CEO, they know and I was like, hear me better not be pulling one over on me. Come on now. And I was I’m sure people didn’t believe me. And when even when I got there, I was like, is this gonna be real? He was a really lovely person. People say what is he like? I’m like, “Oh, he’s like a normal dude. I don’t know. Like, whatever normal dude means. I mean, he’s totally approachable. He’s funny”. I thought he was funny. Like, the biggest thing is, he’s very charismatic. He was cracking me up in like, you know, politician and world leaders, I guess have to be a little bit more stoic. But he’s funny.

 

Christian McCarrick  

No, he is and I think, you know, and he also mentioned too I think shout out here to Andela, you know, I think they were participating and helping to put that on. I’ll put Andela in the show notes too. I think you have worked with them a little bit. I’ve worked with him, so props to them. I’ll put them in there. So thank you everyone for Andela too for I think what you’re doing and for having Dana and I be able to have this great dinner with Al Gore, which is so awesome. I’d like to say the same thing “You’re having dinner with who? At his house?” Like it was one that was the first order was like dinner, and then at his house was like an exponential order. Like above that.

 

Dana Lawson  

Yeah, that was where they’re like bullshit meters going off.

 

Christian McCarrick  

You know, I think one of the things I have a million things I could jam with you all day about this, but I think timeliness here. There’s something going on. Remote teams, right. There’s a ton of things again, I can talk with you but current coronavirus, you and I both manage large distributed teams, I thought it’d be helpful to go over some tips and strategies for helping other managers that might be thrust into managing remote teams recently, right? Maybe they’ve been thought about it. Maybe they’ve been like dead set against it. But now suddenly Right here they are, you know, forgetting about all the great things that remote teams and distributed teams are about, like we can talk about that too. But like tactically, if you got someone asked you for advice, or some of the top things you would say to this to managers say How could you start helping today to support your teams working remotely?

 

Dana Lawson  

Honestly, the number one thing is write it down. Like if you don’t have a good practice of writing stuff down, like Congratulations, now you write it down. Second of all, is, you know, you need to form a daily structure for your team and for yourself, have a stand up, do a stand up. If especially if this is the first time and you’re just thrust into this. Take the practices that you do in person and apply them digitally. You have the tool set, be creative, but don’t stop the practices you already have in place just because you have a new obstacle. Find a way to continue on with your normal business as best as you do during this time. So if you have a stand up every day at eight o’clock, have a virtual stand up do it the same way, but write it down in case you have people you know, that had to drop off a kid or have some other, you know, problem come up or impeachment come up because they’re at home, you know, don’t change your rituals. Second of all, be okay with over communicating. Like say it multiple times throughout the days you also as a manager have to give your team a sense of comfort that they feel supported during this time. Because everybody, especially if you come from a button seats, culture, suddenly, you don’t have anybody watching you. And I believe that most people are adults and behave like adults. So you just need to remind them, I trust you. I don’t need to see you. Whatever you need to do as a manager, though, which is a part of your already ingrained ritual. Find a way to do it digitally. Like if you sit and talk to somebody, you know, maybe after lunch, the team gets back together to regroup, make that the thing that you do. You could even go in your—if you’re using Slack or other instant messengers, you could do things like in a stand up written. Another good tip too is like nurses notes. I think when you have a distributed team and you’re on different time zones, or if you’re thrust into this due to the current situation within the world, at the end of the day, just like a charge nurse does in a hospital is that everything you did that day, just write it down, replay it in a place that your team members can see. And then when you start off in the morning, if somebody’s starting off at different times, they’re going to see what was happening. It’s not this radical from how most important teams already behave. I think it’s really understanding that people the people side of it more than the toolset, side, keep your rituals, use new tools, write it down, but realize that people are probably going “How does my ex boss person coworker know that I’m actually adding value?”, you just have to say “I trust you. You’re on the team. This situation doesn’t change that trust that we have in each other, let’s find a way for you to feel good about it”. And so I find ways like, Cool, let’s keep a running one on one document that we write. And like if you want to write on it daily, we can asynchronously stay connected together without physically being in the same place. That gives you a sense of comfort for some devs. And some people on the team. You know, some engineers really, really like to have this kind of workflow because we already work in in epics and sprints and issues in JIRA, as we already have this kind of work take how that development workflow is that will be written and use it for also your people management. But those won’t be the the first few principles. And like, I think another big one, too, if you’re having an online conversation for more than five minutes, call them or make a video call. 90% of our communication is nonverbal, and so I’m kind of an animated speaker already so you can tell how I usually feel from how I thought Not everybody’s like that. And especially if English is a second language, you need to find different ways for people to feel comfortable. And if you’re going back and forth and having a communication barrier, while you’re remote, get on a call, talk, talk it out, turn on your video, you will be amazed how quickly you saw stuff. We seem to get this pattern of like, “Oh, just do it over instant messenger. And it’s like “No, talk to somebody”

