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This week we spoke to Gensan, an Engineering Manager at The Athletic. He discusses how to navigate a packed calendar, the importance of listening, and some amazing remote work tips.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best and brightest remote managers in the world. These leaders not only move their company forward in leaps and strides, but they also live by values of empathy and radical candor. Every Thursday, we share their learnings and stories.
This week we spoke to Gensan, Engineering Manager for the Growth teams at The Athletic. The Athletic is a data-centric publication covering all things sports. Gensan and his team have helped boost The Athletic’s subscriber count to over one million. Beyond an expert engineering manager, Gensan is a fantastic remote manager for his team of seven. We spoke to him to learn about how he leads his team.
My days are pretty meeting-heavy, which is a blessing and a curse. I appreciate the level of communication and coordination amongst all the various teams at the macro level, but it also makes me less available to my team. I spend all day on slack on the side so that I can be on top of the tactical level as well.
When I’m not working I swing more heavily towards my other job - in addition to being an engineering manager, I’m a Zen Buddhist Priest. I spend time meditating, studying, practicing my calligraphy, and caring for the people and things around me. Whatever I can to reduce the suffering in the world.
Listen. Listening is underrated. Managers generally get where they are by having opinions and being able to make decisions, and there’s a tendency to bring that energy to every interaction when you start.
Being too quick to make the decision or suggest a solution steals the opportunity for your reports to problem solve and present options that you hadn’t thought of––which limits your team to only the ideas you bring to the table. Additionally, it kills your reports’ opportunities to explore the problem space and build their own experience.
That I can’t do everything for everyone. As a manager I’m often a point of contact for lots of other teams, PMs, EMs, Engineers, everyone knows who I am and often reaches out to me first when they encounter an issue.
Early in my career as a manager, I thought that it was my job to actually fix every problem that was brought to me. Which is not at all scalable. I had to examine some of my assumptions, and learn to trust my team to handle things, and try to field requests to the appropriate people instead of working myself to the bone responding to every issue personally.
I think the biggest impact that being remote has had for me is doubling down on a couple mantras:
By making sure that people are discussing things in channels instead of DMs I can be sure that people aren’t being left out of important discussions, and that important information isn’t lost in the void of DM space where the team can’t refer back to it. It also lets me stick my head into a conversation if it feels like it is heading in a strange direction or if decisions are being made with incomplete information.
When we went fully remote suddenly we saw Engineers scattering across the country, which introduced the complexity of timezones to what had previously been a fairly homogenous schedule. This makes it all the more important that people have ways to get to know one another and keep in touch and build a team that isn’t reliant on being in physical proximity. Kona’s a good example, check-ins are lightweight and async, but can open further discussions
I think that the most important thing that I do to maintain balance is following a routine around work. A short meditation at the beginning of the day to settle into the work headspace and another at the end to transition out of it. It helps create a separation between home and work, though they both occupy the same physical space, I know that after my afternoon meditation I can set down my work-brain and relax my hyper-vigilance on slack.
This one is tough for me to answer. I’m an introvert and autistic, so I actually have a lot less feelings of isolation than the rest of my teams. I love life mediated through a screen. That said, some of the things that my teams do are:
Our team gets together for 15-30 minutes weekly to do something fun together, maybe a crossword we solve collectively, or a “gratitude circle” where everyone gets a minute or two to talk about whatever they’re grateful for on a given day. You can learn a lot about people by what they’re grateful for, and it's good for mental health too.
We schedule time to sit together and work as a team, on zoom. No agenda, just people sitting in proximity. You can chat, you can ask questions, sometimes someone will bring up something thorny and get multiple sets of eyes on it to get unblocked quickly. Really helps to feel like we’re working together as a unit.
Corine is Co-Founder of Kona. She writes regularly on emotional intelligence and empathetic remote leadership. Her work has been featured by Yahoo, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, Harvard Business School, Forbes, and more. She’s a speaker at remote work conferences like GitLab Commit 2021 and she’s advised Fortune 10 companies on remote strategy.