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How can remote work be successful? Can distributed teams work in harmony and well-coordinated across the globe? How to manage the issues of time zone differences? How can teams manage themselves, being far away from the headquarters?
These are some of the topics that Sergio covered in conversation with Kiranjit Sidhu, Director of Engineering at Facebook, in FB’s offices in Menlo Park, in our first episode of Working Without Borders, Get on Board’s podcast on managing remote and distributed teams.
Kiranjit has been leading Engineering for the Growth and Ads teams — arguably two of the most crucial teams in making Facebook what it is today — across Singapore, the Bay Area, Seattle, Japan, Malaysia, and Vancouver.
Our main takeaways from the conversation with Kiranjit:
- Deciding to establish offices in other countries is as much a matter of getting talent not available elsewhere as it is a matter of strategic presence in certain regions. It also may happen organically — like when Facebook acquires a company based outside the Bay Area.
- The biggest issue when managing distributed teams is not the time zone differences, as one might think, but rather how to balance between giving remote teams decision-making power, and keeping them aligned with the headquarters at the same time. For Kiranjit, it’s imperative to have senior leadership in place and good cross-functional teams working both in the headquarters and remotely.
- A key to success when creating teams working together across the globe is giving remote workers due recognition and visibility, especially in comparison with what’s happening in the headquarters.
- Making remote teams feel connected and integrated is a full-time job that requires constant care, attention, and observation from managers. Managers need to be constantly aware of signs of disengagement or stress, and usually, the clues are much subtler in remote communication than they are in person.
Listen to the podcast here or read below the full episode transcript, lightly edited for readability.
Sergio Nouvel: Welcome. This is our very first podcast and we are pretty honored to have a special guest for this first time: his name is Kiranjit Sidhu. Kiranjit is Director of Engineering at Facebook, and we are going to be talking and discussing how to build and manage remote and distributed engineering teams, about which Kiranjit is probably one of the people with the most experience.
So, Kiran, first of all, thank you for talking with us today and having the time, I know you are super busy. Maybe you can walk us a little bit about what you’re doing, what you’ve been doing at Facebook, for how long, everything about what you’re doing, you and your teams.
Kiranjit Sidhu: Well, thanks for having me first of all. I’ve been at Facebook for about 13 years, but I started as an engineer. There weren’t many teams at that time, so we did mostly research, privacy, platform, those were the core areas that I’ve worked on.
Then I joined the user growth team, which is, basically the team responsible for getting new people on Facebook: how you get people, the whole acquisition funnel, activation, how do you get them engaged. I joined them pretty early and then did that for about 6 years. [I did] Lots of different parts within that space as well, anywhere from the things you see — like the ‘people you may know’ feature — that you see on Facebook, add friends and suggestions, the ML [Machine Learning] behind that, email notifications, or how to internationalize the site; any blockers that would prevent people from joining the site or becoming engaged. So that was my focus for the first 6 years.
From there I moved to Vancouver, Canada to run the engineering office up there for 2 years, and then I’ve been on Ads for the last 5 years since then. I came back and switched teams, and been on Ads since. Currently, my org is roughly around 150 people. It primarily deals with small and medium businesses and how to make those businesses successful at Facebook. That means the tools that they use to create their ads, manage their ads, but also the organic side of businesses as well. From new entities or new business joining Facebook to for them to become a successful advertiser. It’s a pretty wide spectrum and different teams are doing different things.
Sergio: That’s awesome. You can say the Growth team at Facebook is the team that “invented” growth. That also speaks to the performance that you, through all these years, have had to manage and ensure.
What would you say is the biggest challenge of doing that? And related to the distributed teams’ part of what you’re doing: How many teams do you manage? and where are they? How many time zones?
Kiranjit: Currently, I manage teams in Singapore, in Menlo Park, and in Seattle, so there are three different areas. There’s the same time for Seattle, and then we have teams with different times, a 16-hours difference in Singapore.
My past background has been managing teams in Malaysia, Japan, teams in London and Vancouver — I was personally there as well — I’ve talked with teams in Israel (Tel Aviv) as well, so there’s a pretty wide range of teams that I’ve worked with during my time at Facebook. And a lot of that comes from being on the Growth org as well. A lot of these companies were acquisitions that we had — they were very very small teams — but they ended up reporting into Menlo Park. They were coming from a different point of view, but still, I had to bring them into the Facebook culture as well.
