What We've Learned in a Year of Being a Remote Company
It’s undeniable: Working remotely is on the rise. According to Global Workplace Analytics, the number of employees who work regularly at home has grown by 103 percent since 2005 and by 6.5 percent in the last year. A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey found that 23 percent of employees conducted all or some of their work at home.
Among those who recently joined the ranks of the remote workforce? Myself and five of my Recruiterbox colleagues. You see, in 2015 Recruiterbox became a remote workplace. While we still maintain an office in Bangalore, 20 percent of our team isn’t based in India.
For the most part, my remote colleagues and I love working remotely. Prior to working for Recruiterbox, I was commuting two and a half hours each day. I definitely don’t miss that! The lack of commute means my colleague Josh and his family were able to sell one of their cars, reducing their costs and environmental footprint in the process.
But working remotely isn’t without its challenges. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned at Recruiterbox since going remote.
You’ve got to pay attention to process.
Physical separation means that you need to define and document your process. You can’t walk over to your colleague’s desk and ask them to show you how something’s done. So you need to create a manual or blueprint for the way your team will operate. Make it a living document, so you can incorporate changes that reflect customer preferences and contributions from new team members.
One of my favorite tools for collaborating with colleagues is Google Docs. I love that it’s easy to see which team member made which change to the document, and that multiple colleagues can be in a doc at once and see changes in real time. I also love that it’s cloud-based, so there’s no download required.
Communication is key.
You’re physically isolated from your colleagues, but you still need to feel connected. Next week we’re going to do our first all-hands call (all 35 of us!), and I’m really excited about that. My role doesn’t overlap with everybody’s at the company, so I have yet to interact with a dozen or so of my colleagues.
Video calls are the next best thing to a face-to-face conversation. It’s so nice to be able to see your colleagues when you’re talking to them. It seems like we’ve used pretty much every video call platform known to man at Recruiterbox, but two of our current favorites are Zoom and appear.in.
Another communication tool we couldn’t live without is Slack. Our customer happiness team makes a point to ask each other how their days are going and to tell each other goodbye each day. We also share a lot of photos with each other, from cute kids to hijinks in the India office to scenes from our latest travel destination. Such interactions help us feel like we’re never alone.
Leave home now and then.
Video and messaging apps are a great stand-in for in-person interaction, but let’s face it: There’s really no substitute for the real thing. So it’s important to leave home every so often. My colleague Chelsea is a self-professed homebody, but she says that packing up her laptop and spending a few hours working at a coffeeshop is a huge mood-lifter. I’m the same way. Every few weeks I’ll spend the whole day working from a cafe, and the change of environment always recharges my energy and focus.
If you’re gonna be a digital nomad, do your research ahead of time.
My colleague Srajan has arguably taken fuller advantage of the opportunity to work remotely than anyone on the Recruiterbox team. Last year, he traveled to seven states and three countries – sometimes for months at a time – all while maintaining his work schedule.
As a digital nomad who usually travels alone, Srajan puts a considerable amount of research into his next destination. In order of importance, he values internet connection, ease of getting around, and community. He needs a strong internet to connection to stay connected to his work and the rest of the world. He needs to navigate his temporary home bases easily and feel a sense of community in order to connect with his surroundings and prevent stagnation.
Set yourself up with an ergonomic workspace.
I’ve been working remotely for more than nine months now, and I’ll admit it, I haven’t followed this advice – despite the fact that my husband is a chiropractor. My kitchen chairs aren’t designed to be sat in for eight hours a day, and as a result I’ve wrenched my neck pretty bad. But! I’m happy to say that I’ve ordered this stand-up cardboard desk, for a mere $35 including shipping.
I’m taking my cue from my colleagues Chelsea and Sarah. Chelsea has a desk that converts from sit to stand with the crank of a lever. Sarah got a FitDesk for Christmas and can work out while she works. Pretty cool.
Stretch your flexibility.
Working across geographies requires a lot of flexibility. Our CEO Raj, who’s normally based in San Francisco, has been in Bangalore for the past two months. As a result, our meetings have shifted from 10 a.m. CST to 7 a.m. CST. I’m not an early riser, so I can’t say that this is my preferred meeting time, but you know what – it’s really not so bad. During meeting days I roll out of bed around 6:45, I’m at my computer at 6:55, and then get an hour or so of work in before my daughter wakes up. Back in my commuting days you never would have gotten me to agree to a standing 7 a.m. meeting!
Our customer happiness team also practices an enormous amount of flexibility. Chelsea works ski patrol during the winter, so back in November she shifted her hours to start earlier so she could be on the slopes by late afternoon. When Srajan was in India, he was working the vampire-like hours of 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. With some roles, obviously, it doesn’t really matter when you do your work – it just matters that it gets done. But coordinating coverage is vital for a support team that’s helping customers across the globe.
Give and receive feedback.
Feedback’s important in any work environment – in order to collaborate most effectively together, colleagues have to be able to tell each other what they need. They have to be able to express what’s working and what’s not. These aren’t always easy conversations, and physical separation certainly doesn’t make them easier.
To that end, a formal method of employee engagement is key. We recently implemented TINYpulse, a software that administers short, frequent, completely anonymous surveys. The anonymity is vital to making employees feel comfortable to candidly express themselves, and leaders get real-time feedback and can make adjustments accordingly. To wit: That all-hands meeting that I referred to earlier? That’s the result of a suggestion a team member made in TINYpulse.
As Recruiterbox enters our second year of being a remote company, I have no doubt that we’ll refine our processes even further and continue to learn to operate even more effectively as a distributed team. I’d love to meet all of my team members at a Buffer-style retreat, and I’m sure more tools will emerge to further support the remote workforce. After all, telecommuting is the future of work, and I’m excited for what the future holds.