Working together while working apart – an oxymoron impacting us all.
WaySeven has always been happy and proud to offer our employees the option of remote work, as well as flexible work hours. Both options were used in multiple ways: to adapt to the work schedules of parents, to give our student interns a chance to dedicate their time to finishing their studies, or to just let those of us having a bad-hair day stay safely out of sight.
None of our practices could prepare us for March 2020 and the aftermath.
We’re not saying that there was a negative impact – productivity and engagement barely made a dip before making a return, and the business never suffered.
There was never a question of people not having the resources or the means to work, either. All our team had the chance to request equipment and (optionally) work from the office if home environments didn’t work out.
The one thing that we have worried about is less quantitative: how do we keep the company culture alive?
We’re big on welcoming new people into the fold, and our inclusive practices are an overall highpoint all our employees mention. It’s the friendly atmosphere, the lack of judgement when it comes to asking less-than-intelligent questions. None of it is scripted or included in a rulebook, but it is a crucial part of the WaySeven experience.
Which is exactly why it’s so tricky to translate into remote work.
Blissful images of people thinking they'll be back in-office
within a few weeks.
When we first decided to go fully remote (March 12th, 2020), the company had a sit-down meeting online and hashed out some issues. We raised these questions:
1. How will we effectively coordinate the dev team efforts with the ongoing client input without constant meetings?
2. How do we coordinate our work and free time in a pandemic?
3. How do we keep our company culture alive?
Question 1 was easily handled – due to the nature of the work and the agility of our everyday work methods, we had continuous work down to an art form. It helped that our team leads are dedicated, amazing people – but the core of the solution was in working agile.
Question 2 was addressed a little bit differently.
If you’ve ever worked remotely, you know the initial thrill that comes with the freedom from commuting. You wanna work in your pajamas? Go for it! You wanna do some housework on your break? It’s your prerogative!
The catch with working remotely is that, since you’re working from your own home, you are effectively blurring the line between “work” and “home”. The views are the same, the smells are the same, the sounds are the same… Suddenly, you find yourself working 10-hour days because you feel as though you should be working more. You are, effectively, feeling guilty because you’re not in your real office and making up for it by pushing yourself until you collapse.
This is a common situation. If you’re not surrounded with colleagues that will recognize your struggles and let you figure out your new remote-work pace, you could end up with severe burnout.
Question 3 is the hardest. Company culture, like we mentioned, means the world to us. It’s the knowledge that you’ve got a crew of people looking out for you, or the fact that there’s always somebody there to point you in the right direction when you’re confused.
Now, that’s not easy to maintain.
Example: our onboarding is usually a process where people are actively introduced to the company, the office, the co-workers. The project onboarding doesn’t start until a few days have passed and you’re both comfortable with your mentor and aware where the bathroom and kitchen are.
Networking is a key step in this process. Day 1, you go on break with your new work buddies. Day 2, you’re shadowing a stand-up meeting or two. Day 3, you’ve got inside jokes and you’re hogging the lazy bag.
This entire process is impossible to do if you’re not physically present in the office.
Onboarding is just one example of a valuable part of the company culture that hasn’t survived the switch to remote. It’s a daily struggle to keep the spirit alive, and we’ve had to resort to some relatively basic practices in order to do it.
It may sound incredibly on-the-nose, but team-building activities DO actually build team spirit. Best part is, some of them are perfectly online-friendly! A good pub-style quiz is a personal favourite, even when you suspect the opposing team of cheating (you know who you are).
Another tool that keeps the gears turning is good-old communication. Newsletters, meetings, happy hour – any occasion that lets information be shared is a blessing. And let’s not forget the knowledge-sharing that follows.
All in all, we’re still trying to hone the system. Our employees are a constant source of inspiration and drive, and it’s their initiatives that help us stay in touch and connected. Until further notice, we are happily working together and working apart.