Sergio: So, building these distributed teams has been a part of Facebook’s strategy from the beginning?
Kiranjit: There are two different pieces of it. One piece is: we wanted to double down and build bigger engineering offices. For example, London is one of our biggest offices outside of the Bay Area, Seattle, and New York, but the main thing is the critical mass you want to have — the significant amount of mass there. But then also there’s this other piece, which is not part of a strategy, but just ends up happening. So it happens that you need to go acquire a company, or you need to go and get a sort of space, and the talent just exists there. So rather you’re doing ML work, and you have stuff in Europe for we have to do something — or you’re doing things in Tel Aviv, or, more specifically, acquire a company and that became a hub for a new office.
So it depends, it’s not necessarily one plan that we follow, we have a plan based on what the company is, what the space is. The Singapore office is a lot about picking up back their region, and there’s a lot of talent there as well. At the markets, lots of products are going to be up there — so, having a presence there makes sense, too.
Sergio: So in a sense, it comes down to ‘go find the talent where they are’.
Kiranjit: Yes. Most of the time, the talent exists down in Menlo Park, but then you have to look for specialists in certain places: so the Boston office, having a very high infrastructure and a little bit of talent as well; London office for people who don’t want to move from Europe down to California to work here as well. There are different reasons why we’ll have offices, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that talent is the only reason why we would go out and make that office. I think some of it is talent, some of it is the product that is based where we want to go in there for. It depends on the specific nature of the office.
Sergio: And how are these teams built? Someone in Japan is working alongside someone in Singapore alongside someone in Vancouver, or are they mixed regionally? How do you mix those teams?
Kiranjit: It’s a good question. It’s pretty diverse actually. In certain places these teams are very much isolated acquired companies, so they’re companies working within that region and not necessarily working too closely, [it’s] like having a sister team. They have partner teams that they work with, but not necessarily the product itself is there. So decision making’s happening there.
Certain places, like Singapore for example, we have teams there that make part of my org and just outside of my integrity org as well, so there’s a couple of different orgs. And those are relatively connected to the headquarters in terms of the decision making: figuring out what needs to get built on a quarter to quarter basis. That fits in a more regular model of what a team IS at Facebook. Whereas it’s a startup that you acquire or it’s just like they’re working on things that we want.
Sergio: So, I’m guessing a frequent challenge is having to coordinate people across several time zones? Right?
Kiranjit: Yeah, that’s one of the issues, I don’t think it’s the biggest issue, but I think that’s the most obvious one.
The most obvious one is the time zone [coordination] with Singapore. For example, you only have 3 and a half days of overlap in a week — our Sundays are their Mondays, so we’re not working on their Mondays; our Fridays are their Saturdays, so Friday is gone as well.
So literally is 3 and a half days of actual overlap, and realistically speaking, our meetings start at 5 pm because it depends on daytime and the time zone right now, or daylight saving as well. If daylight saving is working, for example right now, you can’t start the meeting at 4:00- 4:30 pm, that would be like 8:00–8:30 am roughly there.
But then, during the other half of the year, you have to start the meetings at 5:30 pm, because it’s unrealistic to ask people to show up like at 7 in the morning to join meetings all the time. Once in a while, I think it makes sense, but all the time is hard.
“…the biggest [problem] is not having enough decision-making power there.”
Sergio: Yeah, we have to do that too, so we relate. So, you say that’s the most obvious problem, but it’s not the biggest problem.
Kiranjit: That’s not the biggest one — the biggest one is not having enough decision-making power there. That’s the biggest problem. So the problem ends up being: the people look at the headquarters for guidance in terms of what they should build or when they should ship something, if they hit a blocker, how do they handle that stuff. A lot of it comes down to having a senior leadership in place as well — not only senior leadership from our endpoint of view but just having a good cross-functional team there, too.
So you have strong PM’s [project managers], and people who can make decisions, or informing the headquarters versus relying on the headquarters to tell them what they should be doing on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s the primary thing. I would say — if we could kind of focus on when you’re building a new office — build a strong XMF team, build a team that has a charter that is completely based out of there. It’s good that they should be talking to teams in Menlo Park and headquarters down here, but it shouldn’t be a requirement. A requirement that’s like the key thing there.
