Imagine a universe where working from home is the standard. Everyone “commutes” to their home office around 9am, virtually catches up with coworkers, has the opportunity to focus in total quiet or play their favorite music (without needing headphones). Then one day, a company executive has a brilliant idea: work from an office. Convinced that if the entire team is centrally located (even if commutes range upwards of two hours per day), it will bring measurable improvements to productivity and growth that outweigh the costs for the individual, this executive would likely be laughed out of the room.
Of course, working from home is not the standard and there are trade offs when a team isn’t physically together. Arguably the only silver lining of the social distancing during Covid-19 is the unique chance to experiment with working from home (WFH) at a scale that has the potential to change the future of work. While the move to mandated WFH caught many companies off guard, rideOS fortunately enabled a relatively seamless transition for our team. Our ability to successfully support a distributed workforce didn’t happen overnight. We’ve implemented several initiatives to improve things like communication and documentation so we can continue business as usual no matter where our team is located. We feel very fortunate to be in a position to continue supporting our customers in times like these without missing a beat, as we know there are many folks who are unable to perform work from home for various reasons. Our hope with this post is to share our key learnings so other companies can benefit as they build out their own distributed workforce.
The “WFH Hierarchy of Needs’
Much like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, when working from home, certain things just need to work before you can optimize other elements. In our version of the “WFH Hierarchy of Needs”, investment in infrastructure comes first.
Must-haves include a stable internet connection and a laptop. You can check your internet connection here to make sure it is stable before a critical meeting or tight deadline. Beyond that, it’s great to add on monitors, keyboard, mouse/trackpad and an ergonomic setup. While it’s tempting, your setup should NOT just be a laptop on a couch for both health and productivity reasons.
Given the mandate this week to WFH due to Covid-19, we provided our team with a $500 budget to improve their home offices. We also reimbursed transportation costs to/from the physical rideOS office so teammates could avoid public transportation if they wanted to pick up a monitor from the office or collect personal items they may have left behind.
Beyond hardware, we’re fortunate to already use many wonderful tools that make our work easier. Some of our favorites include:
- Slack: highlight functionality includes: custom emojis, gifs, external and internal shared slack channels so you can keep conversations with partners running smoothly
- Clockwise: great to increase focus time but also to automatically update your slack status when you’re in meetings, focus time, commuting, etc.
- Golinks: chrome extension to make easy-to-find links such as ‘go/communication’ or ‘go/orgchart’ which make it easier than searching through a messy google drive folder for commonly used resources
- Google sites: easy tool to make internal websites (we use this for onboarding, people team resources, etc.)
- Lastpass: password manager to keep your passwords secure and share easily between the team in different locations
Overall, having proper infrastructure,, along with a designated work area, sets you up for a more productive work day.
Many startups avoid any form of process/guidelines with good intentions -typically they believe it’s at odds with speed/growth. However, not having proper guidelines can actually put folks in limbo. We’ve put a lot of thought into the behaviors we want to encourage, while still ensuring we aren’t creating unnecessary processes that slow progress or innovation. We also continue to adjust these initiatives as our team grows and evolves.
Some highlighted initiatives we’ve implemented:
- OKRs: Implementing an objectives and key results (OKR) system at the beginning of 2019. Creating a system that clearly aligns with our work plan allows for clarity in terms of priorities and provides measures of success.
- Communication Task Force: We formed a task force with representatives from each area of the company with various levels of seniority. Together with feedback from their teams, the task force examined how we run meetings, which communication channels we use for which purpose, the company-wide meetings that should be cut or altered, etc. This has been a pivotal resource in ensuring we are making the most efficient use of company-wide time.
- Proper documentation: Ensuring everything is well documented for our Engineering team in Github (we also implemented ZenHub to help with project management)
- Partner Transparency: We created a shared overview of our partners so anyone can see the latest progress at any time (we also use airtable to track all partner meeting notes).
- Productivity tips: There are several great resources for how to increase productivity at home which we’ve shared with our team and below in the resources links. Some of our favorite tips include: creating morning/evening rituals to start and end your day, creating structure in your day as similar to the office experience as possible, and get dressed!
- Emergency Plans: For Covid-19, we created a detailed policy not because we love creating them, but because adding guidance in chaotic times can ease anxiety and help folks plan how to handle the situation. As regulations continue to change,, we update our policy and communicate via Slack and email. While the policy might have seemed overkill on day one, it’s now been a valuable resource for our team, especially when handling specific situations such as school closures, partner meetings, expenses, WFH questions, etc.
Essentially, it’s important to create enough guidelines and transparency that even when you aren’t all in one physical location, everyone is still aware of what teams are accomplishing and keep informed of company initiatives.
When working from home for a day or two, you may not even think of changing the social experience within the team. However, when working from home for a longer period of time, it quickly becomes a critical element. When in situations like Covid-19, it’s tempting to cancel or postpone social events until the team is back together, but now more than ever the team needs opportunities to spend time together. Continued team rituals and engagement is key to create consistency and can help folks during this time of social isolation.
It’s difficult to create natural ‘watercooler’ moments online and we feel this is one of the biggest elements impacted by working from home. However, we have found a few ways to spend time together virtually that our team has really enjoyed.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Turn on video: We highly encourage turning on video during virtual meetings and adding photos to tools such as Slack and Lattice. This helps everyone feel a more personal connection and makes it easier to pick up on social cues that are missed with just audio. Plus it’s fun to see team members’ children or pets jump into view from time to time.
- Meet one-on-one: Create random pairings across your team so folks can schedule a time to meet. We recommend using Donut. We provide a budget of $25/pp so folks can enjoy an activity of their choice together. We’ve seen very creative ideas from latte art classes to VR games. We typically do this semi-monthly but have increased it to weekly during Covid-19.
- Virtual happy hours and lunches: Folks are encouraged to bring their pets, partners, roommates, kids, etc. and join us for a casual hangout session. We prepared conversation starters to help get past surface-level discussions and found this to be a great way to get to better know each other.
- Game breaks: Our team loves playing games and here is a great resource for some ideas that are virtual-friendly (here is also a resource to collaborating on crossword puzzles!).
While you may not realize it at first, staying social, especially during a mandatory WFH, is very important and you have to be deliberate about scheduling it into your day.
We’ve been inspired by the great companies sharing their learnings from working from home and the tools they utilize to help make this transition easier. Here are some of our favorites:
- GitLab’s guide to remote work
- Remote onboarding
- Space app: more remote work typically means more screen time, this app will help you manage that
- Tips for working from home
- Stanford Study Shows the Astonishing Productivity Boost of Working From Home
- Covid-19 specific WFH resources:
- Hackerrank offering free CodePair until June 1st
- Survival guide for WFH with kids
- Educational resources for kids
- Educational companies offering free resources due to school closings
- LifeLabs Covid-19 Prep doc
- 1Password offering extended trials so business can manage passwords safely during this time
- A collection of crowd-sourced online resources from virtual workouts to cooking classes to make the most out of social distancing
Like many companies, we’re taking the covid-19 situation day by day, and continuously learning as we forge ahead. Let us know how your team is managing this transition and share your own WFH tips and tricks. To stay current with everything rideOS follow us on Twitter.