I was 18 years old, driving to my first official corporate part-time job while studying. It was 5am in the morning and I was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, with 1000s of other vehicles on the N1 highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg in South Africa. To get to work by 8am, most individuals were waking up between 4 and 5am to endure horrendous traffic. Looking left and right, I would see women applying make-up, men shaving, people eating breakfast … it was the epitome of the grind. The 9 to 5. The rat race.
I felt a heaviness inside of me. I promised myself, as the sun rose and stretched across my dashboard, that I would figure out a way to build a remote company that was able to meet a few very specific criteria:
- Allow people to work from anywhere in the world: including a beach, or a branch in a high tree if they so desired
- Allow the team to hire amazing talent from all over the world
- Allow flexibility where work and life could seamlessly blend to suit the lifestyle any person chose for themselves and their families
I did not realise it then but that promise shaped my entire future. It defined what has become my life: dedicating energy, effort and resources to making work better. In 2016 I spoke at TEDx and my talk was entitled “The Future of Work is Chaos”. What we are witnessing, living and experiencing right now is that chaos I was speaking about. Millions of micro-changes happening all at once, repetitively.
Today, I’m sitting in my home office with a team of 50 people scattered across 10 countries, serving clients on every continent. The dream, born on a highway in South Africa, is very much alive and growing. We have been functioning like this since late 2015. Cloud technology and brilliant SaaS applications enable this daily. But more than the tech, there is a mindset at play between all of us that makes this happen.
As Covid-19 ravishes our world and forces change like we’ve never witnessed before, our team would like to share a few simple starting points with you. Consider these anchors. Consider these baby steps to take today.
Over the next few weeks and months, we will be sharing resources on a regular basis with you, to enable you to perfect this art and to keep evolving it.
But for today … let’s start. It is the most important step to take right now.
#1 Choose A Work Collaboration Software
Make the decision to not use email as the primary work tool, nor Slack, Skype or any other application that is communication-centred. People find it extremely overwhelming to have all the work being handled inside communication platforms. Create a space for work and see this as your virtual office. Capterra outlines many options for you to choose from.
#2 Choose a Chat Application
As a company we use Telegram and Slack. Many corporates use Microsoft tools such as Skype or Salesforce’s Chatter. Zapier has compiled an excellent list. In remote cultures, people need a space to collaborate in real-time to overcome geographies and vastly different calendar schedules. Think about the quick huddle at a desk. This is what a chat application achieves. It allows people to move things forward in real-time.
#3 Choose a Meeting Application
Zoom all the way. We have tried so many. There are terrible ones and then there are the good ones.
#4 Define Rules of Work
Working remote is *not* the same as working in an office. It demands an entirely different dynamic. We recommend that this message be made clear from the most senior leadership in the team and that rules of work be adopted by the team.
We recommend the following 5 simple rules as the foundational ones that make or break the team during the infancy of remote work:
- Task and work inside the collaboration tool
- Talk and communicate inside the chat tool
- Use email for external comms, not internal comms
- Do not task people inside chat tools (This happens very easily. We overcome it by using bots to automate tasks from chat applications to our collaboration tools.)
- If confusion persists for more than 3 chats, get into a virtual meeting room and talk it out
Communicate these rules over and over and ask the team to hold each other accountable to them. I have no problem telling my team daily to task me when they ask me to review things in Telegram. If it is not part of my planned work for the day, then it will not happen, unless it is an emergency.
#5 Design ALL Workspaces
Remote work needs to be seen as a space that people enter. So we highly recommend that if you already have many of these spaces setup that you consider giving them a makeover or even a total reboot. We completely reboot our collaboration spaces every 18 months or so. For those starting from scratch: think about this as if you were walking into an actual office.
There needs to be a space created and maintained for every department or function and this space needs to be replicated, in the same format across chat, collaboration and document spaces as far as is possible.
For example we have the following departments in our team:
For every single one of these departments we have the following three basic areas setup across every virtual system:
The playground is where the general chitchat related to that department. The team area is where people-specific matters related to that team are discussed. The leadership area is where sensitive and strategic items are discussed. The sprint is where accountability happens. Every person checks in daily to communicate to the team what they did and what their blockers were. Most importantly they also communicate what their happinesses are.
Naturally this is just the foundation and each department will have its own subset of areas that are specific to it. For example:
Product New Users
#6 Create A Love Channel
Your remote team need to be able to give each other virtual high fives and fist bumps. This is where this happens. Simply open it and watch the magic happen. It is remarkable.
#7 Make Sprinting Mandatory
Sprinting is usually seen as something that product development teams do inside Agile development environments. We decided to adopt the principle across our entire company to create visibility.
Every single day, every person on the team shares this message with their respective teams:
@clairehaidar you have not reviewed the document I need you to and it is preventing me from progressing my final piece in the sprint. Please manage my expectations around your adjusted timeline.
Eating ice cream on the swing with my 1 year old at lunch time.
Taking my dog for an afternoon walk.
Seeing the sales team nail that big deal as a team.
Watching Alex lean into her career growth the way she is.
Start here. These 7 things can keep you busy for a good two weeks if you focus on building a strong remote culture. This is just the beginning but it is a very solid foundation that has enabled our team to weather so many storms together.
We are excited to keep sharing all our failures and happy discoveries from the past 5 years over the next few weeks and months.
Raising a toast to this beautiful new era of work that the entire globe is embracing.