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Slack's VP of engineering says joining the company during the pandemic helped shape her best practices for managing a remote team

Submitted by Tech Insider on May 4, 2021 - 3:43pm

Rukmini Reddy

Summary List Placement

I can't believe it's been over a year since many companies, including Slack, transitioned to full remote work overnight.

I've spent a lot of my career working remotely, and I'm what people call a "remote native." I've built and managed teams of other employees who have no fixed offices across the globe. And since joining Slack last summer (right in the middle of the pandemic), I haven't met any of my colleagues in person.

Most remote natives have only ever met their boss or teammates through a computer screen. And even as society edges back towards normality, the way we work isn't ever going back to normal. In fact, 72% of workers envision a hybrid future, where time is split between the office and remote work.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'll be ready the day they reopen the Slack office in San Francisco next year. But being a remote native has let me spend more time with my family, eliminated my commute, and given me a better work-life balance.

It's the future, and my advice is that it's important we learn to adapt.

Slack's remote onboarding experience was the best I've ever had

Joining Slack fully remote was interesting, challenging, and honestly, a little bit weird. The experience stretched leadership muscles I didn't know I had. But despite the challenges, the virtual onboarding at Slack bested any onboarding I've experienced elsewhere.

I very quickly felt like I belonged at Slack. Our corporate ethos is friendly and human-first, and the onboarding process was no exception. It goes beyond the typical "get to know you" onboarding flows I've experienced in the past. Instead of questions like "Where are you from?" my colleagues asked me things like: "What does support look like for you from me as we begin our journey together?"

Here are a few things that really set my experience apart, and some takeaways to bring to your company:

  • I was sent my laptop days before my first day at Slack. It seems simple and practical, but it allowed me to open my computer and seamlessly begin my new job without the stress of technical difficulties. Nailing this part is pretty straightforward — ship new hires their corporate laptops on time, set up their accounts on key platforms, and ensure onboarding documentation is completed.
  • My new team created a Rukmini custom emoji to welcome me, and dozens of people sent welcome notes using it. Female engineers celebrated having me, a woman of color, as the new leader of their team. For me, it wasn't about emoji but rather the intention and personalization that it represented. If you're looking to make someone feel really welcome, it pays to go the extra mile — send handwritten notes to their address, make and send short asynchronous welcome videos from each member of the team, or give them a gift (whether that's a physical gift or a virtual one, like a custom emoji!) to mark the first day at the company.
  • I was also invited to attend a 15 minute 1:1 with Slack's CTO, Cal Henderson, every day for the 30-days. In all the onboarding processes I've encountered in my career, I've never had this much exposure to a C-level executive from day one. As we head into a post-pandemic world, super frequent 1:1's between leaders and direct reports are critical to ensure short feedback loops. Having time reserved creates explicit space for new hires to be unblocked quickly, and more importantly, helps instill a sense of belonging.

Since I've spent a good amount of time working remotely, people often ask for my advice. Joining a company can be thrilling and daunting all at once, but with a little guidance, integrating into a new role is a breeze. Here are 3 tips I personally relied on to quickly get myself plugged in:

1. Take the time to get to know the people you work with

Learn about their families, their pets, their interests, and hobbies. And people have been doing this: a new survey of remote workers by OnePoll and Slack found that 61% of respondents felt an increase in co-worker kindness during this past year. Respondents reported that small things like meeting their co-workers' partners, kids, and pets on a video call made it easier for them to connect with each other.

Invest in creating meaningful relationships with people you work with. Show up for them. Have their back, and they'll have yours. That's how you build a team that can do great things.

Practical advice: use Donut to meet new people and recreate the serendipity of the office water cooler. And don't forget to enjoy yourself — we use Icebreaker to make our team social hours fun, interactive experiences.

2. Seize the opportunity to get yourself organized and establish good new habits from the beginning

As a remote native, your whole world is digital. Your future self will thank you for keeping on top of your tools and your digital office space from getting cluttered.

For example, my Slack channels are meticulously organized, with sidebar sections for all kinds of things, from important status updates to fun conversations. I use Slack Workflow Builder to automate a lot of routine tasks. It enables asynchronous communication with my team, and frees me to spend more time on high-impact work.

But my number one top Slack tip is to DM yourself — I do it all the time. I set reminders for myself and keep my to-do list in Slack and it keeps me organized. Others use it for personal notes or file storage.

Lastly, I set myself a limit on the number of browser tabs I keep open at any one time. It's a simple hack but it disproportionately helps me feel like everything is in control and in its proper place.

3. I highly recommend taking yourself on a virtual onboarding 'roadshow'

For me, this involved meeting teams from different functions, spending time with our customers, and taking support calls with our agents.

I had little windows into all functions that make up Slack as an organization. It helped me experientially understand how Slack delivers value for customers, communicate with end-users, and ultimately, how the areas where I could bring more value to the organization through my role.

Take time to understand the whole company — not just the immediate team and function you'll be serving.

How I personally manage my team while being a remote native

As an engineer, I love systems and processes, and there's plenty I apply to leadership. I also give a lot of thought to how to make new team members feel welcome and valued.

Don't be ashamed to steal leadership techniques from others — I hope you steal some of these ideas.

  • When I welcome new direct reports, I have the same daily 15-minute 1:1 that my manager had with me when I joined Slack.
  • I also spend a lot of time figuring out what makes my team tick. One example: during my first meeting with someone, I always ask them what respect looks like to them. It's a really grounding question, and the answer tells you a lot about that person. Another example: virtual team 'offsites', where we take time out of our day to connect on a deeper level, building trust and camaraderie. 
  • Make yourself visible and available. Every month, I record Loom videos and share them on a public Slack channel. And they're not just about work — in fact, most of them aren't. It's a chance for people to get to know the real me, and it helps me be more accessible to everyone. 
  • I also host weekly office hours, where anyone can virtually drop in and ask me a question. It's easy to sign up, and you can do so using a slash command. As a leader, it's your job to make time and space to listen, and you've got to be more intentional about that as a remote native.
  • Create frameworks you can use repeatedly. I use this same framework for every 1:1, and it's helped me build highly effective remote teams and remove bias from my conversations. I keep a shared notes and agenda document for every person I meet with, and every 1:1 starts with the same question, "What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about today?" And I always finish by asking what I can do better. Leadership is all about listening. 

Remote work, and remote natives, aren't just the present — they're also the future. We're moving toward a hybrid world, one where leaders will have to be more intentional about communicating with remote teams. Take these tips, mold them to your personality, and get to work building great teams who accomplish incredible things. You got this.

Rukmini Reddy is VP of Engineering at Slack.

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