Hybrid working

9 remote work tips from Slack’s software engineering team

Advice on supporting your teams—technical or otherwise—when everyone is telecommuting

Author: the Slack engineering teamApril 13th, 2020Illustration by Abbey Lossing

Last month, Slack’s entire engineering department went totally remote (along with the rest of the company). Although we typically have software engineers in several offices around the world, the bulk of people working on these teams share space in one of our San Francisco offices.

Since our shift to fully remote work, we’ve learned how to adjust at an astonishing rate. So in the spirit of helping out any other teams building software, we’d like to share nine of our favorite tactics for making our working lives in these unprecedented times a little bit more pleasant, personal and productive.

  1. Managers: Reach out to people to help your team feel connected. Introverts and extroverts are both feeling isolated right now, but ensure that your team members know that their health and the health of their families comes first.
  2. Many services are experiencing historically high usage, and people working on them may be burning themselves out without realizing it. Encourage everyone to set boundaries between work hours and home hours, and ensure that managers are regularly reaching out to engineers to see how they’re doing.
  3. Conduct shorter and more frequent one-on-one meetings to help people feel connected. Try 15 minutes two or three times a week instead of a longer block once a week.
  4. Start team-level discussions on contingency planning. If a critical number of people on your team become ill or need to care for immediate family, how will you keep the service up? Have clear escalation paths if you drop below a critical threshold for pager rotations.
  5. Decide which non-essential projects can be canceled or delayed if your team needs to focus on maintaining critical services. Figure out who you can move from feature work to service support if needed.
  6. Understand that with kids home from school, working parents will be distracted more often, especially those with younger kids that need more of their parents’ time, attention and direction. Encourage your team to figure out strategies for handling that (such as switching off half-days with partners or spouses), and adjust the expectations of parents to match their newly restricted schedules.
  7. We’re in this for the long haul. Prioritize improving your home working environment so that you don’t suffer from ergonomic stresses. If your company offers money to improve your home office, take advantage of it to get a new monitor or a better desk or chair.
  8. If you use OKRs, know that not all KRs are equal during this time. Prioritize service stability and meeting your customers’ needs, which may have changed in recent weeks.
  9. Add a social aspect to your team’s virtual meetings. As an example, ask everyone to do a show-and-tell with one object near them—strangest object wins! Small personal interactions like that can go a long way.

Our organization is now five full weeks into this remote work journey. Although we don’t know when we’ll be back in an office, it’s inspiring to see our teams continue to do their best work while being so empathetic to one another. And we’re trying to get better at this every day.

This advice was previously shared on our Slack Engineering Twitter account. Check out our careers page if you’re interested in joining our team.

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