Sergio: And how do you balance autonomy with coordination and alignment? Because obviously, you can err on both sides.
Kiranjit: Yeah, it’s tough. Doing remote stuff it’s not easy, but I think it adds in a lot of value. It adds value because it gets a different diverse perspective. Just not from the people viewing things very differently from how you do it, you get a pretty good idea about the market there as well.
So, making it back I think that being in Singapore, the things that those people hear, just because they’re closer to the seals or organizational stuff is probably a lot more meaningful in terms of the oncoming opportunities that we are seen. But then they’re missing the cooler talk that you’d have here, like people sitting at their desks sharing random talks. Those things don’t get done at the same place.
“A lot of the challenge on the leadership side [for remote teams] ends up being recognition, making sure you’re giving face time to them.”
And also you have the other issue of, the teams that are feeling a little isolated because they don’t feel like they’re part of the bigger org here. They feel like they’re doing work, and the work is important, but they don’t know about what anyone else even knows about them in the headquarters, so, a lot of the challenge on the leadership side ends up being recognition, making sure you’re giving face time to them.
Simple things like not rescheduling a meeting — if it’s a Singapore meeting — making sure they are included, making sure like “all-hands” — which supposedly also include those people as well — don’t happen at 10 am here, they happen at a reasonable time, so those people can join in if they want to. So there’s like a lot of things that you have to kind of take proactively in terms of how you balance the time zone differences.
And also just figure out our people making the big decisions there; our people being more independent there; what is the senior engineer level compared to. In general, I would say, if you’re in a headquarters like theirs, there should be a reasonable amount of experience difference between people who work here. For example, you’d have a few senior engineers, a few slightly junior engineers, more new grads, so that we have a whole mentorship structure lead out to level.
The worst is when you are in a work office and you’re starting that off, and you don’t want that structure that’s like the one that kind of builds in itself after a while. What you want is that super senior people can handle things independently.
The other thing you’re also looking for is a cultural aspect as well. You’re looking for people who are specifically kind of bought into the company culture. They are either from Facebook from the company you have headquarters in, and kind of taking their culture and spreading it there as well. Because, and this is not only a social aspect of it, [it’s] such as the engineering culture: like how do you write code; what are the right things to do. There’s a lot of things you need to be looking for in terms of the people who are going there. So you don’t necessarily need to have the people with the strongest quarters, but you need to have people who are probably the most well a-rounded. In the first year or the first two years of any office that you are opening.
“You need to make sure that you’re recognizing the fact that people are dealing with very different circumstances than you are.”
Sergio: I think this speaks a lot to the challenges we constantly see when trying to manage remote — especially a sense of belonging and integration, and it surprises me — I didn’t expect even trying to coordinate people across so many time zones and still you’re trying to find some places where everyone can be live together, like the all-hands meeting.
How feasible is that? I’m guessing that all-hands doesn’t happen every week, so how do you balance these special occasions with the day to day work?
Kiranjit: I think that the key thing again is recognition — you need to make sure that you’re recognizing the fact that people are dealing with very different circumstances than you are. So “all-hands”, for example, for us happen once a month. We get the whole org together.
There are multiple ways to make people feel included. One is the timing thing, you can do it at 3:30 or 4:00 pm, so that way more people from Singapore can join in. You might still don’t get enough of the crowd joining in. So other things that you can do is to make sure there are speakers from that office specifically, so they’re getting called out. We do certain types of things, for example in every all-hand, every new person stands up and talks about who they are and answer a couple of funny questions or whatever. We always make sure that they start — we would ask people there first if there’s anyone new there, so they speak first and then we come after. So you always put the person on the VC to have a better, slightly better advantage just because otherwise they would probably not be heard. This is more an all-hands’ thing, so it happens once a month.
The day-to-day thing comes down to a lot more on trying to schedule meetings where you are. Taking meetings once in a while at around 8:30 pm. We have a couple of meetings that I take at 8:00 pm. I have a 5-month daughter at home, but I need to make time to make sure that when I’m there — like half an hour or 40 minutes — so that the team feels that it’s not completely unreasonable that we are asking them to show up at 7 in the morning and after 5 pm I’m not available.
