As your business and product offering grows, your current engineering team may struggle to meet demand and deliver the solutions you need effectively and efficiently. The answer to your problem is likely scaling, but scaling engineering teams is a mammoth endeavor. When done incorrectly, you could end up overspending and under-delivering.
Of all the ways to scale engineering functions, building a globally distributed team is one of the most effective. In this guide, you’ll learn why distributed engineering teams work so well and how to scale successfully and sustainably.
If you’re ready to start scaling, feel free to skip ahead to our step-by-step guide.
Why Scaling Your Engineering Team Is so Important
A successful scaling initiative doesn’t just affect your engineering team; it also has positive downstream effects for the rest of the business. Scaling engineering teams can help you:
- Reach company goals quicker and more efficiently
- Grow and expand your product offering to get ahead of the competition
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Improve employee experience and retention
- And ultimately increase revenue
What Are the Benefits of Building a Globally Distributed Engineering Team?
One way you can approach scaling is to think remotely and globally. Building a distributed engineering team has many benefits, which will ultimately support your business’s long-term success.
Widen Your Talent Pool
Let’s face it; quality engineering talent is hard to find. ‘Software engineer’ is the world’s most in-demand profession, so there’s a lot of competition.
When you limit your recruitment drive to just one location - usually the area around your office - you also limit the number of people who can apply for those roles.
Globalization and the widespread adoption of remote working have allowed businesses to reach talent from further afield, and engineering organizations can use that to their advantage. By expanding your search abroad, the world is truly your oyster.
Offering remote positions and a flexible work culture will also give you an attractive edge in a fiercely competitive market. With many workers pushing back on returning to the office, the opportunity to work from home is in high demand, especially among engineers.
Diversify Ideas, Build Better Solutions
Building diverse and inclusive teams supports overall business success. In fact, companies that successfully foster an inclusive culture are three times as likely to be high-performing than those that don’t. Offering work-from-anywhere positions is a great way to access diverse talent from a wealth of backgrounds and experiences.
When it comes to engineering, tapping into diverse skills, perspectives, and ideas will help your team problem-solve more effectively and ultimately build a better product.
Respond to Outages Quicker
Building a distributed engineering team can also help you respond to unplanned outages more quickly, saving money and improving brand reputation. By having engineers based in multiple time zones, there’s always someone on call if (when!) something goes wrong.
If your team receives alerts at all hours of the day and night, scaling globally can also help empower your colleagues to have a better work-life balance. With team members distributed across different time zones, there will always be someone awake and on hand to deal with high-priority issues.
How to Scale a Distributed Engineering Team in 8 Simple Steps
Now that we’ve covered the main benefits of scaling a distributed engineering team, here are the eight steps you should follow to successfully scale your own team:
1. Create a Scaling Strategy & Timeline
Before you jump into scaling your engineering team, you must create a clear strategy to ensure the process runs smoothly. Without a structured plan, you’ll likely end up wasting time and resources.
Firstly, you should determine when is best to begin the scaling process. You may not be ready to start right away, but planning ahead will help you lay the necessary foundations for future success.
The most important part of creating a scaling strategy is goal-setting. You need to know what you want to achieve, how to achieve it, and when to achieve it by. These goals should help contribute to wider company objectives and give your team the direction and motivation they need to meet deadlines.
2. Establish Your Engineering Team Structure
To hire new talent, you first need to assess your current team structure and adapt it for scaling. This will ensure your colleagues understand what’s required of them and who they can go to for support.
To create an effective engineering team structure, you need to:
- Establish key roles and define responsibilities
- Create managerial positions and a reporting structure
- Set clear career frameworks for progression
As you scale, you may also want to split your team into smaller, more focused units to carry out particular tasks. In this case, cross-functional teams centered around particular products can be very effective.
This (re)structuring exercise will also help you identify talent gaps to shape your recruitment strategy.
3. Set up Processes to Help Your Engineering Team Prioritize
A well-defined process saves time, effort, and resources. It gives your team direction and helps them prioritize and deprioritize tasks, ultimately creating a more sustainable workload.
Creating a clear, scalable process that enables autonomy and asynchronous work is key to working effectively across time zones.
Make sure to document every process within a centralized hub, such as Notion. Think about testing and collaborating with the product team and stakeholders, as well as how engineers will work together.
4. Ensure Your Remote Communication Methods Are Effective
Remote and asynchronous work is tricky, but effective communication is key to making your globally distributed team work. By establishing clear processes for communication, your growing team will be able to overcome geographical barriers and work together seamlessly.
When developing communication processes, you should define:
- The tools you use to communicate
- Best practices and expectations for using each tool (e.g., email and meeting etiquette)
- The single source of truth for key information and guides
You should also make sure to set aside time for regular social meet-ups, whether in-person or virtually. These events will allow your team to bond and build strong relationships outside of their work tasks, which is essential for collaboration and wellbeing.
5. Build a Strong Culture & Invest in Your People
In a buyers market, engineers can be picky when choosing their next employer. Having a strong culture is one of the ways you can stand out to attract and retain top talent.
Culture is primarily defined at a company level, but nothing is stopping you from tailoring culture to meet the needs of your engineering team.
