It may not surprise you that at Gather, we go to work in our virtual office on the very tool we build. Our teams are testing new office features every day as we tinker, build, and collaborate on Gather! We sat down with three members of our engineering team to share with you how they Gather.
Tell us who you are and what you do at Gather.
Josh: I’m the engineering manager on the core app team. I work mainly on new, user-facing features, with a lot of help from other teams. We’re actively building the platform that we use ourselves every day!
Rolando: I support the product platform and engine teams. On the product side, we’re responsible for rendering everything you see on the app. The engine is the simulation engine. So you could say we’re responsible for creating the layer between infrastructure and product.
Michael: I lead the infrastructure and engineering productivity teams. Basically, we build the foundation that other engineering teams build upon.
In your experience, what’s the difference between managing people remotely and in person?
Josh: When COVID started, I wasn’t yet working at Gather. But the world began working remotely and it was an interesting shift. The biggest change was the difference in connection with the people who work with you. It went from a natural relationship to a very transactional one. You’d only be interacting with people when you have an agenda or something to talk about. It made it challenging to feel more connected unless there was a forced social event of some kind. In real life, it’s more natural.
Rolando: Remote working was great for me in the beginning because I’m an introvert, but it became more difficult over time before I started working in Gather. Relationships are a lot more fluid in person. You could easily just bump into someone, remember you have to talk to them, and you could just chat. It’s much easier to create trust and bonds in person. Gather definitely emphasizes these elements for in-office even when virtual.
Michael: Before COVID, and before I started working at Gather, I had team lunches and regular happy hours where my team and I could share snacks and chat. Occasionally we went out for dinner as a team. Those were really moments where I got to know the team in person really well. I recall going on walks with my skip manager, going to get cupcakes, and that being a fun experience (even though I don’t like cupcakes!) just because I found that gesture to be really nice. When there’s some sort of activity, like when you’re walking around, it makes conversation easier and more fluid. I cherished those moments in person. When we moved to remote working – again, before Gather – everything became these recurring meetings on traditional video conferencing clogging up my calendar. It felt transactional.
What was the impact of using Gather on your own team?
Josh: What was so different for me was the way in which Gather mimics real life in unexpected ways. Even if you can’t see across the screen and see what people are actually doing, you get a sense of presence when people are talking to each other. You can hear other people. It captures a surprising amount of things I didn’t know I missed, and Gather helps us move away from a transactional way of relating. Features like the ability to add things to people’s desks helped foster better connections.
Rolando: Remote working isn’t entirely the same as in-person working. The vision for Gather is that we will be able to facilitate much of the trust building and culture you can experience in person. But even today on Gather, the mix of being able to virtually be co-located, bump into each other, have serendipity…it’s very valuable. You can definitely create more natural-feeling bonds with your team members at Gather.
Michael: Honestly, seeing everyone working together in Gather for the first time made a huge difference. Seeing the presence of the team makes work feel more human.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Josh: I’m still learning a lot. I’ve always been about making sure that people have the tools and support they need. I want to be as hands-off as I can be until I’m needed. I want to trust people to go off and do what they do best without them feeling like they’re being micromanaged. I felt like the best managers I’ve had did that for me. It’s simple but important; people should feel supported and not hand-held.
Rolando: Communication is really important to me. I try to be quite blunt if I can. I tell people it’s pretty much impossible to offend me so that communication can flow both ways. I also try to promote that with the teams I support and within the org structure.
Michael: The servant leadership style really resonated with me when I first heard about it. It’s a way of supporting your team by not getting in their way so they can focus on getting things done. This translates to us having very few meetings, which would surprise people. Each engineer on my team has two hrs of meetings: a 1:1 with me and a team meeting. I have a team of amazing engineers. I can trust them, and I show it by giving them autonomy.
How does your collaboration style manifest on Gather?
Josh: I do my best to make sure I’m available. People can and should be able to just walk up to me in the office, which is one of the big benefits of Gather. Team members don’t have to wait or schedule time for that whenever possible. Micro-moments like that connect the team and we can do that here on Gather. Because of Gather, I can build that connection with the team rather than feeling like it’s just a text-based relationship.
Rolando: I use the tools within Gather to improve communication. A couple of weeks ago, I was using the desktop app in mini mode. A few people were close to us, so I could hear them, but not so loud that they were in the foreground. They were talking about the browser and a theory about what it should be. I overheard them, and I was able to tell them my perspective after overhearing them. When was the last time I could do that with remote work? On Gather, I can. I’ve been pushing for noisy co-working time! We can just sit there and listen to each other, and something interesting can happen that way.
Michael: Gather plays a critical role in my teams. We’re located across different time zones around the world. But that one hour, seeing their customized avatar at their customized desk, which all speak to their personalities, makes it a lot more human than a once-a-week Zoom call. There’s more expression in Gather. We get to catch each other in our offices and interact in a very real, very human way.
What are your favorite team management features on Gather?
Michael: The locate feature is really helpful for managing a geographically dispersed team. The meetings extension on Chrome that takes me to get to a meeting lowers the friction a lot, and meeting mode allows us to get to the meeting quickly. The fact that you can virtually tap people on the shoulder, that you’re in a meeting room together, that you can call someone out of a meeting - it’s great. We have a culture around the hand wave feature in the emoji tab to grab people’s attention so that we don’t interrupt someone’s flow. It combines the best of both worlds by bringing in-person actions to a remote working environment.
Josh: We use multi-screen sharing for everything. Live pairing, debugging together, jumping between things…It’s also great to feel the team spirit through the emoticons.
What are your best Gather-fueled productivity tips?
Michael: Use the locate feature to find who you need to find and have a conversation right away.
Rolando: Use Do Not Disturb mode. The fact that you can visually see whose head’s down is super, super useful.
What advice do you have for other engineering managers looking to improve remote work for their teams with Gather?
Josh: Embrace the fun. It’s very important! Decorating someone’s desk, changing your avatar, using reactions…it all helps bond your team and helps everyone feel more connected.
Michael: Gather works best when your whole team is on there. It’s true for every tool out there. In the early days of Slack, you had to really battle to get teams on there. It’s the same thing with Gather. Get everyone to commit to it. Customize their desks, and do the fun stuff. Make Gather a place people want to come to every day. Take your meetings in Gather. Turn your notifications on. You’ll be surprised at how many people find joy in this, even the grumpiest skeptics on your team.
Rolando: When your team is remote, it’s easy for them to fall into silos and stay heads down, working on their own thing. But you have to have the right tools in place to help foster collaboration. We build Gather every day ON Gather. Give it a try. You’ll be surprised at how quickly Gather can transform your team.
We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into how our engineering teams work together to build Gather, on Gather! If you haven’t created a space yet, you can get started for free. If you’re interested in helping us build Gather, check out our careers page.