As I mentioned in my previous article, Wishpond began experimenting with working remotely a few years before the pandemic began. As companies decide whether to adopt a hybrid or completely remote model, in this article I will cover some of our best practices that SaaS companies can replicate to maintain top talent while kindling software innovation.
As developer #1 at Wishpond, in the early days of the company, there would be about 30-40 different in-person development conversations about each project to ensure everything stayed on the right track. There was frequent engagement between developers, product teams, and real customers. This ensured we did not go too far down the line of developing a product only to have it not meet a customer need.
From a talent acquisition perspective before COVID, following more technical rounds of earlier interviews with a candidate, I would go for walks with a prospective candidate before a job was offered. This was to ensure that there would be a cultural fit with the company. My concern was more about the person and would they help us grow with positive morale. This was compared with someone with great technical skills but that would be detrimental to our business. Additionally, I sought to determine if a candidate would leave the job in six months or need a lot of supervision.
With this backdrop here are some of the core best practices that we recommend other SaaS companies consider when building a healthy and productive development environment.
Set realistic and attainable goals from a hiring and project pipeline perspective
Before COVID, companies were not as systematic with interviewing and managing employees. If a candidate was late or not dressed appropriately, you could kind of read between the lines. However, this sometimes led to relying on these false senses of certainty before seeing if a person could deliver results.
With remote work and job interviews being done by video technology you forget about these physical and superficial things and evaluate core job function criteria and personality traits. For interviewees shooting from the hip or employees that were not productive, this was much more easily done before COVID. In today’s economy, companies need measurable objectives and should be more structured when building plans and evaluating employee performance.
Increase communication with intentional time to bond personally
Our CTO Dennis Zelada heads our development organization and has instituted weekly development team meetings, digital whiteboard sessions, and daily stand-ups. To spark new ideas, the development team has half-day hackathons that provide opportunities for developers to innovate on projects that are not part of the product roadmap or to solve minor software performance issues that nag developers.
We make sure that there are frequent meetings between developers, product managers, and support teams to ensure timely awareness of customer feedback regarding potential innovation or issues. Our entire company ensures managers have regular 1:1s with their direct reports. We are more deliberate in these areas than we were in person when you could walk across the office any time and interact on a topic.
While engaging with peers on software development projects is important, one of the great tactics that our CTO has employed is a 15-minute regular “Meet the Team” section of their weekly team meeting. In this session, developers can tell more about themselves without discussing code. It is an opportunity for developers to learn about the people behind the software including their hobbies and interests. This has helped our project-oriented meetings be more cordial since we know enough about each other to joke around.
Optimize development resources
To support innovation, our CTO established a “First Responder” role on the team that is a dedicated resource to resolve any urgent functionality issues. The First Responder is available throughout the day and frees up the other developers to focus on their projects without interruption. This is also a major part of maintaining a healthy work-life balance in the team.
To further our team’s ability to innovate, we allot five percent of their development time to experiment on solving a feature issue, looking for ways to improve security, or identifying a way to maximize the use of a development tool. We give our developers the freedom to have one day a month to dig deeper into one of these areas that they identified with their five percent of free time to present a solution, modification, or innovation to the team.
Additionally, we have one hour per month where the development team plays video games together online.
Evaluate your internal technology and aligning processes
In terms of software development tools and processes, our teams already had the infrastructure in place that they are still using in remote environments. This includes GitHub code review processes, Slack, Notion, and Clubhouse (for project management, not the communication tool). For Zoom, we ensure that all meeting invites are sent out 24-hours in advance, so individuals have time to prepare to discuss agenda items. One thing our CTO is also considering is how AR/VR tools can elevate collaboration in the future.
Hosting our products in AWS was a vital aspect of our seamless transition to remote work as there was no need to move physical infrastructure. We also rely on the security of their platform, but we also have taken more considerations on how our developers securely access the cloud environment remotely by elevating security authentication with VPN.
Encourage experimentation and eliminate the fear of failure
We communicate to our developers that it is ok to fail and make mistakes. We prioritize the importance of making sure our developers know the team has their back and that we can find solutions to problems to ensure the same issue does not happen again.
COVID has increased customer demand for creating more features and innovations for SaaS companies in the digital economy. This can mean an overworked and disconnected development team. As we innovate, we believe mental health and helping developers effectively manage their workload with positive co-worker relationships are as important as process and technology.
Ali Tajskandar is the Founder and CEO of Wishpond Technologies.