Sergio: So everyone compromises a little bit…
Kiranjit: Everyone does compromise, then you need to keep the channels open, I think that’s the other piece. I speak to my senior-most person reporting it to me in Singapore, probably 5 times a week. We have random conversations about random things over messenger, or whenever he needs time to talk, I try to make time to be there, because otherwise, if we try scheduling things, it’s just going to take longer, so it just doesn’t happen.
You need to be relatively flexible there, but I think with the belonging piece, that’s the only way you can do it. I try to make multiple trips there as well, so I don’t go for a long time. I don’t go for a 2-week trip or whatever. I’ll go for two days, but the two days are going to be very frequent like once every other month I’ll be going there. That way they are seeing senior leadership — other people coming in as well — having an opportunity to speak to people in a face-to-face setting. I’ll go there and make sure there are other senior leaders — a designer, data scientist — also going there as well. It’s not just like careless going. That helps a lot with this feeling of ‘being isolated’ issue.
Sergio: Ok, sounds great. And how does remote-work work at Facebook? What’s the degree of flexibility? Because distributed doesn’t necessarily mean that people are remote, it means the team itself is in another office elsewhere but How does that combine with the flexibility and how much flexibility works for you guys at Facebook?
Kiranjit: There is relative flexibility for remote or distributed work. In a sense of like the people are responsible for what they’re building, they should be coming up with new ideas. Facebook generally is a very common bottom-up company, so a lot of ideas are driven by engineers themselves. So you do see that and expect to see that in remote offices and distributed settings as well. I don’t think that is as much of an issue. I think what it comes down to is making sure that they have more independence and they feel that they’re part of the bigger system.
If it’s for doing road-mapping and we have a process there, making sure that they are coming for the road-mapping reviews at the right time, they’re plugged into the whole thing — but they are making the decisions, they are doing the research they need to do, to figure out what are the next set of things that they want to do. And then the leadership team here can advise them to say ‘well maybe another team is working on that stuff already, why don’t you talk to them.’ Connecting the dots that they might be missing and certain risks. That’s key, I would say. It’s just making sure that they’re part of the bigger picture. Whatever the processes that you have for your org that they just kill and then kind of evolve and take remote and distributed teams into account as well.
Sergio: Ok. So I think that leads me to the next topic we want to talk about, which is managing and measuring performance, especially in distributed teams, where — as you said — it is harder to see people working, so probably you have to relate more on what they are delivering. What’s your pose on that and what are probably the best practices for everyone listening?
Kiranjit: Yeah, so that’s a very good question. The one thing that we try doing is not setting a different bar for people in remote offices, but we do expect people to have different types of contributions. For example, an engineer working at the headquarters would probably look for a different axis, or what an engineer typically does. Some sort of stuff like the shipping, the metric impact or whatever it is. Then they have a ‘how do they do that work’ — the engineering excellence — like ‘what tests they covered right’. Generally, How do they make the core biz that they’re working on better? That’s the second piece of it.
The third would be how they work in direction, how independent were they, how many ideas were coming from them or if somebody else told them. Again there’s a different spectrum of how senior you are or how junior you are, the different expectations you have, different levels.
And the final one is the org-wide impact. What is your impact at the company level? What do you do? Do you interview a lot of people? Do you do make a sell call? What is that additional thing that you are doing which is adding on to? How do you become more well-a-rounded? So the axis doesn’t change. The way you look at the people, and measure them in remote offices is still the same. What does change, is that percentage that you look at, in terms of what they can pull out. For example, for a remote person, an opportunity to do an org-wide impact is probably going to be a little more limited, because they’re not placed or the office’s so small. They can do site-wide impact, so they can probably do things which are building culture and decide that maybe they’re doing some on-screens and interviews there, but they don’t have the regular opportunity of being an intern mentor.
When the team there is about 10 people, we’re not going to have interns there. We’re going to have Bootcamps classes where basically everyone joins in. You go through 6 weeks of training before you join a team. And then ventures, who are training those people. Then, anyone — any IC — can be a Bootcamp mentor. You don’t get that opportunity in a remote office because there is no Bootcamp class there, everyone flies in here. We have to expect that their org-wide impact might be a little bit lower, but that lower is fine because that’s the norm for them.