Start by defining your team values; why should prospective engineers be passionate about joining your company? Is it because you offer high levels of flexibility? Perhaps you make great efforts to foster inclusion? Or is it your focus on personal growth and development that makes people want to join and stay?
Once you’ve defined those values, live them.
This could mean scrapping the traditional 9-5 for flexible hours, providing DE&I training to ensure everyone feels welcome and equal, or investing in a mentorship program to help your colleagues progress.
As you scale, your culture will likely change and evolve with your team, but having firm foundations from the offset will give you direction and purpose.
6. Develop a Solid Onboarding Process
Before you start growing your engineering team, be sure to develop and optimize your onboarding process so new hires can hit the ground running.
Before Day One:
- Collect the necessary information for HR, like address, bank account details, and proof of right to work.
- Provide logins for the main accounts they’ll need on day one, such as company email and communications software like Slack.
- Ensure they have the home office equipment they need to perform, including a laptop, separate monitor, and ergonomic chair.
- Give them a brief description of what their first day will look like, with a clear start time.
- Build a development toolset that automates as much of the early setup as possible to get your new engineers contributing and learning quicker.
Day One Onwards
- Provide an onboarding handbook and checklist.
- Give them a schedule for their first few weeks.
- Assign an onboarding buddy or mentor.
- Provide log-ins for all other applicable tools and accounts.
- Direct them to documents containing essential information about processes, values, and expectations.
- Set up introductory meetings with key members of the team, including their line manager, if applicable.
- Carry out any required training sessions.
- Send an onboarding feedback form.
In summary, your onboarding process should help new hires integrate into the team and give them a clear understanding of what’s expected of them during their first few weeks at the company.
7. Start Hiring Top Talent
Now that you’ve set the foundations for scaling your engineering team, you can start hiring! Here’s a checklist to help you get started:
- Decide who you want to hire. Do you need more managers? Could your team benefit from a few specialists?
- Decide where you want to hire talent. This could be targeted at specific regions to align with your company’s global expansion strategy or provide better coverage across key time zones, for example.
- Decide how you want to hire remote talent. While contractors may seem like the easier option, contracting can be risky. Instead, consider hiring full-time staff through an Employer of Record (EOR) service like Omnipresent. This is a simpler way of tapping into international talent compliantly.
- Create a compelling job advert. Be sure to include a section on your culture and any benefits that will make the role as attractive as possible.
- Post your job ad on specialized job boards for remote workers and engineering talent.
- Assess candidates on both their technical and soft skills. Remember: good communication skills are crucial in a remote work environment.
- Send an attractive offer to your chosen talent. Use salary benchmarking to ensure you’re offering a competitive salary.
- Start the onboarding process.
- Develop and invest in your new team member to improve job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.
8. Create an Effective Feedback Loop
Receiving and responding to feedback is crucial for your long-term scaling success. Growing pains are inevitable, but listening to concerns from team members and the rest of the company will help you develop better solutions and keep colleagues engaged.
Firstly, ensure managers set up regular one-to-ones with their team members to discuss concerns, blockers, or suggestions for improvement. If they can’t find a solution during these meetings, line managers can escalate issues to the relevant person or team who can help.
Pulse surveys and retrospectives are also useful ways to collect feedback from your team. Schedule these every quarter to better understand how everyone is feeling and what can be done to improve their employee experience.
Best Practices for Scaling Engineering Teams Globally
Scaling an engineering team is a complex task, but there are a few best practices you can implement to make the process run a lot smoother:
- Scale at the right time: Don’t rush ahead and only start scaling once you have a solid strategy in place. If you start scaling before your current team is ready to expand or without aligning to company-wide objectives, your efforts may go to waste. Save time and money by scaling only when the evidence shows you’re ready.
- Hire strategically: Scaling isn't a numbers game. Create a solid foundation by hiring a number of experienced senior engineers to begin with. Once you've established good practices and technology, you can then hire junior engineers who can learn from your seniors.
- Prioritize communication: Communication is key for any growing team, but it’s even more important for remote teams who may be working asynchronously. Create team agreements to define how your distributed team should communicate with one another.
How We’re Successfully Scaling Engineering at Omnipresent
At Omnipresent, we pride ourselves on offering a service that makes global employment as simple as possible. To do that, we need a great product and highly skilled engineers to build it.
When we started scaling, we initially focused on defining our core principles: autonomy, fast and iterative delivery, and technical quality. Keeping those principles in mind, we set out to hire top talent from across the globe.
We knew we wanted a team of engineers who could act as partners to our product team, operate autonomously, and establish good practices, so we focused on recruiting experienced, senior talent.
As we were hiring, we began to establish a team structure with clear technical ownership tied to key business areas. This means our engineers are empowered to take on their own responsibilities and are invested in long-term success.
With decades of combined experience, our team truly lives our principles, and as a result, we’ve created a great engineering culture. As we hire new talent, we continually reinforce those key values so they become ingrained in how the team works.
Our distributed engineering team has successfully grown from two to 23 people in just 10 months, and we’re now based in 11 countries worldwide! We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and we can’t wait to see what the future brings.