Lessons we learned as a newly remote company

It was late Tuesday evening, March 10, and Jaka, Miloš, Tilen, Gašper and I were still actively chatting on Slack, sending each other links to scientific articles, sharing information about the outbreak in Slovenia and wondering what we should do to protect our coworkers. In the end, it was Jaka, our CEO, who decided: we are going fully remote as fast as possible.

This was before the epidemic was called in Slovenia, before government actions and at the time most companies and most people were taking general precautions — washing hands, avoiding crowds and canceling large events. But the news was alarming and projections showed an exponential spread of the virus in the coming days. So we decided to do something drastic in order to limit its spread to our people and their families.

The next morning was hectic for us. We huddled together and wrote a five-page document that we called Coronavirus Stay-at-Home Guidelines. It covered everything from the reasons for our decision to the outline of our new remote-work processes. From the client perspective we were already a remote company — and we knew how to handle that part. But internally it was a different story. A lot of our coworkers did have some experience with occasional remote work, but what we have done that day was something entirely new. The finished document is a result of good practices we researched that morning, medical advice we received from trusted sources, economic projections and most importantly its basis were our current processes, such as the Scrum method, online communication and trusting open relationships. This document was meant to jump-start our remote work with little to no hiccups and enable our smooth sailing once it started.

We have later written additional guidelines, focused on nurturing client and team communication, and we have shared it all with the public. You can find these documents here, feel free to look them over, I hope they help you like they are helping us!

Moving culture online

Midday on that first Wednesday, we announced our decision to all coworkers in both Slovenia locations and shared with them the guidelines. The surprise and the questions that followed (“Can it really last for months?”) were expected but what took me aback was my coworkers’ gratitude and willingness to do their part. On that day I felt what it means when the whole company steps together and moves mountains. We finished our work for the day and then packed everything we needed to do our jobs — including monitors, desk lamps, favourite plants, even some chairs. We divided food from our just re-stocked kitchens between ourselves. And we had a mini going-away gathering. The mood was weird as we were standing two metres apart, asking ourselves when would we return and when would we next see our colleagues in the flesh.

Our Ferenc and Arto, being sad on the last day in the office.

But come morning the next day, the mood was totally different. We came together on Slack, waving good morning, posting jokes and uploading pictures of our improvised workspaces, with our pets, guitars and even gnomes being heavily featured (who would have guessed?). It was so uplifting, chatting with friends that we said goodbye to just a day before, realising that things did not change that much after all.

The long haul

In the days that followed, we have been active in keeping our lives sane. We continued to write new guidelines and are still continuing to update them with new learnings. We encourage stronger and more deliberate communication, adapting to remote meetings and more asynchronous work. And we are focusing on keeping our culture alive and growing it into something even better. We joke around constantly, our yogis are meeting on a video call every morning to do yoga together before most of us are even awake and on Fridays, we still have our happy hour, but now it is a bring-your-own-drink situation.

It has been almost three weeks since that Tuesday evening when it all started. And despite all that we have done so far, we are still learning, adapting, sometimes failing and getting back up. Some of us are struggling a little with establishing our new daily routine, sometimes working into the late afternoon. Others have kids at home and are balancing the increasingly impossible role of being a full-time teacher, a mom/dad and an employee, all in the same minute.

But we are learning and improving every day. As we have shown recently, when we met at our first remote all-hands meeting, we are a great bunch, full of spirit and resolve. I know that our humour and teamness will help us make this work wonderfully for as long as we will need to.

These days I am constantly inspired by the online community, sharing in this situation with generosity and openness. Our internal guidelines have been viewed more than 1000 times to this day and we are also learning from other companies every day.