July 16, 2020

How to Transition to Full-Remote, for Companies Like Ours

Learnerbly is a 20-people-big-VC-backed, fast paced, mission-driven tech company.

This document is a description of all the things we learned while transitioning to full-remote. The advice in this guide as you'll see sometimes comes from other People people from other companies, but is based on our experience.

We want to start this article by a HUGE kudos to everyone at Learnerbly who made it possible and contributes daily to making this change as good an experience as possible; and to all the People people who kindly shared templates, advice, guides and articles in abundance.

We'll all get through this together ๐Ÿ’ช

๐Ÿก Set-up

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ’ป Tech

We've got the unfair advantage of being a tech company that offers flexible working but I'd advise to define the essentials so as to not get lost in a tech miasma when there's already many fires to put out:

  • 1x instant messaging (we use Slack)
  • 1x video calls (we use Zoom)
  • 1x project management (we use Notion)

๐Ÿ“บ Video calls?

  • Keep on mute unless you're speaking. ****Avoid the background noise.๐Ÿ’ก On Zoom, you can use the spacebar to push to talk.
  • Always switch your camera on for meetings: ****It creates more contact, it forces you to be camera-ready, and allows everyone to get a glimpse of your beautiful smile.
  • It's important to remember that not everyone has the same living conditions. Having your camera on makes a call more personal, maybe you can try zoom's virtual backgrounds!
  • And clarify that it's ok to bring your life on the camera.
  • Say it! (and if it's a ๐Ÿ• take a screenshot and send it to me)
  • One person per camera. ****To have everyone included equally and foolproof our remoteness-readiness, use an individual dial-in and camera even if you're in the same space as someone else.

๐Ÿฆ‰Time

Structure your time. Have a team stand up to kick start your day, use Google Calendar for visibility.

Put aside way more time for communication. You're basically gonna need to dedicate an hour a day to communicating, whether that's over the phone or text.

Try different methodologies, take ownership of your time! A famous one to start with is the Pomodoro technique.

An example of how you can structure your day, kindly shared by Finola who's the People person at Birdie

Morning:

  • Wake up at the time you normally would throughout the work week to keep routine.
  • Try a virtual commute and move your body by going for a walk or cycle.
  • Set up a video call with colleagues, friends or family to have your breakfast with.
  • If you can create a work station separate from your bedroom or sofa, do so.
  • Take regular breaks to move your body, have a chat with colleagues for 5 mins, make a cup of tea etc.

Afternoon:

  • Schedule a lunch video call with someone else.
  • Go for another walk or bike at the end of the day to signify 'switching off'.
  • Support your local business - many have started local home delivery services (including restaurants and even breweries!) that you can explore

Evening:

  • Leisure time: check out the entertainment section above for suggestions and ideas.
  • Keep your usual bedtime routine and go to bed at your normal time.
  • Good time again for a quick breathing exercise to clear your head and fall asleep easily.

๐ŸชSpace

Make yourself a comfortable work station, if possible distinct from where you spend your time chilling โ€” just to keep them mentally distinct can help. Encourage people to take their second screen home if needed.

๐Ÿ’Œ Communication

Use public Slack channels unless your message is private. Tag people who should be in the know. Use Slack Status so people can tell if youโ€™re available. Remember you can call people to have more contact.

In terms of general tone for internal communications, you may not want to change your usual tone and structure โ€” there's enough change going on right now ๐Ÿ˜‰ However, the below three might help your team feel more at ease:

  • Approachability to enable people to reach out if they have concerns or feedback
  • Clarity to cut through the noise, bullet points are your new BFF
  • Reliability double check every fact against an official source. You people need to be able to trust you, especially if some limit their media consumption to minimise anxiety.

๐ŸŒŠ Clarity

Give clear updates and expectations management. No one has the answer so don't forget to mention the things you don't know about.

We share daily updates (example below), asked everyone to read our business continuity plan (we used this amazing Lattice template), and we bullet-point and highlight any news.

To get clarity over what would work well or not in case of full-remote roll-out, we ran a 2-day drill in early March. We gathered people's thoughts on the exercise and implemented new initiatives on the back of feedback.

It's important to make people feel heard and the best way to go about it is to listen to them and then action their suggestions.