 

Christian McCarrick  

excellent advice, all those ones. And kind of PSA too. I know that for video conferencing, there’s a number of companies out there just recently—I think Google for their Hangouts and Zoom and Microsoft have either you know uncapped there things for like the next couple of months or they’ve gone free. So if it’s a question of your company doesn’t you know they can’t afford it or they can’t do it or it’s going to be a purchasing thing. I think right now most of these companies are allow you to just kind of sign up. You know, I think go ahead and do that. I totally agree with that. I was actually on a phone call the other day. I can actually pick up the phone and it felt so odd like holding this thing up to my ear. That my ear was hurting. And because I haven’t been in a phone call that wasn’t a Zoom in so long, like maybe if I have to call the travel agent or something, like,

 

Unknown Speaker  

Well, I know but we’ve been at it for a while. Yeah, it is. I like I know if I have to use a phone, I’m like, “Wait a minute, you don’t wanna see my lovely face?”. They’re like, “no, we just want to talk to you”.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Yeah, that’s interesting. You know, the, the funny thing whole anecdote not about this, but our company get together every year for kind of an off site, and we do some quarterly ones with different teams. Now that’s a little up in the air. I think lately, you know, as a lot of companies, I think whether it’s conferences or just team offsites, right, I think that’s that’s coming into a little bit more kind of “wait and see” on what’s happening there. But we always see like the talking heads, and it’s always funny when you meet some people first time and you’ve worked with them for so long, and they’re like 6′ 7″. And you know, you didn’t realize that was like wow, you know, there’s just so kind of different in person, but the video gets you a little bit much better than a phone or slack. But still there’s another piece in person that was interesting.

 

Dana Lawson  

Always. We do the same thing. You know, have an annual wherever you put together. And our company’s getting to a size right? Where we’re way past on bars numbers for social interactions and relationships. So even though you have these, like, I talked to some of the people for months before I get to meet them in person, and then it’s like, it’s not like sizing up, but it’s always like, “ah”. I’m actually kind of tall and people are really surprised. They’re like, “You’re kinda tall” and I was like “Yeah, I am kinda tall”. People never know. I’m like, “You’re kind of short!”. But it’s kind of interesting too, because if you think about generations, the millennials and the generation behind them, like 90% of their communication is already driven through text, or Teamspeak and discord servers. So I think it’s easier by cases but also harder because especially at work, right where you haven’t established yourself, maybe if you’re in a young if you’re younger, into your career, not age, but actually Your career, like leverage the things that you already do and like make them better. It’s just interesting times and I think that there’s a ton of great resources for remote work out there like Auth0, GitHub, Zapier, Get Lab, there’s so many companies out there that have these workforces already, go read their blogs, go hit one of those up. Read their blogs, and you’re gonna see a wealth of information on how different engineering teams and product development teams have work distributedly. Like, look at those tips, see the patterns, see what worked for them and apply them to your own needs. 

 

Christian McCarrick  

Mm hmm.Yeah, good points, too. I’ll try to put some of those in the show notes as well, because there are like Buffer and a lot of them they have online docs, even if you look at Twitter recently, there’s just a lot of people looking to, hey, I’ve put this doc together. Our team does this. They’re kind of open sourcing, or at least making public some of their internal docs right now, so that’s awesome advice. And what you said before was, maybe if you’re a manager at a company and you haven’t done this before. Go to some of maybe your, you know, less tenured employees. Maybe they’re right outta college. And as you mentioned, this is how a lot of them function socially, and it’s not very different professionally. So grab some of them and say, Hey, anoint someone or help them. “Hey, let’s all get together in a room brainstorm. You know, how can we help? I’m new to this” and they’d be like, “Oh, I totally help you”.

