Q&A with Vincent Voyer, Engineering Manager at Algolia

This post is part of a series where we’ll be interviewing different creatives in order to get a sneak peak at their work and benefit from their experiences. Our guests will also share ideas, tips and advices on how to start a career in a specific area or a remote one in general.

Visit the Questions and Answers category to see more of this.

This Q&A is for managers who are eager to know what managing remote teams looks like. I want to thank Vincent for taking the time to answer my questions and for his valuable feedback:

Q: For people who do not know you, who is Vincent and what are you doing currently?

I am a JavaScript developer turned engineering manager and now leading the Algolia remote support team. The first fully remote team at Algolia. Algolia is a search engine API which performance blew my mind since the day I tried it to today (4,5 years in).

I Recently left Paris, France area to work remotely from my hometown Nantes, France.

Q: What’s a normal day in your job?

I bring my kid to daycare on my ebike and then off to work (this is as hipstery as it sounds!). It takes me 10 minutes to reach the coworking space I am in. Previously I had to bike 45 minutes in Paris to get to the Algolia office, or take public transit for 45 minutes too. On a yearly basis that’s ~200 hours won 💥

My week is 60% support and 40% coding / processes / management. On a support day I will be mostly answering Algolia customers on how best to use Algolia. I will probably also have at least a one-on-one or review a bunch of PR on GitHub from my teammates.

On a coding or processes day I will be writing new Confluence pages on how to do X within the team (we really have to document everything and we do) or maybe adding new features to our support sidebar that is displaying context about customers when we reply to them (like the programming languages used on their websites).

Q: What are the challenges of a manager working remotely vs in an office?

Knowing how people are REALLY feeling: ðŸ˜€or 😐or ☹️.

This is very hard. In an office, you can more easily understand the person’s mood. So to counter that you have to put in place a remote trust environment where it’s ok to say “I am not feeling so good, I am exhausted” and encourage team members to say so. But even if you do all of that, you’ll get situations where people will hide their feelings and that’s ok. It’s part of the management, remote or not.

Another tricky part are time zones. Once you are spread on multiple time zones that don’t have overlaps, then it’s impossible to do meetings with more than three time zones at the same time. As a support team we split the world in four main time zones: Pacific, Eastern, Central European and Japan.

Lastly, you need a remote budget. If your company is not remote but your team is, then you need to clearly define what your team can expense. The goal is for your team to not be considered as second class citizen, but first class just like people in offices. This means you need to either pay them for a coworking space or expense their desk, chair and internet access. But also allow them to get those big external monitors you have at the office.

Q: What are the indispensable tools for managers when managing a remote team?

The obvious ones, Slack, Zoom, Google docs, Confluence. The less obvious ones, Standuply, Next Meeting app, any Slack integration that can share notifications from GitHub, Confluence, Heroku status all in a single channel.

I guess it’s not much the tools that matters, but rather how we use them. As a remote team we try to:

  • Avoid direct messages or 1:1 emails but share everything publicly. The more information you share the less you have to repeat it
  • Have all notifications going to a single channel. It’s like a stream of everything happening in the team
  • Have a shared calendar for your team to put in holidays or any event in advance, and link it to Slack again to get weekly and daily notifications
  • Write every process down, from how to generate the support monthly report to how to review home assignment from candidates. Everything needs to be written down.

When you think about it, all teams, not just the remote ones, would benefit from those advices.

Q: For managers who want to start working remotely. Is there anything they need to add to their skills? What are your advices for them?

You need to force the team to share personal stories like which series on Netflix you liked, what did you do this weekend? We recently started a Weekend thread every Monday where you can put pictures and news about your weekend. Even if all you did was just cleaning your apartment, that’s ok and we want to know it! It’s working great.

Aside from that, try to meet in person every six months. It cost money, but 5 days in person trip to Belgrade (like we did) is a very good way to create affinities that will last for years.

Trust that all your remote team members are doing good and working, even if you cannot see them.

Also, get good at time zones and calendars.

Q: Do you think that remote working is the future? Is it for everyone?

Yes it is, what I foresee is that we will get more and more coworking spaces organized more like real offices rather than coffee places (we need good desks and chairs, phone booths…).

Is it for everyone? Most probably not, as a junior team member it can be very challenging to start off remotely. But I guess it’s doable, especially if you join a coworking space where there might be another team member from your company inside it.

Q: What are the challenges of working remotely for you? And what are your advices to overcome these challenges?

If you work at home, force yourself to put nice clothes and shoes and close the door. Then you’re in work mode.

Q: Do you have a daily routine to stay organized or perform better your job?

Unrelated to remote but I use Things for all personal or work related tasks. I use it as a brain dump and then every Sunday I plan my whole week inside it. On Monday it looks clean and organized, on Sunday it looks like my cat used the computer all week.

Q: What do people need to know before applying to Algolia?

We’re a search company.

We care about what you can do today of course, but more importantly about what you want and will be able to do tomorrow.

We’ve got an idea about managing remote teams and some valuable advices from Vincent.

You can find all the Q&A articles here or you may learn more about remote working here. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you want to get latest articles in your email:

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