What we do expect more from them is, well, their direction is going to be a lot better because they’ll be having to make decisions and learn faster than what people would learn here. Because they would have more coverage, more people helping them out, so certainly they would be hired back. But then some things should be relatively the same, regardless of where you are working. Productivity should be the same. You have the same amount of meetings, the amount of writing should be the same, the type of work that you’re doing should still be the same as well, as long as the culture there is good.
“…we need to treat people equally, otherwise, it is going to become two different categories of how you compare people, how you evaluate them.”
Certain things are very measurable and then we would use those metric goals that you do, or the ship date that you hit or for a project that you’re working on. Those things are universal. They exist everywhere and we need to treat people equally, otherwise, it is going to become two different categories of how you compare people, how you evaluate them. And then, on certain parts, you have to be flexible, and say, ‘well, all these opportunities already exist there. What does exist there? How much time and commitment are they putting up into this thing?’ As long as it’s a similar-ish-time commitment as an engineer doing it here. It’s a reasonable thing, it’s just a different set of things that they’re working on.
Sergio: How do you make sure to be aware if someone is demotivated or something is going on with their personal lives that might be affecting work — because it’s probably much easier to watch and to notice when the person is sitting right next to you and they look depressed than when you are dealing with people that you rarely see face-to-face in a daily basis. What do you have to put in place to make sure that you are aware of what’s happening to people?
Kiranjit: That’s a good question. A lot of it comes down to your senior leadership team that’s there. If you have a few people who you trust in terms of it, — and again, it’s an expectation you are setting on to people down there: to be responsible for the culture, the general happiness of people as well — they are the people who are going to be listing issues that are coming up. You’re kind of in an extra watch to hear things like ‘oh, in this meeting something happened’.
You’re looking out for people saying things which — typically in Menlo park, when you’re here, the headquarters — you probably will not think much of it because there are going to be more cases where that also happened, and people have ways there to talk to you. But anytime you hear something that’s off — regardless of whether that’s ‘CR reporting change’ or is ‘an engineer doing that thing’ — sure I would investigate and figure out what’s going on, but if it’s not an engineer, even if it’s a designer or even some other function that we’re talking about, as a data scientist, I would still dig in because the problems of being in a remote place — and being in a smaller setting as well — the impact of that is very high.
“…you should take everything seriously — any time when somebody complains — but specifically if it’s coming remotely.”
Even having only one person who is potentially depressed, or like, going through something in their personal life that they don’t have an outlet to talk to, it can take stuff out to other people in the ground with them. They could be affected much much deeper as well.
So lots of it comes down to being very proactive in terms of — any time you hear something that’s kind of doubling down — investigating right away, taking things like, if someone is complaining about something, taking it very seriously… especially if it’s coming remotely, bringing in your peers. If I’m in strain, I’ll be bringing in my senior leaders, and across other functions to kind of help, kind of get a different viewpoint from a different set of people. Their people probably heard of it as well, so those kinds of things help a lot, in terms of it.
The face-to-face time thing is never going to be beaten. I think, when I go there, I try to make a point of not only meeting people who are directly reporting to me or recursively reporting to me, but I try to make a point of meeting with senior people across the office. I’ll try to meet people in different functions, in different teams. There are other engineer teams that I don’t support there, but I’ll go meet their managers as well, just to see how they’re doing, like how the office they work for is doing.
If I hear something there, then I can come back here. I can go and speak to their senior or lead to bring these issues up to them, to get them aware, like ‘maybe you’re not noticing it’ or maybe ‘the person is complaining and you’re not taking things completely seriously, but this is a big deal.’ So a lot of it is just listing out all that we talked about the office area.
Sergio: Ok, so that’s one thing — caring about how people’s doing. I guess the other part is: how do you communicate what’s important and what’s the priority? Because, as you said earlier, you wish for more autonomy from these teams. How do you communicate to them what’s important, what’s the priority? If something is happening here, things are changing here, how does that spread to other realities, other countries, other teams, other cultures?
Kiranjit: There’s a couple of different things that you have to do. One is probably the obvious one. You have all-hands to make sure things are disseminated there relatively well. I try my best to do HBN. I organize people, and myself, like once a month, specifically calling on different things. Every month is a different topic. One month it would be on polls, which is our way of checking on how every team — and the company — is doing and then basically finding if maybe there’s a team in Singapore and disclose it.