Here's an example of our results and how we communicated them to our team:

๐Ÿก Learnerbly's full-remote exercise results

  • Avg. rating of the experience: 7.4/10. There are two groups there: the 5/10s who prefer a desk, and the 9/10s who love the remote lyf
  • What worked well: General work-related communication on workflows and responsivity
  • What can be improved: General non-work related communication and social chit chat + heartwarming eavesdropping. You missed your second screens.
  • How can we improve this: More structured communication (from info on how to best use Google Cal. to facilitating and encouraging unstructured chats).
  • Physical wellbeing: 50% more snacking and less movement unless we put ourselves in social spaces (working in a group, cafe, with friends). 50% love the deep focus and ownership over their time.
  • Mental wellbeing: 50% lonely and less focussed, 50% loving life

๐Ÿฆถ Next steps (back then):

  • We're not going full remote unless the government or WeWork deman it
  • WFH is uncapped
  • Take your laptop with you every evening

๐Ÿค” What you need to do:

  • Wash your hands, use the hydroalcoholic solution, don't bite your nails (You know "Clap your hands" by Sia? I have it stuck in my head with ย "Wash your hands")
  • Talk to Raj or myself if you have symptoms or concerns. We'll facilitate a self-quarantine (mid-term WFH)
  • Flag any personal travel to affected countries (Like my cousin's hen-do in Rome end of March, likely to be cancelled)

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ’ป What Learnerbly does:

  • Put out some guidelines like this
  • Best practice training 26-27th March (going full remote to see how seamless our business continuity is in action)
  • We have a disaster recovery policy in place in case of force majeur events

๐Ÿ‘‚ Radical candour

Radical candour becomes even more important in times of change, and especially when said change affects communication habits.

As rightly explained by Kayla from IWOCA

If something feels off, letโ€™s talk about it - and remember that a call or a hangout is better for those tough conversations than email or slack (where thereโ€™s more risk that your tone of voice is misinterpreted). Especially since working remotely is new for many, we need to tune into each other's concerns and experiment with what works for the individuals and the team as a whole.

๐ŸŒช How to avoid noise in Slack?

Communicate everything publicly as a default, unless it's mundane, sensitive or private. Have very specific channels classed by theme (eg. #feature-X, #feature-Y). Use statuses to make your availability clear. Where people are doesn't matter so much as whether they can take a call.I cannot emphasise enough Tag people on what they need to see, just like you would cc.

Check out this comms guide from full-remote Basecamp!

โžฐ Repetition

There's a lot of noise, there's a lot of stress. Even gripping comms isn't gonna cut it, so we encourage you to repeat your updates and reiterate on best practice across all channels. It's easier than it sounds โ€” you can share:

Daily Slack updates.

Here's an example of what we share with our team:

โ€

๐ŸŒž Morning team!

๐Ÿฆ  Coronavirus

Learnerbly will keep you posted on best practices and preventive measures. The news can feel overwhelming and you can trust us to track the disease in a professional capacity.

It's perfectly reasonable to be worried, and we're all doing the best we can to remain informed and implement best practices. You, too, are making informed decisions to the best of your knowledge. Be kind to yourself.

๐Ÿก We're remote

You're welcome to bring your screen home. Switch your camera on for meetings and use public Slack channels unless your message is private. Tag people who should be in the know. Use Slack Status, remember to call! Click here and here for more advice on how to live your best remote life.

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€โš•๏ธ Health advice

  • If you're with our private health insurance, you can reach GPs remotely on xxxx
  • If you're with our private health insurance, you can reach counsellors remotely on xxxxx
  • If you're not, you can reach NHS GPs remotely on 0330 808 2217 and through Babylon Health

If you wanna share concerns, feedback, advice or share your best weekend memes, lmk!

Thanks, Marie โœŒ

โ€

Best practice guides like the ones we added to ๐Ÿ“š Further readings

Your own one-pager like this one!

๐Ÿฉบ Health

๐Ÿคธโ€โ™€๏ธ Physical

We remind people of the GP services they can avail remotely, whether through our private insurance or through Babylon from the NHS. We encourage people to consult official websites and talk to professionals.

We ask people to communicate with us as soon as they feel unwell or have symptoms.

On the lighter side, why not share some resources to work out at home? Maybe do some group push-ups over a video call?

For example, these are things you can do and share with your team as shared by Finola from Birdie!

