Why Remote First R&D at Kenect is the Best Choice

Jan 26
min Read
Behind The Scenes

By Jason Madsen, Chief Technology Officer

I've been part of remote engineering teams in one form or another for the last decade. By the time early 2020 came around, as the world struggled to "figure out remote", working remotely felt completely natural for me. As many companies now look at timelines to return to the office, allow me to make a suggestion for your engineering, user experience, and product team members. Don't do it.

A remote team offers unique challenges but offers so many unique benefits. In this post I'll address just a pair of the typical challenges with remote and how our engineering, product, and UX teams at Kenect deal with them.

Building relationships can be difficult remotely

At Kenect, we ask our team members to be open to giving and receiving feedback. That feedback comes in the form of code reviews, design critiques, direct feedback to each other, feedback for the team, or a myriad of other scenarios. Doing so effectively requires trust. That trust comes through building relationships with each other. Those relationships do not come easy in any scenario. Relationships can be more difficult to build in a fully remote environment.

One of the ways we combat this difficulty at Kenect is by bringing the entire team together once a quarter. We attempt to do lots of things during that time together (functional meetings, working through challenges, etc.).

Perhaps the most important thing we do in our quarterly get together is to have some fun. In the past we've gone go-karting, hiking in the mountains, a summer barbeque, etc. This takes a commitment from everyone.

As a company we commit the funds necessary to pull off this quarterly get together. Our remote team members make a time commitment to travel. Our remote team members who happen to live locally make a commitment to come into the office for the week to participate. What it costs in terms of commitment is more than paid back in relationships, trust, and understanding of each other. Our quarterly onsite is invaluable for us.

Remote Experience Is Inconsistent

Remote becomes difficult for many teams when the experience of being remote is inconsistent. I can't imagine being the lone remote team member on an in-office team. Same for a team where half of us are remote and the other half are in the office. In these scenarios it is easy for the remote team member to feel like they are not an official member of the team. At Kenect we think of ourselves as "Remote First". For us, that means that we are all remote regardless of location.

I wish I had taken a photo. This morning, in our new office in Pleasant Grove, we had a pair of team members that came into the office for the first half of the day (We have lots of "hot desks" that anyone can come in and use as needed). They were sitting next to each other. Each were at their own desk. Each were on the same video call for standup. Both with their laptop open, talking into their session in the same remote meeting. At Kenect, when one of us is remote, we are all remote. Even when some of us might be in the office. Even if most of us happen to be in the same room. When one of us is remote, we are all remote.

This forces conversations into remote friendly tools. It is too easy to put the video chat up on the TV screen in a room while a few team members view the video call from "the room". Those of you doing this are currently having an internal dialogue with yourself about how this doesn't actually matter. It matters when you are one of the other participants in the call. If your team members aren't pushing for this, they are simply being too polite.

Remote First at Kenect

When one of us is remote, we're all remote.

The consistent experience for each of us is worth more than the minor inconvenience.

There is a lot that goes into creating a great remote team. I can't say we're perfect at it. Even with a decade of experience at remote teams, what it means to be great at it (let alone perfect) continues to evolve. What I will say about our remote R&D culture at Kenect is that we are dedicated to being really good at it and improving along the path.

I haven't even touched on the benefits of a remote team. I'll save that for another post but will leave you with this: being Remote First opens us up to finding the right team members to be a part of the amazing things we're doing at Kenect.

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