Polls are a metric-based survey that people take, about some questions that we think are important. And then based on the data, we would go and investigate a little bit deeper to see what’s happening with this team, like ‘why is this number low for this specific area’, like ‘maybe there’s something there’, and then sharing that out in an HBN every month. It helps out, at least in giving more transparency and visibility. I’m aware of what’s going on in Singapore. I understand what our next steps are and that we are doing something. So that’s one way to do that.
I do other things on an HBN. I’ll specifically have one — twice a year — where we do better engineering. I’ll do only shout-outs to people who have done above-and-beyond work in terms of making our core biz better, and just doing engineering work. Whereas typically more shout-outs are mostly for ‘what’s the metric change that we have’, this is more for like oh, ‘how do you sell yourself’, like ‘what is that you, as an engineer, do to make the lives of other engineers around you better’. So that is one of the communication ways.
“ [communication] It’s not only important for letting people know what the company is doing, or what your org is doing, or how you’re thinking. It’s important because people there are also concerned about their careers as well…”
The other is the in-person one, which probably cannot be replaced. It’s not only important for letting people know what the company is doing, or what your org is doing, or how you’re thinking. It’s important because people there are also concerned about their careers as well, or wondering what’s their career path, or how do they succeed, what’s the next step for them, and you need to be there because this is not something you can communicate on a broad basis.
Each person’s career is their career, so you have to give them insight on how, you, at least — or your org leader — think about their career. What you think opportunities are for them, what are the areas they should focus on.
It’s not that you’re promising them anything. It’s just that you’re telling them ‘this world that you’re in, your career is going to look very different than if you were in the headquarters’, because the opportunities are different, but at the same time, they’re different for a good reason as well. They are a lot more interesting. You can have success, and they just need to kind of hear that out as well. So I think the one-on-one, face-to-face meetings help a lot too.
Sergio: Do you see mobility between people that may have started at one of these distributed offices and then worked their way up to being here in Menlo Park?
Kiranjit: It’s interesting because when we hire people we are hiring permanently for that location. It’s not like we’re hiring intending to bring you to the States because you can always interview and come back later. It is not necessarily needed for you to go there. There’s probably a reason you are in that market. Whether it is your family or personal preferences, or you believe in that market and space, like, you know, ‘ I love being in Singapore because we’re tackling APAC, which is the next set of things; the biggest area that we grew in’. So I don’t see it as much, but you do see it.
I’ve had people who moved from there [Singapore] down to Menlo Park, down to Canada. A bunch of different offices as well. The thing that we try to do is that we try to be as fair as possible — as flexible — but at the same time having expectations from people as well. If you’re joining in and leaving three months later, that’s not fair for that office. There should be some expectation of spending a year or 2 years in that office, as you’re helping in build that office itself, and after time, if you, for whatever reason — your personal life situation changes, or professionally you want to try something else and those opportunities don’t exist in that office — you want to transfer over to here, we try to get them to transfer using whatever policies.
There should be a role here. A team should be sponsoring you, depending on what each situation is. Of course, certain rules are followed. I’ve seen people move over as well, but it’s not usually because there’s a business need for somebody to move over, it’s mostly because of their personal life situations have changed and they want an opportunity which doesn’t exist in that office.
Sergio: For what you say I infer that part of what makes it worthwhile for Facebook is that people are located in that market, in that specific place. How does that work? Because we’ve been speaking about how people in other countries or time zones relate to what’s happening here. How do that same people relate to what’s happening in their local communities? Do you observe or measure that impact? Is something that is on the top of your minds when building these teams?
Kiranjit: The way we are usually hiring people is — for engineering at least — you have to be clear on how engineering works, so that’s the number one priority. You also want to recruit people who are local as well. You want to recruit people from universities, or based on that region. You also want to recruit people who are senior engineers. Senior managers from that region as well. And part of the reason could be because if they’re from that area, they’re more likely to stay and invest in that office for longer, but it’s also because we need to prove that this model works.
We need to prove that we can go into a new market, hire the type of people that we need to hire for the long-term growth of this office. So there’s different reasoning why we would hire locally, that we want a few of these things. Outside of that, I think any of these offices — whether it’s Singapore or any other of the ones that we have — we only open an office if we are committed to that region, or we want to fail quickly and get out of there because when you’re trying something and it didn’t work you don’t want to invest there. After all, the cost of opening an office is very heavy.