  • ๐Ÿšถโ™€๏ธ If you can, create a 'virtual commute' to signal the beginning and end of the day by spending some time going for a walk or bike in the morning, at lunch and in the evening.
  • ๐Ÿ‹๏ธโ™€๏ธ Don't skip the gym, bring it home! Sports videos and live streams. Free yoga apps! Downdog, Simply Yoga, 5 Minute Yoga Workouts, Daily Yoga, Yoga Studioโ€
  • ๐ŸŒ  Stretching sequence! Walk around for 5min at the end of each hour. Set it up in Slack reminders, or in your Google Cal, to get a notification and make sure you stand up to stretch. check out TakeABreak on the app store.
  • ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿ’ป If possible, create a work station in your house separate to your bedroom or sofa. You are welcome to go into the office to collect monitors, standing desks etc. just keep me up to date.
  • ๐Ÿช‘ For advice on correct work posture, see NHS advice

๐Ÿง  Mental

We're writing this guide in light of COVID-19 isolation policies, so play comes in the picture as well as work and we'll cover both below.

It's perfectly reasonable to be anxious and worried, and we're all doing the best we can to remain informed and implement best practices.

Learnerbly keeps its people posted on best practice and preventive measures, as well as key news.

If people have feedback, suggestions or advice, we encourage them to share and remind them that they, too, are making informed decisions to the best of their knowledge.

We say to people: Be kind to yourself. Change is loss, and going remote can be unsettling for many different reasons. The news can feel overwhelming and you can trust us to track the disease in a professional capacity.

We check-in on each other. When people panic it can be easy to loose sight of the simply things.

Here's an example of what we share with our team:

  • ๐Ÿ“บ There's lots of fake news out there. Stick to official gov websites or ask me anything (I'm an ex-researcher, I can find things!).
  • ๐Ÿฆ  The news can feel overwhelming and you can trust us to track both the disease and best practice in a professional capacity.
  • ๐Ÿค— Be kind to yourself. You're doing the best you can with the information you have. Go you!We're taking initiatives to maintain and strengthen our sense of community at work, but it doesn't stop there.
  • ๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘ฆ Check in on your neighbours, , make a list of people to call (it's easy to forget simple things when you're anxious), initiate group facetimes with your friends.

๐Ÿšถโ€โ™‚๏ธ Loneliness

It's easier to feel lonely when you get reduced social interactions, which can happen when you work away from the office. Here are a few things you can do to help with that which we collated from all the great people and places that shared advice with us:

  • ๐ŸŽถ Background noise, whether you're actually listening to it or not
  • ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿ’ป Working with people from other companies (is your flatmate also WFH? How about a video call with other workers running in the background for chit-chat?)
  • ๐ŸŽฎ Online gaming! Great for a full-remote social. We asked people to fill a sheet with their favourite games
  • ๐Ÿค— Communicate regularly with your team & other Slack communities
  • ๐Ÿคณ Schedule video calls with friends, family and colleague for regular check-ins throughout the day; whether it's over breakfast, tea breaks, lunch, dinner, beers or for no reason at all

๐Ÿšช Community

Giving back is great for mental health, and specifically combat both yours and others' loneliness.

๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ’ป Work-related

There are some great communities out there which can support your growth, network and share amazing resources and avice. This helped us immensely throughout our own transition, and as you can see in the introduction we're super grateful to know and be part of some of those communities, namely in the People and Operations sector we've benefitted from support from Wizards of Ops, Ops Stories and People Stories.

๐Ÿก Outside of work

Think about your direct, physical neighbours. The kind you would never talk to under any normal circumstance, the kind you only say "hi" to if we make awkward eye contact.

You may want to reach out, leave your number with a short note or something of the kind. Some ย people might not get the chance to go grocery shopping. Some elderly people might not get social contact in isolation (I'm talking landline check-in and teaching them to FaceTime, not group hug!)

Anyways you get the jist, whether it's dropping off some fresh veg in front of someone's door or drawing something every day and putting it under the door, giving back gives you back too and you'll feel so warm inside you won't need a hat to protect yourself (just kidding, please stay warm)

๐Ÿฅณ Entertainment

People are resourceful and all work in different ways so we ask them: What helps you make it a good experience? Did you finally finish that book you'd been pushing off since 2003? Did you pick up drawing? Did you reconnect with old friends through online gaming?

