Learnings and thoughts from my experience working at a remote native and all remote company
The global pandemic has impacted the way a lot of us work. After having worked remotely throughout Corona I decided that I wanted to continue working remotely when I started hearing “when are we getting back to office” or “are you not coming in tomorrow?” getting thrown around more and more often, so I decided to work at a more flexible and remote friendly company.
When I reflected on the reasons why I wanted this, I found out the following:
- I wanted to be able to make my own schedule with more flexibility: When I’m not restricted by a traditional 9 to 6 workday I can get things done with more creativity and productivity. I can also balance my work and life better. For example, I can go for a walk or grocery shopping when the sun is out and pick up where I left off afterwards, cook dinner during my lunch break and so on which increases the quality of my daily life.
- I wanted to be able to work from anywhere where I feel happy, energized and productive:
By not needing to be located at a specific place all the time, I am able to experience a different city or country like a local instead of only getting to see sights like I would do on vacation. For example, the 3 weeks I spent working from Portugal was the best time I had in years where I was able to enjoy my sangria and seafood after work, explore new places every day and work even more productively. On top of such great experiences, there is also another benefit that I can avoid the terribly gray and cold Berlin winter or spend some time with my family in my home country.
- I wanted to get back the commuting time:
When I don’t need to commute to work, I can instead spend the time on things which boost my well being like a quick workout, reading a couple of more pages or sleeping for an extra half an hour.
As every coin has two sides, of course there are some unique challenges of working remotely, such as:
- Having less personal touch with colleagues:
We have less opportunity to chat around the water cooler, enjoy lunch breaks together or run into each other down the hallway to make small talk.
- Communication of small topics or questions:
Traditionally we can just drop by the person’s table at the office for such small discussions, however this is not as straightforward in the remote work setup.
- Having the necessary home office space and equipment:
As we weren’t prepared to use our homes for work, most of us lacked necessary equipment at home in the beginning which after some time showed itself as back and neck pains. It also made some of us realize that we didn’t have enough space for two people working from home at the same time, which is even more challenging for working parents.
- Not being able to close the day, computer, and brain:
Although not exclusive to remote work, this challenge is amplified in a remote work setup since our exposure to the computer is hardly interrupted.
However, I learned that all these challenges are manageable based on working at a remote native company where people have been working anywhere but the office from the get-go. As this was the case, there was a special effort from the beginning to design remote working practices and set up necessary tools to empower everyone to work and live where they are most fulfilled.
So here I will try to share some principles and practices that stood out to me in the last couple months which I believe are not only interesting and valuable for remote companies but for everyone collaborating with each other be it in-person, hybrid or in an all-remote set up.
1. Everything is about transparency
To make sure that all the information is available and accessible to everyone, so that anyone can contribute if they want to and get informed on topics which might be useful for them as well.
→ Having all the communication on public channels (in our case Slack) as long as it is not a personal or confidential topic.
→ Being able to join or watch the recording of any meeting of our interest that we see in the meeting timeline as long as they are not sensitive or private if we feel like we can learn from or create an added value by being a part of. For this, we are using a tool called Remeet which enables us to organize our sync and async communication by:
- Making the meeting timeline available for everyone which means that anyone can join the meetings that they find insightful without any invite needed or watch the recording afterwards,
- Recording meetings by default if the topic is set as transparent,
- Pushing the recording and the meeting notes to the selected communication channels (Slack again in our case) after the meeting is done.
2. Async first
Let’s first start with what async work is: Async work means that people can work and respond to colleagues when it’s convenient for them to do so and within a reasonable timespan, rather than requiring or expecting everyone to be online, available, and responsive simultaneously during set hours as long as we get things done.
As we have people working from anywhere in the world in different time zones, we should be respecting everyone’s time and daily routine and should make use of the valuable and limited time we have together in the best possible way while making sure that people are aligned in the most efficient way.
→ Creating written and clear processes together with a transparent communication plan.
→ Documenting everything and documenting them so well that people can autonomously find information, contribute, collaborate and track progress on things. And for now we are using Notion as our knowledge management system.
→ Finding the right balance between async and sync communication:
- Knowing when to use which, for example using async communication to provide updates or gather information but using sync communication for decision making.
→ Running regular agile ceremonies in an async and automated way using Geekbot in Slack which runs asynchronous stand-ups, retros, and surveys. Here we cover the following:
- Daily (this is rather a personal daily and product teams still have their daily stand-up to mostly discuss blockers),
- Highlight of the day
- Retrospective (which is not a product team retro but a weekly personal retro for everyone, so product team retros are held separately and in a sync way).
→ Making sync communication as effective as possible:
- Having company-wide designated synchronized meeting slots where we know when we can work focused and when we need to have sync communication which helps us plan our day. Currently we have 2 company-wide synchronized meeting slots per day, 1 hour in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.
- Again, we use Remeet to organize our sync meetings where we only need to specify which topic we want to discuss, with whom and its urgency. Then it does the magic and sets up the meeting based on people’s availability where we don’t need to check each other’s calendars.
3. Creating regular close social interactions
To make people bond on a personal and team level, to combat loneliness, and to get to know each other a bit better. In the end, having this close connection increases sympathy and empathy together with improving collaboration.
→ Having small talks for 10–15 minutes with random people in the company using Remeet based on our calendar availability.
→ Using Gather as our virtual office space to connect with colleagues, be it for an afternoon beer or gathering to fix a bug together.
→ Having virtual events and activities together to enjoy some off-work time by just playing charades kind of song or movie guessing games, playing scribble.io together and so on.
→ Having Geekbot ask us ice-breaker questions on a regular basis such as our story from the weekend or any interesting thing from our culture.
→ And of course having some time for in-person events like retreats. During these retreats we have some team bonding activities as well as survivor themed challenges, cooking together, having Karaoke nights or just going for a walk.
So all in all, I shared a couple of tools and best practices based on my experience. However please keep in mind that it is not about the tools we are using but more about why we are using them. So as long as we are covering these needs it doesn’t matter which tool enables us.
And while we talk about enablement, I’ve also realized that product operations is even more important to create aligned autonomy where you have multiple products, multiple teams in different locations and time zones. So it’s really important to be the glue gathering people together with tools, processes, training and alignment to enable them to do their best and to scale product teams.
Corona taught us another way of working is possible. I hope we won’t need another crisis to explore even better ways of working!