This week we sat down with Nicholas Ngorok, Engineering Manager at Twitch, to talk about the challenges of managing remote teams and hear his best practices on running effective remote team meetings and one-on-ones. We also loved all the fun things his team is doing to stay connected remotely, from virtual offsites to a team music room!
- Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Nicholas Ngorok. I am an Engineering Manager at Twitch leading our Data Infrastructure team. We develop and operate Twitch’s data platform, which powers data systems and decision-making at the company. Prior to that, I was an Engineering Manager at Yelp.
- Without the spontaneous hallway conversations in the office, how does your team stay connected with each other?
We stay connected to each other in a number of ways. We have a non work social slack channel where we chat about anything from food to the housing projects we’re working on. We each answer an icebreaker question during our daily team standup to get to know each other even better.
Additionally, we run a coffee chats program on the team wherein different members submit their preferences and availability and get matched with one or more on the team for a 30 minute hang out session on their specified cadence. Lastly, every 6 weeks, we spend our Friday afternoons playing a virtual game together.
We continue to trial different things to keep ourselves connected. We once tried having a team music room on jqbx.fm where we all dj’d some of our favorite tunes for each other. In general, I think mixing it up (no pun intended) plays a key role in maintaining a feeling of connectedness.
- Can you tell us about your recent virtual offsite?
My team and I recently took part in the Amazing Cyberspace race event. It was a very fun experience! We were split into teams and competed against each other going across the globe and finding clues; like the TV show but all virtual! Our host had an infectious energy and we had fun solving the tasks and competing.
- Why did you look for a virtual offsite?
Before Covid and lockdowns happening across the country, we typically did a quarterly offsite as a team. It allowed us to take time away from work, hang out and have an enjoyable time together. However, due to lockdowns, we did not have an offsite Q2. With the uncertainty on when we will return to having in-person offsites, I sought out ways that we could still have a fun offsite and discovered Offsyte. We all then voted on which of the virtual options available on Offsyte we’d like to do and that ended up being the Amazing cyberspace race.
- As a manager, what do you do differently for remote one-on-one meetings?
When remote and now more than ever, it is important to check in and ensure that everyone is doing ok.
I spend a substantial amount of time during my one-on-one checking in with everyone and their well being both in and outside of work. In my case, this is about the first 10 minutes of a 30 minute one-on-one.
- What’s the best way to run an effective virtual team meeting?
To effectively run a virtual meeting, it is imperative to have and set meeting expectations prior to the meeting or right at the start for all parties. There isn’t a one size fits all solution to effective meetings but rather a set of guidelines that work for your team that should be well understood and practiced by all meeting participants. These should include aspects such as:
a) How will interrupts and question asking happen in the meeting?
b) Creating an agenda for the meeting, with set time boxes
c) Will notes be taken during the meeting and sent out after or live in a doc during the meeting?
d) Ensuring that everyone knows how to join the meeting
e) Should everyone have their webcam turned on?
f) Is there any pre-reading that needs to be done prior to the meeting?
- Can you share some tips on how to best support your reports through their new remote working experience?
I think it is important to understand each report’s individual circumstance working remote and providing them with appropriate support to help. E.g. Is your report providing child care and requires a different work schedule? How can you change how your team operates to allow them to be successful?
It is also important to ensure that your reports have the appropriate tools to work from home. E.g. a good desk, chair, microphone etc. Perhaps your organisation provides these or you can find a budget allocation to support them.
Last but definitely not least, it is important to voice and be a force for well-being.
To be supportive to others, you need to be mentally well yourself.
We are all under a lot of stress in these times and it is important that we all take care of each other. Encourage employees to take time off as well as take time off yourself. Take care of yourselves: eat well, exercise, sleep well.
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