It's been 18 months now since the COVID pandemic started. We can only say it's being a professional roller coaster at best. As the world opens up again, we hear more and more in the news about companies forcing staff to return to the office. For us in the digital space, we've been really embracing a new normal and we've decided to become a remote-first company.
We've been quite lucky during the pandemic as business has actually been booming... Lots of companies and public sector clients just accelerated their digital transformation projects.
However, when we had to move over almost a hundred staff to become remote first, it has had its challenges as you can imagine... it's not been easy.
In this video, I want to share with you how we've gone through it in the last few years and four main tips to cover the key lessons that we've learnt and how it helped us stay sane and go through it to continue to support our growth, including how it's going to impact us in the near and mid-term future.
Let's get to it.
Growing remote before COVID
Going back in time, even before the pandemic, we actually started expanding our team internationally in 2017 / 2018 I think. It started with a single staff who was working with us in London and decided to relocate abroad, but wanted to remain employed. As time got on, we started struggling to recruit Londoners on a reasonable budget. We started expanding our horizon and finding great talent in Wales and in the North of England... and the team grew like that. We even started recruiting abroad as we found exceptional developers joining us from Spain and Portugal... All of that gave us a good base. We had to put in place already four or five years ago some of those tools to manage remote communication and work with colleagues who were already abroad and remote. It was more like an exception, not really the norm.
Shifting to remote-working
So in March 2020, when the pandemic hit, we had to close our office and send everyone home. After a few weeks, we quickly realised that it would not be temporary. It would just not be a matter of a few days. No one ever had to deal with this. There was no course or leadership training to start managing such a shift in those conditions and in such a short amount of time.
As a leadership team, we just applied common sense
and focused on taking care of our team,
then found a balance to align with our clients' expectations.
Let's go into the four tips that helped us grow and almost double the size of our team in the last 18 months.
1. Empathy towards the team
The first one was to apply even more empathy towards our team. We had to adjust expectations and give everyone more flexibility when everyone was home, either with kids or in a complete lockdown in some regions, it was very difficult for everyone.
As managers, there was obviously a risk of not knowing what was happening or thinking people were just "slacking off". It was important to build trust, both ways - both from us as the employer and the employees. We did this by just increasing the transparency and better communication on the projects' plans: explaining what needs to be done and when. We also continued to use agile methodologies, where the whole team is collaborating very well, joining daily stand-ups and showcase their work to colleagues at regular intervals. There was not that easy. We provided some training for everyone on mental health and supported the line manager in managing their team remotely with more regular catchups.
2. Focus on company culture
The second point was taking care of the company culture. This was one of the most difficult parts of the journey I think. We already had a good bond with the colleagues that we knew, but for all the new hires for example, the onboarding is much more difficult when someone cannot adjust shadow or just walk around the office to meet everyone and catch up, understand what they're doing on the regular basis.
As the world reopens and some people start coming back to the office, we have to make sure that everything remains fair, whether a person comes to the head-office or is remote. On the day-to-day management for this company culture, we had to be more efficient with meetings and allow more time for regular check-ins, either one-to-one or virtual or social events, like a weekly pub meet-up where we can discuss things outside of work around a beer! All those social events really help everyone stay in touch, and obviously more in-person meetings will help in the near future.
3. Adjust planning and processes
The third tip is a bit more practical. It's really about planning the work and the processes across the organisation. We've quickly realised that they all had Zoom fatigue from those back-to-back meetings and our calendars filling up with Zoom invites. We decided to shorten the length of the meetings, reduce the size and the number of meetings or number of staff in each meeting. We're making sure that everyone comes prepared with a clear agenda as well, it was very important. It has allowed for some breathing space between meetings, just to go for a five-minute walk... We even encouraged people to take meetings outside, just walking when they can just listen in and contribute while being able outdoor.
Everything became a bit more asynchronous as well with more writing and email communication, and of course Slack messages! Similarly with clients, we've had to improve our onboarding process and spend more account management time to strengthen relationships.
4. Get the right I.T. Infrastructure to scale
The final tip was really to invest in I.T. And infrastructure. You really need to have the right tools for people to continue to be efficient, continue to share files, communicate with each other. We allocated a budget for everyone to set up a comfortable home desk environment with better chairs, lighting and microphone. All of that was very important too for the well-being of our team.
We also had to keep in mind the security and compliance elements. We upgraded our remote management tools, some of the cloud collaboration tools and VPN. All of that is going to continue to evolve as more people join remotely.
Those are the four concepts that helped us grow and continue to grow, almost doubling the size of the team in the last two years. Going forward, we will continue to remain a remote-first company. From a recent internal survey, I think only 6% of our team wants to come back full-time, about 32% hybrid and almost 50% primarily remote.
The hybrid model is the new normal. We all have to adjust to it.
Obviously I cannot wait to have those company days-out and meet some of our new colleagues in person. Now that travel is getting easier and coming back pretty much to normal, we're going to organise more and more of those meetings. I can't wait for the next Christmas party and see what it looks like.
That's if for today, I hope this was useful. Reach out if you have other suggestions or other tips that have worked well or helped you personally, or your business, to remain efficient during those times and how you're going to move forward.
If you're still struggling to run digital projects remotely, or going through this shift now, just get in touch. Don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow me on Twitter to keep learning with me and grow your career in digital.
Until next time, stay safe and see you soon.