 

Dana Lawson  

Krishna, forgot my most important tip of all for remote work, is learn your emoji game. Okay. You gotta learn that emoji game. I forget about verbal and nonverbal. It’s all emoji verbal. So, I have to say like, you can communicate. We’ve gone back to Egyptian hieroglyphs. Now It’s global enoji’s. There’s so much to be said with the right emoji after like, “Are you serious?” And like, “trust me, I’ve been working remote almosy five years—gotta be hot on that emoji game.

 

Christian McCarrick  

And each company has their own sort of norms around the emojis. And God forbid you like introduce a new one and confuses the hell out of everyone. Like what does he mean?

 

Dana Lawson  

I should make an emoji glossary like “You only use the party parrot if you really are excited. What that means you’re excited party parent equals excitement.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Oh the party parrot. Yes. Oh yes. And you can add your own in slack too. So lots of ones you can totally add your own if it’s open and that’s always fun to be gone back to hieroglyphics. That’s all we’re doing a more of like a you know, Asiatic pictoral based language now with our with emoji’s.

 

Dana Lawson  

I’ll bring it in a little bit… Wingdings!

 

Christian McCarrick  

nice for those with Word and a long time ago.

 

Dana Lawson  

My way I mean I’ve been 27 for a couple decades. I could talk about front page and wingding

 

Christian McCarrick  

So a couple other tips I’ll add to. One Yeah, like you mentioned it again on the video. Right? And once you get on the video, that’s not witness protection program yourself. Right like get a camera. Like order a $69. You know, what is it the Logitech 920 online it’s pretty good. It’s not the end of the world but more important than that. Just get a light. I mean, you can put a lamp in front of you sit in front of a window. No one wants to talk to the like the blacked out fuzzy all you need beyond that is like to disguise your voice, right? And you’re just freaking people out.

 

Dana Lawson  

Totally. And like, I probably am not best because I’m so mobile or one of those where I’m at my desk. I’m on my couch. I’m on the porch. But yeah, I have a light source of some sort. You don’t want to be the nefarious character in the shadows. Tey do think you’re up to something so then you have to really use those party emojis.

 

Christian McCarrick  

That’s right. And I think another thing you alluded to before that I’ve found sometimes gets missed in remote work is don’t avoid or skip like the the normal daily pleasantry stuff, right? I’ve been on waiting. It’s so weird, like you get on some town halls and there’s like 150 people on it and it’s silent. You know, if you walked into a room at a town hall, there’d be people talking and you could barely hear yourself, but everyone’s being silent but even just starting meetings with, “Hey, how’s it going?” Right? You know, “How you feeling? What’s going on?” Right? I think don’t lose that just because you’re remote.

 

Dana Lawson  

And I also think in addition to that is, like you said, like, forget the pleasantries. Like Don’t forget the niceties, it really becomes easy to just become transactional. There are humans on the other end of that message you fired off. And it’s okay to take a few moments to say, “Hey, how are you doing today? What’s up? What’s new?” Because if you went to their desk, you would probably be like, “Hey, what’s up? What are you doing?” Because you’re distracted by all the things going around, and then you’re gonna ask your question, and just behave the way that you already would behave. like it’s funny when people go and get hugs, and they get into slack where we are so slack heavy, where I’m sure you are. And they’re like, people just talk all day. And I’m like, because we’re in an office, people would be talking all day. And I was like, and we have a Slack channel for everything you almost want to encourage it. With the reason being is you want to build that empathy even when you won’t have that physical contact. So leverage, right like knowing somebody because subconsciously, or consciously if you’re not a really cool person, like the more you know about somebody, you’re going to be willing to help them you’re going to empathize with needs, and it’s not going to be this random flyby, you’re gonna be like, “Oh, Christian has this dog. You know, he really loves the party emojis and then hanging out with Al Gore. He’s pretty cool. Maybe he can help me with this”, “Hey, Christian radio and hanging out with Al Gore?”, you know, you cannot take away that. Because then when those moments when you get back together in person, it just makes it so much more special. It’s almost like a reunion. You’re like, “oh my gosh”.

