• Jay Mulakala

Managing a Remote SE Team during COVID-19

Whether your team is local, 100% remote, or somewhere in between, most SAAS companies have been forced to shift their approach to remote work in these historically challenging times. At DroneDeploy, we have always had a flexible work from home policy, but these last few weeks have forced us to rethink how we approach remote work, from keeping remote employees engaged during quarantine, to managing sales expectations and transparency internally and building empathy with customers externally. I’ve had the privilege of working with our SE team over the past 2 years, and have spent a lot of time mastering what it takes to manage a segregated SE team, and keep the team engaged during this crisis. Here are a few of those learnings:


1. Move your goal post and reset expectations to fit the current situation


We’re going through an unprecedented crisis that many of us couldn’t have imagined. What we’re doing today is not “forecasting” what our sales will look like, but rather, imagining different scenarios based on our assumptions of our customers’ behaviors. These next few months are going to be challenging not only for the sales teams, but your SE teams as well. It’s important to be transparent and acknowledge what you know AND what you don’t know, and set expectations accordingly.


SEs may not be engaged on as many opportunities. They may not be engaged as much in PreSales calls. Reset expectations on what’s required of them during this time to keep them engaged, motivated, and pushing towards a new goal post. At DroneDeploy, we’ve recognized the challenges ahead, are transparent with our employees about our current situation, and have acknowledged that we don’t have all the data or answers to push forward. We made our new goal post to gather data from our customers, identify trends on a weekly basis, and make adjustments as needed.


2. Get creative with building your team culture and keep the team engaged through regular stand-ups and team activities


Regardless of remote or centralized teams, it’s important to keep your team engaged. If your team, or company, is new to remote work, then this can be a challenging hurdle to overcome. It’s not as simple as going to the kitchen to have a chat or stopping by someone’s desk to ask a quick question. You need to be more direct and schedule time with your team to continue to build rapport and trust.


Since the start of the quarantine, I’ve established regular team stand-ups 3 times a week for team members to discuss what they’re working on for the day, what’s still on their plate, and what they’ve accomplished that week. This has allowed them to be aware of what other team members are working on. I also implemented a weekly team lunch, where team members can video call in and share lunch with each other. This allows for the “water cooler talk” that our HQ team used to appreciate. Next up we’re looking at joining a virtual escape room together to continue to support our team culture of collaboration. What’s important here is to find out what’s lacking from the transition; Is it casual desk talk, interaction with other colleagues, or the interactivity of the office, and mind ways to replicate that experience virtually. Get creative. Building your team culture during this time is more important than ever.


3. Use this time to up-level both your SE team and other internal teams


During this transition, our SE team has had more downtime between opportunities to focus on internal and external development. What may have been 15 calls a week has been cut in half. Rather than seeing this as a loss of efficiency for the team, we’ve decided to focus our efforts on up-leveling our team and other teams within the company. We took a step back and identified that our Go-To-Market team needs more product and industry training, that our SE team needs more practice conducting effective discovery calls and demo presentations, and that we need more standardization of use case conversations and demo conversations internally to provide consistent recommendations for our customers.


From those findings I’ve refocused our SE team moving into this quarter. We’re now conducting bi-weekly product enablement workshops on some of the more complicated aspects of our product, building standardized documentation for third-party software training, pre-flight call recommendations, and discovery call questions to get deeper with our discovery, and helping our product and marketing teams build additional content for our learning management system, DroneDeploy Academy.


4. Build empathy with your customers and offer assistance where possible


Our customers are going through the same, if not more challenges, that we’re facing today. We’re a horizontal platform and work with customers in agriculture, construction, oil and gas, renewables, and many more industries. As such, our customers need to make some difficult decisions during this period to stay alive and survive. It’s important to continue to build

rapport with your customers during this period. Have your SEs reach out to contacts they’ve worked with in the past, not to sell, but to understand how their business is doing, how they’re personally impacted, and what we can do to help. We’ve been flexible during this time to push back renewal dates, offer free licenses, or provide additional support to help them in any way we can. Even if your SE team is primarily focused on PreSales, now, more than ever, is a great time to have them engage with your current customers.


5. Trust your team and don’t micromanage


This learning may be a given, but is important now more than ever. If your team is new to working remote, you may be inclined to ask for more updates, have daily calls, and tell them what needs to be done. It’s crucial now more than ever to not micromanage your team. Instead of focusing on how to keep the team engaged on a daily basis, reset your expectations for your team on outcomes. What are you looking for them to accomplish, and by what date? If your company doesn’t already set quarterly goals or OKRs, now is a great time to start. Have your team set their own goals and expectations for this quarter. Have them identify their priorities, and coach them to set SMART goals. This allows you to focus on the outcome, as opposed to their day to day activities.


We’ve taken it one step further and had the team write down and log their personal objectives, whether that’s stay active, learning a new instrument, or whatever is of importance to them outside of work. This allows us to keep each other accountable and emphasizes personal health during this time. We’ve even made this a priority by making this personal objective a portion of their variable comp for the quarter.



Jay is a Solutions Engineering Manager at DroneDeploy. He's also an avid traveller, hacker, and dronie. In the past few years, Jay's visited over 26 countries and flown over 400,000 miles. Learn more about his hacks, travel insights, and travel stories at www.JMulakala.com

Connect with Jay on LinkedIn.

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