The Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to an acceleration of a trend that many founders of startups – especially in tech – have been monitoring for many years; the switch to teleworking
There has been a long-standing debate about the benefits of this, although it has steadily increased over the years. It was predicted, months before the virus was even discovered, that by 2025, we would see around 70% of employees performing at least a substantial part of their role remotely.
While this transition is occurring under less than ideal circumstances, the change appears to have been a mixed success. The ONS reports that the vast majority (85%) of workers now want to continue with a hybrid working model, dividing time between an office and a remote workspace.
The apparent longevity of this model now raises particular issues for companies looking to expand, especially across borders. The benefits of teleworking are of course recognized and highly prized: employees appreciate greater flexibility in their work schedule, the absence of laborious and unproductive commuting, and more time for their family and friends. Higher team morale implicitly benefits any business, so these factors should not be overlooked as they only benefit employees.
The inconveniences, in turn, can be very damaging to the company and the employee; including the increased likelihood of experiencing distractions, erosion of work-life barriers, and lack of communication with co-workers. This last point is crucial; Creating a healthy remote working culture can be quite difficult in a national company – applied globally and crossing language and cultural barriers puts the company at risk of organizational drift and miscommunication, resulting in loss productivity which is very difficult to change remotely.
At Studio Graphene, a digital design agency, we have been fortunate to experience significant growth throughout the pandemic, from 31 employees to the recent hiring of our 100th team member, spread across offices across four countries. In doing so, we observed a number of critical factors that could make or break the aspirations of any business to scale quickly with a remote workforce.
It should be noted that there is no simple formula to evolve quickly; any approach must be tailored to the needs of the business and its workforce. Nonetheless, prioritizing the establishment of practical structures and processes and ensuring that you support positive and productive communication between teams will go a long way towards meeting the challenge.
One of the biggest headaches a large-scale business will experience when working remotely is the expansion of the workforce. Our preference was to be careful and patient in our approach; by introducing additional rounds of interviews and giving candidates the opportunity to meet more team members than usual. This allowed for a broader assessment of “cultural fit” as more viewpoints had the chance to get to know potential recruits and make informed judgment.
It is important to note here that a good match does not necessarily mean that new hires have to think and act the same as existing team members; instead, we’ve been careful to seek out candidates who share our core values, but who can bring new perspectives.
On the flip side, the onset of the pandemic has resulted in a flood of new talent looking for new roles, so every available position has resulted in a surge of applications above expectations. This has settled down in recent months, but offered a rare opportunity to add a diverse set of skills to the team. It was clear that many potential hires were looking for a change, and so Studio Graphene sought to embrace, where possible, building heterogeneous team structures, where employees working closely together have a variety of skills. and experiences to build on.
Establishing successful tangible practices and processes is one thing; building and developing an attractive and productive corporate culture across many cultural barriers is another.
There is no doubt that video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Teams are of crucial importance. Communicating only by text – or even by voice – would limit transparent communication and cooperation between colleagues, and risk eroding teams and suffering organizational drift.
The utility of these platforms shouldn’t be limited to productivity – they are also of great utility in facilitating virtual team events and icebreakers. While it is crucial to ensure that every team member feels involved, these events are broadly applicable to different companies by fostering an evolving workplace culture within smaller groups.
Each business will find its own way to expand across borders into remote environments. Of course, there will be growing pains and headaches, but applying failures to a learning curve and changing processes to create a refined management structure will go a long way in finding the right balance.
About the Author
Ritam Gandhi is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene, a London-based company specializing in the development of blank canvas technology products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since its inception in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within large companies.
Featured Image: © Peera