 

Christian McCarrick  

That’s right. That’s a totally great analogy. And you talk about humanizing it. I think at times like this, people, especially if you’re a manager, some of your employees might be anxious, right? They might be anxious, they might need someone to talk to you And don’t forget, you maybe would have gone out to coffee. Someone in the past maybe would have gotten a beer. So just schedule a one on one. ask people how they’re doing just try to reassure them because as a manager right now, I think any type of change makes people anxious so and it’s your job now you might be anxious to get in contact with me and you can you know, you can, I’ll help you out. But for your managers and your employees, just make sure you alleviate any stress and anxiety they have because I know they’re having some.

 

Dana Lawson  

100% we’re our own worst enemy when we ruminate about how we feel with change, right? We have all these things, you know, humans, it’s like the evolutionary response of like, “be paranoid, you’re going to get eaten” exists all the time. And so as managers, we have to say, when change happens like this, you’re not gonna get eaten. Like I trust you, I care about you and it’s okay that you don’t feel okay. And I don’t feel okay either. But we’re here together, and we’re still going to solve great things. And I think it’s also as a leader being realistic about your deadlines. This is a time to start reevaluating and saying like, “Is something going to be impacted? Is the personal and emotional toll going to cause us a few delays?” so that we can re normalize. And I think really coming at it at both sides and ensuring one, what you can do with high quality is important, but not forgetting that it’s affecting everything. And so you can’t say, “Oh, well, this isn’t gonna affect that”. No, it’s gonna affect everything. It’s that change. Be realistic about the deadlines, because that’s what I think makes people really start nervous, especially in a professional setting is “Oh, you changed my world, but you didn’t allow me to figure out how I’m going to do it now”and the goalpost isn’t moving in or out and I think we have to be realistic there. Cut scope, which no product manager ever likes to hear. But hello, we should think about it as a group.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Yeah, special times call for some special measures, right? One very specific tactical thing too that I maybe you can let’s let’s jam about a little bit new employees. Right. So you’re onboarding potentially someone this week next week, and your office has said everyone’s working from home. So what tips can you give in it for new managers? organizations where they’ve never like how do you onboard them. In some cases, they might not even be able to give them a laptop like, so any tips for how people might be able to handle that?

 

Dana Lawson  

I mean, once again, it comes, you may have been, you may have logistic delays, if you’re sending gear where you would typically provision it when they’re in the office, I think it’s not just keep constant contact with those new employees. That’s probably the hardest part of going through it is being new. And especially if maybe this is temporary due to the response or even if you’re joining a company that already has a culture, it doesn’t matter. It’s still almost unnerving. I think being there more so than you would and not just saying, “hey, here, come hit me up”. You know, I think sometimes you’re like, “just tell me when you have a problem”. They’re not gonna tell you. They’re not gonna know how to tell you. Schedule stuff, schedule stuff, put stuff on their calendar, have their phone number, give them different areas caught like if they don’t have their laptop, call them. Call them every day that they’re onboarding. Check in with them say “How are you doing? Then give them actual details. Like, here’s where your inventory is, here’s where your laptop is, and continue to feed that information. I would even go even further and be more prescriptive, just like you do an onboarding, go ahead and fill out their calendar, but give them the tools that they need and the things that they should be seeing and make those connections. So if you have onboarding videos, maybe you haven’t recorded them, I would get one of your engineers go record a three minute video of what we typically present, go make a recording of it, let’s go share that recording. Schedule that onborders time, say, “hey, at two o’clock, watch this video”, and then check in with them. I would always clear the deck for your managers in some sense, especially if this is not a part of their culture, because they’re on the fly trying to figure out how to enable new employees. And so let them also figure it out. But treat it as you would and I think the best thing to do is bring structure don’t bring too much ambiguity during this time. The ambiguity already exists with the new situation that people are within. So doing anything you can cut back on that. And like I said with the team, check in at the end of the day, nobody matter what, just say, “Hey”, and it could even be like this is where it’s okay to be a slight message, “How you doing? How is day one? What do you need? What do you need?”, here’s some other things. And then make sure you have those days filled out. And eventually they’re going to get jelling and going. But I think you have to do a lot more outreach, and a lot more connecting. If you already have a really rich onboarding, documentation or experience. Like I said, don’t just give people hey, here’s an email with all these links—schedule their calendar, say, “Here’s a good cadence that I would read these”. Take the horse to water, I mean, can’t force them to drink. I think you have to actually say, you’re going to drink at noon and you’re going to drink this. And then at one o’clock, we’re going to have this Kool Aid and then we’re going to talk about it. And so just be really intentional. Continue to be intentional, just like you would onboarding class and be creative, right? creative logistics problems, find other avenues to get done what you need to get done. And if all of that else fails. Push the onboarding out, that’s okay too. Maybe not every company can do that, but maybe you can. I think with the tool sets that we have today, there’s no reason that most—at least technology companies—can’t find a way to make this work. You probably can.

