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Audio: What a Senior Engineering Manager Focused on to Lead his Brand New Team Remotely
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What a Senior Engineering Manager Focused on to Lead his Brand New Team Remotely

21 January 2022, by Jomiro Eming

Amos Haviv joined 3D Hubs as Senior Engineering Manager after lockdown was implemented, when teams were already working fully-remotely. Although he’s had years of leadership experience, leading a brand new team, while being onboarded into a new role and being completely remote, came with a new set of challenges.

This meant that Amos had to reassess how he approached his new role as an engineering manager. Instead of trying to get involved and figure out everything about the company at once, he decided to focus on one core thing: Building up trust within his new team through solid communication. This meant he could get to know his new team really well and really quickly, and understand how he could best support them remotely. This article is a summary of our conversation on the podcast.

Joining a new team remotely is hard enough as is. In Amos’ case, he not only joined a new company, but he joined as a new Senior Engineering Manager, which meant he was tasked with leading a team of around 20 developers, all of whom he’d never met, while being introduced to a new product, a new way of working, and a new culture, all at once.

Amos defines his role as people-orientated. For him, this means that before he thinks about the product, he needs to think about the people in his team:

“I’m an engineer by profession, but when you become a manager, your focus should be on the people around you, and empowering them; they’ll be able to do ten times better if you’re able to remove blockers for them. That will always be true, it will always be people at the centre.”

Joining a new team, especially during the midst of chaos, meant that he had to take a super intentional approach to upholding this focus. If he spread himself too thinly, he would lose out on the opportunity to connect with his team from the start and help them feel supported in the work they were doing.

So, he decided to focus the first three months of his new role on his new team members.

Amos looked at the places and methods through which he communicated with this team the most — namely, meetings and 1:1s — and worked on optimising those.

To do this he:

  • Prioritised 1:1 conversations with everyone in his team
  • Aimed to keep work-related meetings short and to a minimum

Prioritise 1:1 conversations to build trust fast

Amos was meeting 20 new people all at once, and because his first priority was to connect with all of them, and establish trust as a leader, he decided to spend most of his time having 1:1s with his dev team.

For the few months of his new role, Amos split his week as follows: He would spend Monday to Thursday in weekly 1:1s with his entire team, and use Fridays to do onboarding and care about the bare minimum of the rest of his role.

This gave him four full days of focused time with his new team. “By allowing myself so much time to do this, I felt like I got context that I wouldn’t have had otherwise”, he explains.

But Amos says that remote 1:1s can be far more tiring than in-person ones: “Zoom conversations are hard, and you need to put in a lot of effort to figure out what the person in front of you is feeling, thinking, or doing. Our brain is not used to it. Trying to get all this information out of a video can be an extremely excruciating task.”

To keep himself energised and these 1:1s manageable at scale, Amos did the following things:

Keep 1:1s to 30 minutes

Although some conversations need more time, Amos tries to keep his 1:1s short. This helps them feel more conversational, and less like a meeting with a lengthy agenda.

Stick to a healthy routine

Since he was spending an entire day at his laptop on Zoom calls, Amos needed to make sure he didn’t get drained by the end of the day. “I ensured that I stood up, walked around, and got water or coffee at least once every hour. Even with back-to-back meetings, I made sure not to sit for longer than an hour. I found that my cognitive capacity declined after a while if I didn’t move.”

Don’t push a certain agenda

In order to get the most out of the chat, Amos always opted for listening, and pursuing what the person in front of him wanted to talk about: “If I could see that there was something on their mind, I immediately pulled that onto the main stage. I think it’s really important to listen to what the person has to tell you, and not what you think you need to hear from this person as this is what helps build trust.”

Keep work-related meetings short, and to a minimum, to avoid overwhelm

In Amos’ experience, meetings are easily the things that take up most of one’s day. And, when they’re done over a video conferencing tool in a remote team, they can easily be more draining than useful, especially when there are many people involved.

Because getting to know his team was his priority and he had deliberately only allocated one day for his other work, Amos had to make sure he optimised his meetings — firstly, so that he could get up to speed on what he needed to know about the product as quickly as possible, and secondly, so that he had more time for his 1:1s.

To do this, he had three criteria for every meeting:

  • Keep them short
  • Make them concise
  • Keep them small

Keep them short

The longer the meeting, the more likely people stop listening. As a result, Amos tried to keep meetings to no more than 25-30 minutes and for the ones that did need more time, he scheduled a break every half hour.

Make them concise

In order to keep his meetings short, he also needed them to be concise. Amos insisted that every meeting have an agenda and an ideal outcome that everyone was notified about in advance. This meant they had time to prepare, and gave everyone the context they needed. “You must have a framework to operate within”, he explains. “We are not programmed to be able to do these things with just the information we get from a screen. We need to be able to prepare.”

Keep them small

In Amos’ experience, big virtual meetings make it really hard for people to stay engaged. “It’s easier to disappear within a meeting; and, if they don’t want to engage, they will disappear.” He says, “For some people, it’s easier to have a conversation in a meeting. Other people are quieter… and you need to bring them in.”

By keeping meetings small, Amos can engage each person individually, and get them to contribute at least once per meeting. “I rotate, and I ensure that I have at least a sentence from each of the people in the conversation — otherwise, why are they there?”

This also lets Amos ask people questions, and make the meeting feel less tiring: “It helps to ask a question to ensure that we are still talking to each other — ‘Wait, are you listening to me’, or ‘am I talking too long, have I lost the point?’ That makes the conversation much less demanding.

Look after your people, and they’ll look after your product

In a remote world, where teams are predominantly working from home, where finding a healthy work-life balance is a little harder, connecting as people is what Amos found really made a positive difference for his team, and his company.

In the end, he’s trying to mould every process and system he sets up to enable his team, rather than for the sake of having that process in place: “The way I see it… is to create processes that we benefit from, and not processes that we need to serve.” This way, he continuously puts his team first, and is able to lead and support them even if they’re in different locations.

If you have any questions about remote leadership or being hired as a technical manager remotely, feel free to reach out Amos via LinkedIn!


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