In the first episode of our video blog interviews Leaders to Leaders we asked a QA leader in the e-motion industry to share his insights on remote management. He shed light on more than just best practices. Watch the accents on Youtube and listen to the full conversation on Anchor.fm, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
“They can’t see what kind of a person I am on the screen”, shares Evgeniy Grancharov, QA Lead at Digital Charging Solutions, an e-mobility startup, based in Berlin, Germany. He joined the company this year, and naturally, almost everyone works from home. Yet, he needed to meet his new team of 8 internal and 7 external engineers, while not being able to show “who he really is” remotely, which in his words makes it difficult for them to start trusting him.
From the start, he was worried that if a serious problem occurred to his team members, he couldn’t adequately support them while being away. “I couldn’t see these people if we weren’t in a meeting.” So he couldn’t tell if they were feeling well for the rest of the day. Hence, his first task was to start building strong and open communication with his team members.
First step: “Make yourself vulnerable”
“I made myself vulnerable”, shared Evgeniy spontaneously when asked about opening up the interaction with his new team. First, hee shared things about his life and he tried to be empathetic. Then tried to put himself in their position and learn how they feel and what they do. He made himself vulnerable, so that they could try to do the same. If they want to, of course, he adds. It is not necessary. And shares that it has so far almost always worked because in this way, they see who he really is.
“The most important sign for every employee is when in their hardest moment you are by their side.”
Evgeniy passionately shares that when you support your team members in difficult situations, they will give back at work by delivering results.
Second step: Set up “Family time” meetings, when managing remotely
Evgeniy regards his team of QA engineers as family, which needs to stick together and support each other and then all other meetings in scrum and agile formats as ‘friends’. So he sets up comfortable family time meetings, in which the team can get together even if they don’t have immediate agile or scrum needs.
Third step: Set up remote management ‘workshops’
One of the QA team remote management meetings Evgeniy has introduced is what he calls ‘workshops’ – a productive Monday workshop featuring what is interesting and important for the upcoming week. Respectively, the team also meets for a retrospective workshop which sums up the week at its end. The latter is not a sprint type of retrospective, but rather a ‘what we have done’ one, featuring funny stories, things they didn’t like, improvement points and a light-spirited end. A main goal for these meetings to Evgeniy is to help his team members finish the week on a positive note.
Fourth step: Regard 1 on 1 meetings as “Circle of trust”
1 on 1 remote management meetings between Evgeniy and his team members are structured very consistently: he opens up the conversation by sharing some of his own experiences and in this way prepares them for their opening up. He reminds them that this is a circle of trust and that the information shared there is only between them. If there is anything that needs to be addressed elsewhere, it would only happen in a proper way so that it doesn’t hit back at the employee. Then, he always asks 4 questions he uses as an anchor:
- How do you feel with the work of your team? – not the QA team, but the one that they work on a regular basis in the sprints
- How do you feel with the work in the QA team?
- How do you feel with the work with me (Evgeniy)
- How do you feel in the company?
With the answers of those questions, Evgeniy gets an indication on how things are moving, but he also tracks his own progress on supporting and helping the team members.
Fifth step: No-meetings placeholders as remote management takes too many meetings
Evgeniy’s company adopted a flow-time policy urging all employees to block meeting-free placeholders in their calendars. He has already had them earlier, though, and defines it as something ‘very important’. With his big team, he admits, no-meetings time is rare and valuable. That implies that all meetings should be very focused and timeboxed, too. “We do cancel meetings if we don’t need them”, he emphasizes.
He shares that there are a few things you need to confirm for each meeting before you decide to have it:
- Is it focused?
- Is it necessary?
- Each meeting needs to be meaningful.
He says he is definitely not pleased with meetings in which “nothing happens”, as he puts it. Still, it is OK for a meeting not to deliver the results you have anticipated, especially if you have a different meaningful outcome.
Finally, Evgeniy acknowledges he always looked up to his managers and adopted their management practices rather than copying things from the management books. He wants to make sure that the team that he manages is happy and grows.