 

Christian McCarrick  

I really like the point you made about doing screencasts screen recordings doing this up. One, it helps you scale anyway. And what does it take like you take an engineer, you take a manager, you take four hours in one day, and you can probably whip through almost all your onboarding stuff. Then you mentioned like a drip campaign of the onboarding, something I want. I want to reiterate here, and you mentioned at the beginning, the best practices of distributed are actually probably the best practices for what you should be doing in an office anyway, so it’s not something new. Now, I do want to ask you kind of philosophically, how do you think—and this could go either way and maybe it’s going to some company is going to be one or the other—company was thinking about it, they’re on the fence. And either this process goes terribly for them and it sets him back, you know, three years or it goes awesome for them and they’re going to accelerate maybe their distributed workforce. Like, what do you think about that?

 

Dana Lawson  

I think that if something goes that terribly wrong during this period, or or, you know, even if we want to call this an experiment, I would really go back and look at my practices because what is the big delta between having people with butts in seats in your office versus them butts in seats at their home office or coffee shop? You need to look at the people that you’re hiring would be my first like, I would probably step back and say, one, is our practices wrong? OR are we hiring the wrong people, because this is all about, you know, having people that believe in your mission that want to show good work, no matter where they are, about being a part of something larger being, you know, responsible to help their teammates. It’s amazing, like humans actually want to help each other. And if you have a culture that embraces that, if it’s going terrible, you probably have bigger problems. Now, I can imagine it may not go smooth. And there could be road bumps. But that’s what the process is your rollout and I truly believe there isn’t a huge difference between applying them remotely versus in office, you just need to take account for the things that we take for granted. That’s where it is, is like in office, you may not be as disciplined about writing everything down, or displaying it in different clients. Because you’re all co located. Well, remote, you’re going to do the same thing you always did, except you’re going to write it down, you’re going to repeat it and you’re going to share it in many different avenues for people to ensure that they’ve seen it. I think it’s adding a little bit more on to what you already do. But really, I honestly think that if you’re having that kind of problems, like take a look at your company culture, like how is it that you have such a narrow way to have people be successful. We have to be flexible as leaders and meet people where they are and build a company that really in a process that really take care of the majority and then the outliers you kind of deal with independently and that’s okay.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Sue, foundational problems, right. Now, here’s an interesting thing. It’s maybe not tactically related to just this couple of weeks. But in general, I think the majority of engineers, except for those that we’ve all managed, they are not the best at self advocacy, you know, especially from members of underrepresented groups. And, you know, how would you help? Having distributed… I think being distributed can exacerbate that problem, right? There’s a fear of missing out. How do you help people? What guidance would you give to people about helping to, you know, be their own little PR machine and do better at self advocacy? Because I do think, out of sight, out of mind a little bit, how do you make that better?

 

