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The world has changed dramatically this past year. Each of us had different experiences as we navigated the Covid-19 pandemic. But we all have learned important lessons.
During lockdown, I realized that my company, Flowhub, can and should be entirely remote. Here’s how I changed my mind about remote work and, in the process, transitioned my company. And for those considering doing the same, here are my top tips on how to do so.
How It Started
By late November 2019, my wife and I were at our wits’ end. Our three children were coming home from school sick with virus after virus. We’d spend weekends in bed with stuffy noses and fevers, wondering why we kept getting sick. To minimize these illnesses, we pulled our kids out of school in early December. We were homeschooling for a while when in January 2020, the news of Covid-19 began to hit.
At the end of February 2020, I launched a companywide drill to practice working from home. The goal: Make sure every team was equipped to be fully remote. Teams had two business days to prep, and then the office closed.
We ended up never going back.
The transition to fully remote was frustrating, with a bit of a learning curve, but we pushed through the unknown and developed systems that we could build off of (more on this later).
Leading by Example
Once Flowhub shifted to fully remote and teams were set up for success, I moved my family as far away from Denver as possible — to Hawaii. I knew that for Flowhub to truly embrace a work-from-anywhere mindset, I had to show that I could be just as effective, if not more so, while working 3,000 miles away. I was making the point that Flowhub employees now had the freedom to live and work wherever they wanted — domestically. In the feedback I’ve since received from Flowhub employees, this is a huge perk.
When you’re a work-from-anywhere (or almost anywhere) company, you can also hire from just about anywhere. But I think it’s an important takeaway that leaders should lead by example if they want their employees to adopt something. I’m not saying every remote CEO needs to move to Hawaii, but make it clear that you’re fully on board.
Creating a Remote Culture
After we got rid of our Denver office, my focus shifted to building the best remote company possible, gathering information from everyone around me. I talked to one of our angel investors, Clark Walberg, who founded InVision, about his company’s processes. They’d been remote since inception. Our chief of staff was researching ways to maximize efficiency and finding new collaboration tools. Everyone was working to figure this out.
Here’s what we learned:
• You have to commit. Be upfront with the entire company, and be clear: “This is what we’re doing.” It will take some time to perfect new workflows, but it’s vital to have everyone on board and rowing in the same direction to do it right. Make it clear from the outset that there’s no going back — that’s a great way to start.
• Communication is paramount. Especially during the transition period, people will be a bit confused about the short- and long-term plans. Will they get some financial help setting up their office? What happens to the current office space? Will they ever get to see their co-workers? Communicate regularly to answer all questions. We did weekly 30-minute staff meetings early on to give updates, answer questions and remove speculation.
• Intentionally choose technology to foster the culture. Is it Zoom, Hangouts or something new? Is it Slack, Teams or another option? Choose the tools that will do the job and fit within budget and that your team will enjoy. One of your biggest risks is lack of connection due to lack of adoption.
• Onboarding is a priority. If you can’t get new remote employees operating quickly and efficiently, they likely won’t stick around. Create clear onboarding guides, and deliver education from the beginning. Make new hires feel welcome by introducing them to the entire company and providing them with opportunities to get to know co-workers outside of their department.
The Future of Remote Work
Now that we’ve been remote for over a year, we have an idea of where a remote company should be headed. Based on my experience with what my company now looks like, here are some changes you might consider for your own organization:
1. Set hours during the day when everyone needs to be available for meetings. This means regardless of time zone, no one will need to start too early or stay too late.
2. Each team or individual can craft their own schedule based on their unique needs and preferences. Obviously, some roles will have less wiggle room, like product support. But make sure you’re empowering employees to decide how they want to work.
3. The standard 9-to-5 workday is no longer applicable. Don’t track time on the clock, but instead focus on outcomes. Communication must be asynchronous. This means recording meetings, documenting processes and centralizing information to be accessible by anyone on their own time.
4. Consider a summit when it’s safe to do so. We’re going to do companywide summits when the pandemic ends. We’ll all meet at a destination as a company and do team-building activities to strengthen our culture.
I still occasionally miss working in an office and feeling that team energy. But you can still get all of this from remote work; you just have to be creative. We’ve implemented remote happy hours and yoga classes. We even kicked off one of our virtual company meetings with a meditation exercise. Our company culture hasn’t gone away at all, it’s just evolving.
If you’re willing to undertake a massive change to your company’s workflows in order to access things like global talent, happier employees and lower overhead costs, consider the transition to remote. I know I’ll never look back.