A list shared with us by Finola at Birdie:

  • ๐Ÿ“บ Watch: streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, free to air, 60 Youtube channels which will make you smarter
  • โ€๐Ÿ“š Check out The 100 greatest novels of all time
  • โ€๐Ÿฅ— Teach yourself some new recipes, or give yourself longer than you usually would to prepare nice meals
  • ๐Ÿ–ผ Take virtual tours of museums and art exhibitions using Google Art & Culture.
  • โ€๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿ’ป Explore and support your local business, lots are setting up home delivery services that you could make use of
  • ๐ŸŽจ Learn a new skill; business-related or not! Anything from improving soft skills to knitting, programming, origami, or a new language.

๐Ÿ’†โ€โ™€๏ธMotivation and productivity

Don't micromanage. At Learnerbly we have the privilege of the trust-based culture we've built across the years. We earned it, we don't questions each other's commitment โ€” we're impact driven so the results are pretty transparent anyways and we're data-driven. We try to understand how we can support them to bring even more value to the company.

Managers facilitate a team stand-up over video call every morning, with a part to discuss life and a part to discuss work. They're part of the same spectrum (see graph) but it's important to reinforce that we're not just checking on each other to increase engagement, but because we care.

Here's an example of how you can structure a morning stand-up:

  • Unstructured. casual catch-up
  • 3 things they achieved yesterday
  • 3 plans for today
  • Any concerns or blockers
  • Gives a shout-out on something they liked/are grateful for

To maximise productivity, we recommend to empower people to make use of flexible arrangements. When you're in the office, you don't peek over your teammate's shoulders to check what they're doing โ€” well keep it just like that. Remote may mean less visibility but that doesn't mean people are less responsible.

Change will always take a period of adaptation, that's the data that will give you the most information to decide next steps. If some teammates have reduced impact, bring this up with them over a call to find solutions.

Here are examples of things that might help:

  • ๐Ÿ“ˆ Break down your OKR or KPI targets into everyday bite-size
  • ๐Ÿ“œ Make a list of your priorities and follow it. Having a clear plan for your day can help you focus on what needs to get done
  • ๐Ÿ—“ Pomodoro your calendar and stick to it (if you do that, always allow an extra 10min per task โ€” there's always the odd Slack message or piece of admin that gets in the way
  • ๐ŸŽง If you get distracted while working, try using high focused music that helps you stay productive. E.g. brain.fm. Personally I really like to listen to the same album on repeat (๐Ÿ‘‹ Flavien Berger, if you read this)

A side note from us to you: Flexibility advocates fairly anticipate that similar trials will have a negative impact on how remote work is perceived because companies havenโ€™t built the trust and autonomy necessary for it to be a galvanising experience.

Learnerbly is a prime example of how building a trust-based, learning culture contributes to being an adaptable bunch and an agile company in the face of change and adversity.

We prove you right, flexibility advocates. The pleasure is all ours.

๐Ÿค— Culture

When it comes to culture and values, leadership buy-in enables people and leadership championing its own values inspires people.

At Learnerbly, our CEO Rajeeb was proactive and vocal about his gratitude and support to the whole team. In his internal post, he referred to our value of Setting the Destination and Owning the Journey, thanking everyone for how consistently agile and resilient they were, particularly under unsettling times like a pandemic-induced-remote-first context.

One of our values is to invite everyone to dance, and it's quite natural to pair up inclusion, connection, and in-person interactions. To compensate that, remote companies have to come up with deliberate ways to create contact. Here are a few of the initiatives we implemented:

We've put more rituals in place to help drive our values while being fully-remote.

  • We use #random for chit chat and memes
  • We have a #pictureoftheday channel. Best picture gets Bounty Points!
  • We host a drop-in video call over lunch
  • We started having morning stand-ups for each team
  • We've got a #games channel for online multiplayers
  • We encourage check-ins, virtual cuppas still being us together
  • We hear Hubble hosts a trivia quiz online every day at the same time!

Plus, there's a lot we got to keep โ€” we've maintained our all-hands on a Friday where we celebrate our achievements and give kudos to others for how they've championed our values. we've still got our /high-fives for kudos and /learnings for knowledge, and more initiatives we can transition with us.

๐ŸŽจ Learning

You may have heard that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined? You probably won't have heard that the vast majority of people in quarantine don't do anything, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a stressful, boring and uncertain time, and for many people learning something won't help, or they don't have the chance to learn what they want โ€” such as public speaking.

If you do want to learn something, then books, podcasts or online courses are a fantastic way to do so. You may want to start with statistics, so you have a better numerical understanding of what's going on in the news, or go for something completely off the wall, like making typeface families.

In terms of online course providers, these are the best places to start:

๐Ÿ“š Further reading

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