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Time For Collaboration: Working With (Very) Remote Teams

Ben Gremillion
Ben Gremillion

We have an ongoing challenge. With more than half of the UXPin team in Poland, and the rest in California, communication issues were only a matter of time — or rather, time zones.

It pops up in meetings. And in scheduling company events. And in clarifying who’s responsible for what. To solve this daily problem we’ve had to develop strategies for communicating across both time zones and cultures.

Based in California, Vice President of Product Sunita Reddy has had ample experience working with our Polish developers. We asked her how she tackles communication challenges across the Atlantic.

Describe your role in UXPin.

I provide product leadership for UXPin, which includes balancing long term product strategy & vision with execution. Prioritizing the roadmap and coming up with marketable product updates. Making sure that the processes are well defined to build a predictable agile model for software development. Help build a quality product with high CSAT that helps drive UXPin's growth strategy.

What did you do before UXPin?

I ran a company called ChiQasa, a visual commerce company with customer base in Southeast Asia. We had a team of 20 with two dev offices in India and product management in Mountain View, California. Before that I was head of mobile product and engineering @Accellion with a dev teams in Singapore and Palo Alto. I have led remote teams multiple times in career.

How involved are you with day-to-day operations in the Polish office?

Very involved. I keep in touch with all the product owners and designers on a daily basis and sync with our VP Projects & CTO multiple times a week. I attend every sprint demo and sit in on some sprint retros.

What tools do you use to communicate with the team?

Slack, Zoom, email, phone calls. Sometimes I send a written message, then we talk about it on the call so that nothing gets lost in translation.

What communication problems have you and your team overcome?

One of the biggest issues coming into UXPin was lack of structure. We have created a structure that works in the product org. They know what I am optimizing for in our product team and I get notified. One of the challenges we have overcome is spoken English. If I don't understand them on the phone, I ask the team to send me something ahead of time so that I can follow along. Many times when they write stuff down, it becomes contextual and then easy to understand.

What would you like to improve with coordinating with your team?

Be more organized and more proactive, open up more — not just with me, but rest of the team so that we can solve problems fast. Think through solutions more before presenting.

What did you learn about your team on your first trip to Poland?

I was nervous going to Poland because I did not know what to expect. People were courteous and polite but reserved. So the conversations were way too structured. I had to break the walls, start conversations (take the first step) understand their emotions, likes and dislikes to eventually have water cooler conversations on Slack.

What do you miss about working with people in person?

I have a ton of water-cooler conversations with folks on Slack. But I do miss having a nerdy conversation or solving a super-technical problems with our developers, as they do not open up much about microservices or security across the entire platform or bringing Kubernetes vs. Mesos.

What advice would you offer a manager dealing with teams in another part of the world?

Be super organized. Communicate the process you expect them to follow and over communicate. Get to know people so that you can care, mentor and work with the entire person as opposed to a Persona on Slack. Use the channels that work for the teams. No one channel is right. If you have introverts on the team give them short questions so that they can open up. Make it a comfortable and safe virtual environment for them to express themselves.

Ben Gremillion

by Ben Gremillion

Ben Gremillion is a Content Strategist at UXPin. He’s worked as both a web designer and a back-end developer. On the side he builds and maintains a CMS for webcomic artists, and participates in annual NaNoWriMo challenges.

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