“If you don’t have a leadership team in the headquarters … it becomes very hard for a team to be successful there [remote] as well.”
The cost of having people in remote offices is super heavy as you can imagine. It’s the coordination that is needed, making sure people[…], all these issues that we talked about — it adds up very quickly. If you don’t have a leadership team in the headquarters — understanding an opening, understanding what issues those teams might face, why they are the way they are — it becomes very hard for a team to be successful there as well. So you almost need somebody here sitting down who has gone through that, or who knows what the kind of effort it takes to be in a remote office and providing and unblocking them as you see things kind of happen as well.
Sergio: What would you say is the best or biggest thing that having distributed teams has brought to Facebook and Facebook’s culture specifically?
Kiranjit: I mean the obvious one is the talent pool. You have access to a much broader talent pool that you would not have if you were only in Silicon Valley, so just from there alone I think it’s probably a big enough thing, I would say. It’s a success. But outside of that, I think that market-specific knowledge is important. The teams that are in those specific markets, learning about the new products that are being made, potentially have acquisition orders back there as well — for M&A’s from Facebook’s point of view.
“We are building for people all over the world, and if we don’t really understand these cultures that deeply, it’s really hard to build a product that really resonates with them.”
Having people in those markets kind of brings a little bit more understanding to us as well — that what we are building — at least for Facebook’s point of view. We’re a global company. We are building for people all over the world, and if we don’t understand these cultures that deeply, it’s really hard to build a product that resonates with them. So I think that having people there, who can go on a research trip to Indonesia — because it’s right there — and get those learnings, and even if those learnings don’t end up really in products being built out of Singapore, but it influences our strategy here, that’s a winner in itself.
I think there are a lot of different aspects that are beneficial to Facebook from having these remote offices or these distributed teams. You can pick random ones like, if you have on-call which is in Singapore and people here, distributed on-calls, you have 24/7 on-calls across the nation. So, it’s a very different kinds of it, but obviously, that depends on you have to have a team which is working on the same products or not, but there’s a lot of different site nuances and branches that exist as well.
Sergio: And to finish, What would you recommend to someone, let’s say a CTO of a Startup or a Director of Engineering of a Tech company that is going to attempt to build a distributed team for the first time?
Kiranjit: Have a lot of patience. It’s going to take a while, it’s not something that you can do very quickly. Every once in a while you can double down and just hire tons of people and hope things are going to work out, but what you need to have is a plan on a 6-months to a yearly basis, in what you’re trying to prove out of that office, or out of that space that you’re trying to go after.
Some of it will be specifically on recruiting — can you recruit the type of people that you want to recruit down there — so that’s one piece of it. Another thing that you want to test out is, are the teams there as productive as the teams down here? Are they doing the work that they would expect to be done here? Are they doing the things which we potentially will not do here? So there are a few other things that you’re trying to learn, but we are very explicit in terms of what you’re trying to learn as well: set clear goals for people in terms of what they’re going in there for. For a person to go to a new office, they’re not going to be on a regular career track, their career track’s going to be different. That’s the reality of things.
“Having an honest open conversation with people about what they’re signing up for… is very important.”
Opportunities are different. Having an honest open conversation with people about what they’re signing up for, there’s a lot of positives to it as well. Having a conversation is very important.
Make sure you’re taking into account the time zone difference and just be very thoughtful when scheduling meetings. Make sure there are enough touchpoints weekly. Talk to enough people across there, even if it’s not the same person. [Make sure that] There’s an easy escalation path as well to you, so if there’s something to go wrong they can easily, quickly, come to you and they can take action against it.
“…the main thing is just having a very clear, articulated plan, in terms of what are you trying to learn every 6 months, every year, and do that for 3 to 4 years.”
Those are some of the few things, I’d say, but the main thing is just having a very clear, articulated plan in terms of what are you trying to learn every 6 months, every year, and do that for 3 to 4 years. It’s going to take that long before you dive into doubling down and increase office. Until then, you’re just learning different sets of things.
Sergio: I think this has been awesome. It’s been a great conversation. Out of the general data, it’s great to hear about someone that has this much experience and I’m not sure how many other companies can say the same. So, Kiran, I hope you also enjoyed the conversation. Thank you so much!
Kiranjit: Oh, thank you! It’s been an awesome, awesome conversation.
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