Dana Lawson  

That is really a real problem. And I think like it’s the same problem we’ll see in offices expectedly when you don’t just have diversity in how you show up with diversity in thought and just character. You know, like, if you’re an introvert and you’re in an office like you may be able to not fall in the mix, because you’re just sitting there like you’re reliable, they always see you at your desk, you don’t talk to nobody. Adding an extra layer of remote especially for just on just not the majority of people or and like you said, it’s a definitely underrepresented people that already feel like it’s harder to get their voice out of there. And a lot of us were raised to not have big egos and not to like toot our own horn because that ain’t nice. But you got to get people over that and say “You do good work, it’s okay”. Don’t do it in a way that’s braggy and that you’re stepping on people, but you should feel comfortable to advocate and so some of the ways that you can do this and like tactically, is, you know, think about having Employee Resource Groups thinking about having a guild that people relate to where they can help find tips to advocate and find those channels, but also finding mechanisms and putting in some, some processes that allow that seat at the table. For an example is every Friday for statuses we reproduce agile demos, as a manager rotate who makes a demo even the shy. Everybody on your team should have the opportunity to build a demo. Everybody on your team should have the opportunity to write an internal post about the work they did. I think as managers we have to recognize that. That’s where leaders do come in and say, hey, I see that this person may not because I’m a loud person too like our pot calling the kettle black. I can dominate if I don’t self restrict myself calling people out like I’m in a meeting and I’m overly conscious going, let the next person talk and I think it goes further even distributedly, but I also think about even those people that may not self advocate, you need to find a system so all people can advocate and help push their rotation. I think you know, having the value set with your engineers of like one of the you know, the values and skills that I think is important as a senior engineer is to lift up the people around them. Incentivize, bring up the people around you. It should be a part of them going to the next level. And there you have somebody saying like, I don’t have to have a culture of being a hero or a rock star, right? I always say, I don’t want to rock star, I want the Beatles. They’re all rock stars. And if you have that kind of mind set, then you want to enable every member on your team. But there’s many ways to do that. And I think you have to be intentional. The first step is being intentional and saying, we know with distributed work, that some people will not feel comfortable speaking up for themselves, because x, y and z. How do we build a system that enables them? But you know, you can’t always force people, but I think if you give them the right tools, and you build the right processes, and have the right incentive structure to lift those up around you, you take that down a little bit. But I think more importantly, is you put people that look and feel and represent those groups and positions. And then you know what, there’s suddenly this advocate and there’s also this reality behind it, that they can get to that level that they want to be and that maybe should be advocating for them because they see people that are like them in the positions that they wish to be. If you have all your senior positions from one demographic, you’re going to have even a bigger problem of people self promoting. You will. You’re going to be like, “Oh, I’m going to self promote”, but well, you know, maybe even unconsciously, where’s it gonna go? There’s nobody up there that I feel an affinity to, right. So it’s not like a one size fits all. And I think, find those ways. Once again, there’s so many resources out there that you can experiment with, because depending upon how your team is already composed or what you’re hoping to compose. Try things out, shift to learn, right? approach it like we do software, this may be a good way or not, but it’s one of the challenges. I’m heavily involved in two of our  groups for our women in our LGBTQ and I always go and tell those underrepresented groups like self promotion is important. I know what your parents and the people around you told you. But I’m going to tell you you’re special, you’re amazing, you work hard, be proud of it. work, you earned it.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Great tips. You have to throw off the shackles of like your upbringings, like Irish Catholic or whatever the things are. Now, as a manager, I think it’s important to not only advocate for individuals on your team, but you have to advocate for the team in its entirety to how do you recommend, you know, managers helping that PR upwards?

 

Dana Lawson  

Yeah, I think it’s about once again, like all work is important work. If you’re working on it, I would hope that companies are having their people spend their energy on prioritized work. And even if you don’t feel 100% that it is like be proud of what you’re doing. Right? As a manager, like, I don’t know. I think all issues are interesting in some form or manner like I’ve had the opportunity of getting to break down three monoliths, which sounds like the worst job, because it is because once you have a monolith you always have a monolith. These challenges, you can say, well, oh, what does that manager of the monolith breakdown I’m going to talk about one of the hardest problems that the company will ever face. Like, it’s all about looking through the lens of the value that you’re giving and advocating for it. Now, if you as a manager absolutely cannot see no value, that’s when I would start asking questions like, “How are we measuring this? And how is it going to make an impact?” So I think, taking the opportunity to really visually share, whether it’s written blog posts, you know, having agile demos, going and recording a video, doing an all hands, getting a team meeting and showing the great work that people are doing, it’s going to elevate it. And I think also to that it makes your company better. Because if you think about why open source is awesome, because a whole bunch of people can see that project and say, “Oh, I can go help and contribute”. Or “Wait a minute, I’m tackling the same thing”. When you raise the visibility as a manager for what you’re working on. You never know who has expertise and where they can help accelerate you. doesn’t mean they’re gonna be on your team. But share knowledge is so powerful, and so I just encourage If you’re working on it, like be proud of it, and like, show off that work, do not be ashamed to. And if you can’t, in a way measure how it’s impacting, then maybe you need to go talk to your next leader up or go to props and be like, “Why are we doing this?”. We’re here to ask tough questions, because I believe that, you know, especially in the way of the world now, the way products are developed, especially in our case, you know, we’re building tools for developers to build products or services for developers to build bigger products. Like we know some stuff about what we’re doing like it’s okay to have an opinion. 

