Daily Corona Coffee Club during the crisis.
Remote Work is in our DNA
The current COVID-19 crisis and our decision to switch to mandatory home office for every team member from one day to another is a good test for our strategy to set up the company in a remote-first way.
It really took us zero preparation to send a whole company to the home office from one day to the next. We just asked people to take their laptop and charger home, and the next day we were ready to work remotely
How is that possible? There’s a technical side and a cultural side to it.
The technical side of remote readiness
A lot of our technical readiness comes from how we think about our offices. We think about our offices as meeting points that enable face-to-face communication. We do not think about our offices as a home for any of our infrastructure*. Our ideal office consists of a few desks, a meeting room with whiteboards and flipcharts, a kitchen, a couch, and superfast WiFi – but not a lot of “machinery” and fixed infrastructure.
In 2018 we moved our HQ to a new building in central Potsdam and also rented an office in a central Berlin WeWork location to allow our staff from Berlin to work with their peers without having to travel to Potsdam every day. We took this move and split of locations as an inflection point to eliminate all fixed infrastructure.
- we kicked out our on-premise file server and replaced it with a VPN secured file server in AWS
- we kicked out all land-line telephone hardware and replaced it with mobile phones
- we kicked out all on-premise machines used for software testing and staging and moved them to a data center
That was all it took for us to come to a point where – from a purely technical perspective – people can do their job from anywhere in the world. Most of the time we’re still in the office – but if we are not, we can do just the same great work. That change was a decluttering experience and felt good.
The cultural side of remote readiness
From our experience however, the more important part of remote readiness is the non-technical side of it, i.e. shaping communication across team members and fostering the right company culture.
In order to do so we chose great tools and strategies and fully embraced them as a team.
We use Slack extensively. It took some time to get everyone to fully embrace Slack but it has been a great choice for us. Around 80% of all communication on Slack is 1:1 or 1:n in direct messages and thus mirrors the informal conversation about a topic that you would have face to face. The rest of all communication on Slack is in channels, which is a great way to keep a larger group of people informed about a topic that they may be interested in but are not actively working on. We even invited a few core customers to shared Slack channels and communicate with them in a highly effective way.
Slack for us is probably the key enabler of our goal to be able to experience togetherness over a distance. In a way it allows us to take our colleagues with us wherever we go. Even when we are not working from home but distributed over our two office locations, Slack is now our virtual office that keeps us an integrated team.
Zoom is a revolution in video meetings. It just works. We have Zoom calls with two people. We have Zoom calls with 15 people. We have calls with some team members in the office and some on the train. It just works. All the time. You’d be surprised how much video conferencing is embraced by a team when it works frictionless, without interruptions and with good quality. We all have Zoom on our laptops, most of us also have it installed on our phones. The standard today is to not give a colleague a phone call but to Zoom them. It is these little natural face-to-face interactions that cultivate a feeling of togetherness. Zoom is also great for sharing your screen in combination with a video call. Often, we find that looking at the same thing together is even more of a basis for collaboration over a distance than seeing each other. Zoom blends video conferencing and screen sharing in a perfect way. One room in our HQ is equipped with great Logitech video conferencing hardware with a good camera and good microphones and the “Zoom Rooms” solution. That works really well, if a larger group that is present in the office needs to meet with remote colleagues.
Clear goals are key when working remotely. Working remotely takes away one really useless way of measuring performance: counting the hours you see someone in the office. We have a strictly result based culture. Are the right things getting done and are they done to the highest standard? That’s all that matters. This requires some diligent goal setting, because in remote ready culture you always need to be extra clear about what the right thing to work on is and what a good result would look like.
We do this mainly on three levels:
First, we use OKRs (supported by Weekdone) to set quarterly team goals and to align team goals with company goals. This is not just a great way of setting direction for teams but also for imparting the big picture (i.e. how other teams contribute to the company strategy) to everyone in the company.
Second, we use a combination of regular 1:1 meetings, management meetings and team meetings to jointly translate OKR level goals into actionable activities and initiatives.
Third, informal meetings help teams to blend in short-term operational priorities that are not covered by OKRs.
The latter two in particular have to function well in a remote work environment with extremely low barriers to communication. This is where our Slack and Zoom solutions play their strength.
Software Developer Hamid loves to work on the couch at WeWork. Always.
Designing our company as a remote-first company was highly beneficial. Everything we did to design your company such that everyone can work from anywhere in the world will have a positive impact even when most people will work in the office most of the time.
In the current crisis we have the benefit of being able to work together without making any changes to our processes and without really making any changes to how we work.
It has always been at the core of our culture that we want to be a company that is family friendly and that allows our people to be successful even when they have to take care of their kids. For this our setup proved to be key.
We’re proud of what we’ve built.
(*) There’s one exception: our post box. The fact that we still receive actual letters means that we have to pick them up and archive them. That is literally the only process that requires physical presence.