We are back with the Part 2 of The Big Switch Series!
Most of us remember the times (so January 2020) when flexibility to work remotely was one of the perks mentioned by recruiters in the job specs. A few months into this God forsaken year and it took on a new format of working from home to also become the key requirement for output and performance given the social distancing circumstances.
Interestingly, it's not a skill anyone is trained on during their traditional onboarding program in most companies, but it is in fact a skill that one should acquire to stay productive regardless of where they sit or stand (shoutout to Fully - my favourite standing desks manufacturer)!
Remote Work ABC as easy as 1, 2, 3
In this piece I'm trying to understand the conditions for successful switch to predominantly remote working environment for organizations as a whole and in the long run. I'm not particularly interested in the "let's just give everyone a laptop" solutions, but more strategic and forward thinking approach companies should take to tackle situations, like the covid pandemic, head on in the future.
That requires deep understanding of why some individuals thrive and some find it difficult to stay on top of their game when forced to perform their jobs away from the office desk and thus what organizations should be doing to ensure the transition is as pain free and as efficient as possible for all members of the team, as well as what are the company's responsibilities in the long haul with setting their people up for success.
Let me take you on a journey down memory lane to outline the key factors for a functioning and sustainable remote work setup. Buckle up!
Factor #1: Exposure
Looking back at the first decade of my career (so all of it, Maria?), I've been exposed to remote environment quite frequently from the very early days, by nature of the companies I worked for and roles I've been in.
First stop: Deloitte. Management consulting is a mix of data gathering, analysis, brainstorming and presentation of deliverables (aka the slide storm). At the start of any project putting the data together requires a lot of onsite meetings, interviews and internal documentation analysis. That also means traveling to your client's HQ while being able to continue to analyze data and put together deliverables for other projects you've been assigned to. Tight schedules and the pressure to maximize billable hours will keep you busy, also forcing you to take a crash course on creative multitasking. You learn how to divide your working week to fit in various tasks and you learn how to use your imagination to find the time you don't have to do them all yesterday. Your company's support comes mainly in the form of a powerful (and heavy!) IBM laptop full of security protocols making it hell to access any drives from a remote location, but also in the form of access to very experienced senior colleagues who are willing to help you learn how to divide and conquer your calendar and energy for success in the long run (and take on more of the work they don't want to do).
In other words, first important factor for success, the way I see it, is frequency of exposure to the environment and good experienced people one can draw from. Today, most of us, who kept their jobs in the pandemic, got well exposed to the remote setup, but that doesn't mean everyone has it figured out. Truth be told, at the moment almost nobody is measuring it precisely, most are focusing on making it through the year, if possible hitting the ambitious rev goals, but most of the time - just keeping the business afloat. It might mean that some members of the team though seem to be performing well, are close to burning out, have been going through a burnout or are feeling overwhelmed not knowing how to better manage their time and to-do list, and how to ask for help.
As organizations continue to hire new staff and plan for the future, incorporating both continuous access to experienced colleagues and remote days as part of the working week should become a standard long past the pandemic times.
Factor #2: Training
After transitioning to digital marketing, my work environment initially became a bit more sedentary with just occasional necessity to travel. After a while, when I wanted to work from home, I was given the green light quite often without much hesitation. By then, I had proven to do my job well and was consistently delivering results. This pointed me to the second requirement being a profound understanding of the business you're in and having the skills to execute on the responsibilities you've been assigned. There's no substitute for training and/or knowledge sharing sessions (if you're an exec), and this is one of the most important responsibilities of each manager and team lead to ensure that their team is equipped with the knowledge, tools and skills to deliver on the set goals. Thorough training also works like magic against lack of trust, so frequently pointed out by many managers with regards to remote work. Provided the organization has hired the right people and done their job well on getting them up to speed, performance should not be impacted.
I was very lucky to have received that foundational toolkit from the outset at Sociomantic, first in Warsaw and then in Berlin. I could see first hand how important training was for one's success. Especially after taking almost a year off to travel, when I moved to Berlin to take on a new role in the HQ - I was able to jump back in very quickly. While my role had changed and required a lot more travel, I felt confident and knew how to get work done wherever wifi was available.
Factor #3: Infrastructure
In the last 4+ years, working remotely became more of a state of mind for me. Being a part of AppLovin is truly one a kind experience in many ways, but in the context of working remotely it definitely took it to the next level. I used to say "mobile never sleeps", because marketing in gaming is both global and really fast paced, whether you're on the studio side constantly racing to the top of the charts or the service side, working the same crazy hours to help facilitate that race (and cause it's fun)!
What that meant for me was having to find a way to work efficiently with partners spread across Europe, the Middle East and SEA while collaborating with my manager on the other side of the Atlantic (shoutout to Helen and her new business - Ritual Meals!), or sometimes working with the team in the SF HQ while staying in touch with partners in EMEA & SEA. It's a funny feeling when working hours become fluid, from 7am calls to 11pm calls, time.is becomes your homepage and most trusted advisor.
Tech also brought the amplified version of remote work to the table in the standard of working seamlessly off your phone. A skill that most in the tech industry take pride in, because it means they can stay busy, and sometimes productive (plus it keeps the otherwise mindless social media scrolling under control), even when they're commuting, eating or sit in meetings with clients. In practice, mobile productivity one-upping meant setting up campaigns and waterfalls, running optimizations or closing deals from one's phone effortlessly to deliver performance and answers to clients even faster.
Whether being constantly glued to your screen is good for you is another topic (spoiler alert! - it's not.), but staying competitive in mobile gaming, whether it's the developer or service side, does require adjusting to living and breathing at a much higher pace consistently.. for weeks, months and years.
That brings us to the last key requirement being the setup, both physical and technological. Companies need to support their teams with the necessary physical infrastructure (laptops, phones, headsets, work station accessories), but also the right software that supports operational efficiency (comms channels, cloud drives, dynamic reporting tools, shareable docs and sheets - all in apps with unified SSO). Though most of it might seem obvious for those who operate in at least a couple locations or stem from the tech environment, but many organizations were definitely caught by surprise when asked to move their whole workforce remotely without any of those systems already in place. Berlin based Grover's 2020 revenue report being the case in point.
The way forward
In short, just as employees bear the responsibility to deliver certain level of performance, the companies need to step up their game and provide their staff with all elements of a successful remote work setup to get that performance going. Only when served altogether:
frequent exposure to conditions and best practices,
thorough and continuous training,
robust hardware and software infrastructure,
can they ensure your team members are covered and can get on with the day to day.
Additionally, here are some practical tips to help facilitate sustainable growth in the landscape of the nu normal for your organization:
End to end office-to-remote onboarding process ensuring new and current employees are equipped with necessary tools and devices to get started (here’s an example of a list for a new starter)
Working From Home Team - cross functional task force to help deal with the day to day challenges structurally as well as foster sharing tips and tricks on well executed work from home setup through:
standing AMA sessions with remote work champions
company-wide comms channels in the form of videos, internal or external blog posts
Weekly 1-1 and Team catchups (if possible, executing the 1-1 in person while respecting the social distancing rules)
Regular “how are you? really?” check-ins with your team, yourself and your manager free from the business agenda (ask your People Team to help facilitate those)