Ben Sinclair

Ben Sinclair

CTO @ Tithe.ly

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Moving from a traditional office to fully remote

After being acquired by Tithe.ly, a 100% remote company, my team from Elvanto in the last 12 months has gone from everyone in the office to almost all working remotely. I wanted to share our journey in this post.

The idea of having remote employees is super scary for most employers. Questions start to roll around in our brains thinking of all the bad things that could come from it. I totally get it! I’ve thought that exact same way.

The idea of moving to remote could sound nice in theory, but does it work in the real world?

We have successfully transitioned to remote and the team is more efficient than ever. Here’s our journey…

Photo by Ivars Krutainis on Unsplash

Phase 1: Make the decision that remote is ok

Maybe this is the hardest part. Leadership has to draw a line in the sand and say remote is ok. If you can’t trust your employees, then why did you hire them?

After the acquisition, seeing Tithe.ly run a successful and thriving 100% remote company inspired me to think bigger. I figured if they had been doing it for a few years, why not us? So I decided to make a mind shift and become totally ok if someone wanted to work remotely.

Phase 2: Make working remote possible

When hiring someone new, usually I’d purchase an iMac for the new employee. Because I had remote in the back of my mind I started purchasing laptops instead. I gave the laptops to existing staff who I trusted the most with the intent of allowing them to have more flexibility.

Nowadays, new hires can use their own desktop/laptop, monitor, desk, and chair saving us a lot of money as a company. We’ll only buy employee’s equipment if they really need it.

Phase 3: Try remote out

One of our lead engineers wanted to move about 4 hours north during this time. I saw this as a great opportunity to put remote to the test. He would be our first fully remote employee. I gave him a laptop and he started working from home to try it out before moving.

The biggest challenge would be running our daily stand-ups with the rest of the engineering team. In a small crowded office, it would be hard for each engineer to be on their own computer in the same video call. The lag and background noise in the office made it distracting.

So we purchased a cheap TV and a webcam and hooked them up to a Mac Mini we had lying around and attached it to a stand. Suddenly we were doing our daily stand-ups over video call — and it worked like a charm.

Phase 4: Encourage more team to try remote

I started encouraging more staff that had laptops to try remote for a day or two a week or even work from home completely. I didn’t force it but gave the option. I had a very laid back “whatever works” type of attitude, giving my staff the freedom to make their own choices.

Some of those staff, especially those with longer commutes soon tried a day or two or three at home each week. I found after a few weeks of them doing this, those staff just stopped coming into work. This same trend started to happen over and over.

Soon, some staff with iMac’s started asking if they could use their own laptops. I agreed. Other staff took their iMacs home. One by one, almost everyone had a laptop or took their iMac home.

The Result?

It’s taken 12 months to have most of our staff now work remotely. There are only 2 people left in the office at present and they plan on working from home more at the end of the year.

Our team loves working remote and I feel they are as productive as ever.

How we made “remote” work

Tools

We live in a day and age where we have all the tools we need to work remotely. All the tools we used were already in the cloud so having to be in the office for that reason wasn’t a problem.

Our team was already on Slack which is a great way to quickly communicate whether in the office or remote. Tithe.ly had been using Zoom for video conferencing for years so we took that on for our team also.

We use Google Calendar now when we need to book in time to meet with someone. I try to avoid calling someone out of the blue.

We use software like Atlassian’s Confluence and Jira to collaborate with our teams.

Office Space Improvements

We still have a lease on our office for a couple of years and staff is always welcome to come in and work if they desire.

Having an open-plan office space, the TV was a must so that all the in-office engineers could gather round the one screen during daily stand-ups. Doing it on their own computers meant hearing others speak and the video lag causing distraction.

Keeping the team connected

My team was made up of engineering, sales, support, business development, and billing. Remote means less communication across those departments.

To keep connected, we run a monthly catch up that we’ve called Fika. Everyone needs to grab a snack and a drink and we jump on a video call for half an hour. We generally have a topic to chat about such as what shoes you’re wearing, what’s your favorite food, where have you traveled. You can get creative!

Tithe.ly holds an annual all-in gathering where they fly everyone to a single destination for a couple of days of hanging out, hearing from our leadership and getting together with our teams. Nothing beats that in-person interaction!

And for team members that live close by to each other, we encourage little gatherings, maybe to celebrate a birthday or a special event.

The pros and cons of working remotely (my teams perspective)

I asked my team to give me some feedback on the pros and cons of working remotely. Keep in mind that most of my staff had never held any time of remote position before so this makes this feedback super helpful.

Pros

  • No time wasted commuting
  • Save money on fuel
  • Easier to focus if needed on a particular task without distraction
  • Can work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection
  • More flexibility for little things like doctors appointments, getting parcels delivered, etc
  • Ability to change up your work location if desired
  • Better work-life balance
  • Spend more time with family
  • Have more time to rest
  • Have time to get to the gym during the day

Cons

  • Harder to socialize and have conversations
  • Can be difficult to switch off
  • Can be tempting to work longer hours
  • Not leaving the house (for some people) can be depressing
  • Separation of work and home life
  • Communication can be harder
  • Non-work distractions
  • Have to pay for more electricity
  • Easy to stay at your desk for longer periods

Reading this as an employer was insightful! Like anything in life, there are pros and cons. I felt the pros definitely outweighed the cons. I’m encouraged as a leader to help have the team think about how they can get better routines in their lives and reduce that cons list with small tweaks. There’s a lot of good information out there from teams who are far more experienced than us that we can draw on.

My pros and cons of working remotely

Pros

It brings me so much joy to give my team more time and flexibility. I care a lot about family time, resting and having soul space so to give that to my staff makes me very happy.

A big issue I saw in our crowded office was how easy it was to distract others. Having someone sitting next to you makes it so tempting to ask them a question. And when you’re trying to focus in and different team members need your focus, it’s hard to be productive. Using tools like Slack allows employees to reply in their own time if they are locked down and focusing on.

Cons

The biggest thing I noticed when reading my team’s cons list was the need for greater organization and discipline. It’s easy to not go out. It’s easy to eat your lunch at your desk. It’s easy to turn your laptop on at night and open Slack. As I said above I want to work with my team to reduce their cons list.

Bonus Resources

I recently read the book Remote written back in 2013 by the 37signals guys. I’d highly recommend EVERYONE to read this book. Whether you’re against having your team working remotely, skeptical, thinking about doing it or have done it - it’s a great resource and still holds up 6 years on.

I’d also recommend listening to a TED Talk by the same guy who wrote the above book, Jason Fried, titled, Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work. It’s gold.

Photo by Ivars Krutainis on Unsplash