Engineering software in a remote work world: Perspectives from the Microsoft Entra Verified ID team

Preeti Rastogi

Mau Esquivel Rogel

Jorge Ibarra Borbas

Over the last three years, the corporate world has evolved in favor of hybrid and remote work. This evolution has shifted the way we conduct meetings, carry out brainstorming sessions, and share team knowledge. However, expectations on work quality and product standards remain the same. Trying to meet these same expectations, despite a different working environment, has been challenging, regardless of what role you’re in.

In this blog post, we share varied experiences with remote work from three of our team members. We hope to highlight how our team overcame the challenges we faced, as we embraced this new way of working. And that you may take away some learnings from our experience.

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The impact of remote work across geographies (GEOs) 

Mau Esquivel Rogel: Software engineer – Microsoft Entra Verified ID

“In April 2020, a mere two months after joining Microsoft, I planned a trip to Mexico to visit friends and family for a week. To my surprise, a COVID-19 lockdown extended my trip to what would become my first experience with fully remote work. I suddenly faced new rules and challenges and developed novel communication methods. But, most importantly, I witnessed the unprecedented benefits of the team’s geographic expansion.

Initially, this expansion presented an opportunity for the team’s growth in Dublin. We learned that the greater the growth we fostered, the larger the benefits we reaped. For example, the time zone difference between continents empowered the team with extended-hour incident response coverage. Similarly, we now had access to a larger talent pool, which led to enhanced creativity and measurably more diverse perspectives.

Fast forward to the second half of 2023, I am back at Microsoft Engineering Center in Redmond, WA and about to embark on a new adventure—my remote incorporation into our cross-geo team. And, while the advantages of a global workforce are undeniably plentiful and impactful, they do come with some challenges, and thus, opportunities for further growth. 

One such challenge is that working across GEOs requires modes of discipline, creativity, and empathy that I had not explored before. For example, the pull request feedback loop becomes hindered by time zones.

Cross-GEO remote work also offers the opportunity to develop new skills, such as discipline. For instance, ever since I started working with our team in Dublin, I have become more diligent in pull request hygiene. I also routinely engage in frequent status updates. Similarly, creativity in the form of mob sessions and strategically timed meetings goes a surprisingly long way in catalyzing remote collaboration.

Lastly, centering empathy in all interactions across geographies is more important than ever since communication is inevitably disjointed. While it would be disingenuous to deny that remote work across continents comes with significant challenges, I can confidently say that I have become a noticeably better professional because of it.”

Collaboration across partner teams

Jorge Ibarra Borbas: Software engineer – Microsoft Entra Verified ID

“In 2020, my journey in Seattle began on a high note filled with excitement and curiosity. I had just joined my dream company, with expectations of interesting projects and unique challenges. Reality shifted quickly with the onset of an unfamiliar remote and hybrid work environment. Throughout most of 2023, I was working fully remotely with team members from partner teams, granting me opportunities to represent the team in creating new features within partner products, while working closely with other engineering teams.  

However, this did not come without its challenges. Unlike my usual team, where I was familiar with everyone’s expertise and could easily identify the subject matter expert or ask my desk neighbor a question, in the partner teams, I was much like a temporary member. Without such luxuries and a dedicated onboarding process, I had to improve my resourcefulness. I used the usual methods: documentation, reviewing Pull Requests and analyzing codebase commits. Yet, the most effective tactic was introducing myself to partner team members I hadn’t met before to enquire about a particular area of the project. While this approach could be perceived as surprising or too direct, it often felt like the only way forward.  Remote work gave me the opportunity to develop personal connections, and clear communication.

Interestingly, remote work was also crucial in enabling my agility. The flexibility and immediacy of online communication allowed for quicker turnarounds on questions and async interactions, removing the barriers of physical locations and time zones. This approach to collaboration, born out of necessity, proved to be an advantage in navigating work with partner teams. These experiences enhanced my resourcefulness and adaptability to different team dynamics in a remote work landscape.”

Building collaborative and productive hybrid teams

Preeti Rastogi: Group Engineering Manager – Microsoft Entra Verified ID

“As a manager, I am responsible for bringing clarity, generating energy, and delivering success through results. This means building an autonomous, inclusive, high-morale culture. Achieving this people-oriented and inspirational culture requires building connections, which is a new challenge in the context of remote work.

On a typical day, which is filled with back-to-back meetings, I would often jump between numerous business discussions, conversations about progress, and meetings about technical blockers, leaving almost no time for genuine connection with my team members or even a brief five-minute mental and personal check-in during online meetings.

I soon noticed a shift in our team culture. Everyone smiled less during our meetings, and everyone seemed more tired. We rarely turned our cameras on during meetings. The human connection started to disappear.

I realized that I had to make a conscious effort to revive the team community and prioritize mental health check-ins during online meetings. I encouraged my team to turn on their webcam when possible and found that it provided a seamless feedback loop that enabled open and free discussions.  I organized a variety of morale boosting events, ranging from fun end-of-the-year skits to Generative AI workshops. The fun events created space for our team to connect and build community, while the workshops gave us time to collaborate, and learn how to use emerging technologies in our work.

Outside of community spirit, I noticed another personal challenge in hybrid work—keeping up with team discussions, engineering design reviews, and product spec reviews that were happening round the clock. I also observed that our team was struggling with timely resolution of open questions. Our team’s solution was to build an asynchronous channel for data exchange and document sharing. To lead by example, I worked on my own discipline—reading documents on a regular basis, providing comments asynchronously, and honoring everyone’s time. This has resulted in the team having more productive discussions, building better alignment and more intentional decision-making. I would say that this is not an easy problem to solve but I’m glad to see our team culture moving in the right direction as we organize fun, in-person events (when we can), and improve our planning and prioritization process.”

What we’ve learned from this experience

Now, as most of our team is hybrid or remote, we have learned how to communicate to overcome challenges and foster collaboration. One such example of collaboration is a recent AI brainstorming workshop we held. Preeti led the brainstorming session which explored the ways we could use AI in our work. Mau and Jorge, and other engineers on our team, came up with innovative ideas on how we could apply tools like ChatGPT and Copilot (our picture above was created by ChatGPT😊) to our work.

It’s been a challenging yet insightful process. We have found that remote work, with optional in-person interactions, or “hybrid” work, offers the best of both worlds. Instead of limiting our team, this new way of working has increased flexibility and improved our work-life balance. It has also motivated us to learn many new skills that we can use in our daily tasks. Essential elements of “hybrid” work, such as patience, curiosity, and adaptability make us a workforce that welcomes growth, and embraces challenges.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you might also wish to explore Microsoft’s tips for staying productive in an evolving hybrid world, read up on best practices for building a sense of community in hybrid teams, or learn about how best to manage a hybrid team.

We would appreciate your feedback on our experience, and we’d love to hear about how your team has fostered a hybrid or remote culture! Leave us a comment below. 😊

This blog post was co-written and edited by Mallika Chennupaty

AI-assisted content. This article was partially created with the help of AI. An author reviewed and revised the content as needed. Learn more


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