 

Christian McCarrick  

Yeah, absolutely. personal question, now. Do you think you could ever go back to an office like it placed a job as an office every day? Like, what do you feel about that?

 

Dana Lawson  

No, no. I mean, I say no, because I haven’t yet broken my streak of pajamas over five days. It’s not like I will actually go past five days of never leaving my house or wearing pajamas, then I’m going to be remote for a while. But honestly, I think that I work more productively being remote because I get to—I 100% gonna manage my time. If I’m heads down and focus, I turn off Slack, I turn off Zoom, and I block my calendar. If I’m in an office and trying to do that, I’m not gonna be a rude asshole and be like, “Don’t come by and see me”. And this is not who I am. And people know I’d love to talk to ’em anytime. I think that it would have to be something so awesome. Like, I don’t know, I’m sitting next to Al Gore in his office. Maybe that would bring me back into an office? You know, it’s not about the perks in office. It’s about the work and me giving the best of myself. That’s why I say no, like, I don’t know, I feel like I’m giving the best of myself because I feel like I have control over my time and my attention. Moreso my attention. And that’s where quality comes is when you really focused.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Awesome. I mean, I have a list I could talk all day, you know, we both probably have back to back And this sort of thing. But one thing I do ask any recommendations you have might be a book, a conference, a podcast, anything you’ve read recently, or is a seminole kind of piece of work that you might recommend to managers out there.

 

Dana Lawson  

It’s kind of been out there for a bit, but I still resonate with this, especially when you’re working distributedly is, you know, enablement, not empowerment people come with their own power, how do we enable people it’s like, information to be informed. And I always go back to “Turn This Ship Around”. It’s a fantastic book that really is about working with intent instead of seeking permission. And when you really think about distributed work, you want people to work with intent and be informed and not seek permission because who knows where in the world you’re going to be and what the time zone is. And so having the ability to be decisive and go fast and be okay with failure, as long as you’re doing it in a way that’s written, repeatable and known, then you’re going to be alright, and so I love that book, “Turn The Ship Around”. I read a lot of management books, but I didn’t I love that book and podcasts, this one, hello? The Treehouse team have a pretty great podcast, too, that they realize for all sorts of different conversations, whether it be leadership remote work, it’s pretty good one. So I think that one’s a pretty interesting podcast as well.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Cool. And I know you had kind of an online sabbatical for a while. If anyone wants to reach out to you, what’s the best way? Should it you know, just GitHub or are you back? 

 

Dana Lawson  

I’m always on an online sabbatical. The internet is mean! I’m a happy person. You can hit me up on LinkedIn. I’m in a LinkedIn poll right now because I say that every time I go and talk to people. Give me maybe a month but I will get back to you. I read every message. I try to respond, but I’m in a hole right now. This weekend, maybe I’ll dig myself out. So LinkedIn, dg Lawson, you’ll find me on there hit me up.

 

Christian McCarrick  

Awesome conversation, the time and Al Gore. You know, this was awesome to love talking to fellow tech leaders jamming about all the things again, I call this my weekly therapy session for lots of reasons. It’s great to talk but thank you for coming on. Stay safe, stay in your pajamas and we’ll chat again soon. 

 

Thank you for listening to this episode of the simple leadership podcast hosted by me Christian McCarrick. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please subscribe. And don’t forget to leave a review in iTunes. Full show notes in additional information can be found on simple leadership.io. If you knew someone who would be a great guest for the show, or you want to share your own experiences, please drop me a line. We’ll see you back next week for more technology leadership tips and advice as I interview more top software engineering leaders

 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai