Scaling a Remote-First Business: The Impact on the Team
Like companies all around the world, we shuttered our offices in the spring as the Covid-19 pandemic escalated. What we all thought would just be a few weeks has turned into months, and months...and months. Here we are half a year later, with no real end in sight. We have learned a lot of lessons on what it means to not only run a distributed company, but to scale a remote business with healthy, happy, and engaged employees. As we continue to scale up remotely, I thought it would be interesting to share some of what we learn along the way, from how we figure out remote onboarding to what our culture looks like. To kick things off, I decided to examine the impact that these last 6 months have had on our team. While I know our experiences are in no way unique, considering the entire world went into lockdown, I value the importance of knowledge sharing and learning from my peers. My hope is that in sharing the Breathe Life experience, including the ups and downs, other companies will share theirs and we can all learn from each other.
To say the first month or two was tough would be an understatement. No longer being allowed to go to the office or getting to brainstorm or chat with colleagues in person was a difficult adjustment. On top of this, everyone was adjusting to lockdown and having to work from home, educate from home, and simply cope. We were in uncharted territories. Our immediate solution, as I’m sure was the same for a lot of companies, was to fill everyone’s calendars with meetings. Since we couldn’t have a random brainstorm by the coffee machine, we scheduled voluntary drop-in Zoom coffee breaks and lunch hours. Since our teams couldn’t have spontaneous syncs we scheduled in daily Zoom team chats. Without the ability to hang out and bond at happy hours we scheduled in bi-monthly Zoom drinks. We went into meeting overload. Our employee productivity was impeded and most developed Zoom fatigue.
A change was needed
We knew we had to make a change or else our employee morale would bottom out and our productivity would follow suit. Each team manager was tasked with figuring out what worked best for their teams in terms of social meetings and work-related meetings. At a company level, we built an internal wiki that laid out processes for meetings, communications, and documentation. We developed procedures to better understand when a meeting should or shouldn’t happen, how they should be run, made it easier for the team to leverage Slack for decision making, and established a documentation matrix. Basically, we got organized, put a structure in place, and massively cut back on meetings. When asked about how these changes impacted her team, Software Engineer Team Lead, Kenza Iraki said that “our meetings are now better prepared, asynchronous communication is way more common, and thorough documentation is now the norm.”. This not only freed up our teams to have more dedicated work time but also really improved company morale. We started to see our productivity levels climb back up and even surpass pre-Covid. “The team was able to increase its velocity because of the new remote processes and set-up. It’s become easier to remove distractions and really focus during crunch times”, said Janic Beauchemin, Software Engineer Team Lead. A little over a month ago we anonymously surveyed team members to better understand how they’ve adapted to remote work and an astounding 91% feel like their productivity is on par or better than in the office.
While we scaled back our zoom hangouts, we made sure that existing ones were family-friendly and focused on activities like trivia, online escape rooms, and treasure hunts. We also knew we had to support our employees as they navigated this new normal, most with kids at home, and provide more flexibility than ever before. I experienced this first hand with my wife being the CEO of an outdoor goods company and with 2 kids under 10, it was quite the balancing act at home!
What does the future hold?
While the future is still fairly uncertain, we’re beginning to plan out what it looks like for the company. With Montreal being back on lockdown, we’ve made the decision to keep the office closed through the remainder of 2020. Sometime next year, we’re hoping to reopen the offices with a new, more-spaced out layout with team members working from there 2 days a week. We arrived at this plan partially based on the survey mentioned earlier, which had 85% of employees saying they would like to work from the office 2 days a week. We’ve really noticed that providing people with flexibility creates much happier employees and therefore more productive employees. When asked about this future work set-up Rowena Roy, our Head of Business Development said, “While I miss being in the office, I love the flexibility of getting days to work from home, I gain back over 2 hours of commuting time which means I get to do yoga in the mornings and spend more dedicated time with my girls after work. In fact, I’m helping them learn to fence and play the violin, which never would’ve happened if I was in the office 5 days a week!”.
Stay tuned in the coming months as I publish more articles about how we’re adapting to scaling a remote business. Next up, I’ll be sharing how we’re remote new hires, which has been a very tricky process for us to figure out.