Remote work may seem today like a widespread practice, especially since the pandemic and the lockdowns.
The situation led most of the office work to be done from home, and most companies weren't ready for such a transition.
At Scalingo, we've been remote-friendly for quite some time. At least that's what we thought. More on that later.
Like the majority of other companies, we were forced to transition into a fully remote model with the pandemic.
We have learned a lot from this transition. We had to experiment and implement new methods to optimize remote work for everyone in the team.
In this article, we will share our experience with remote work, and we will explain how we manage our teams.
At Scalingo, we are providing cloud hosting solutions as a PaaS.
This means that we work mostly on computers, so remote work may seem like an easier alternative.
However, we weren't always working remotely, and we faced many challenges managing this type of work.
Let's start with some background context.
Back in 2019 Scalingo was counting a handful of employees.
Everyone was located in Strasbourg in France. We were all working in the same office, in the same city. At that time we were already open to remote work when necessary. For example, if you had something important to do at home you were allowed to work remotely.
We carefully chose our tools to be able to work remotely: convenient remote working to be able to handle menial home tasks or remote working in the train or in a coworking space when traveling to meet customers.
In mid-2019, a new member joined the team, and this was the first employee to be outside the city of Strasbourg.
Thomas is our Business Development Executive. He is located in Paris and has been working with us remotely.
He came to the office in Strasbourg occasionally, but the majority of his work was done remotely.
In the meanwhile, 2020 happened and we had to face many challenges. But more on that later.
With the onboarding of Thomas in our team, we quickly realized that having a member working in a different location when everyone else is at the office will be challenging.
For the first time, a member of the team wasn't physically present at the office. We couldn't communicate directly with him like with other employees.
And with that, we faced our first challenge: How to efficiently share important information with the whole company?
We started with a basic statement which is that important communication should be written, and instantly accessible to everyone that must get this information.
This practice has multiple benefits, but the main ones are the fact that this allows asynchronous communication to happen, and the information is trackable and accessible at any time if needed.
To do so, we use various tools to proceed with our communication. Slack is our main platform for text-based communication, it allows us to instantly share the needed information with everyone. And to separate each subject of discussion in their specific channel.
When it comes to documentation, we use Notion to keep everything stored and classified by category. It's perfect for our use, and since it's a cloud tool it makes the sharing process very simple and time-saving.
Once that core problem is solved, we noticed another challenge that is now related to the nature of remote work.
While working with a team daily at the office, non-formal communication will quickly be set up inherently.
For example, after spending enough time with your team, and once you are comfortable enough around them. You'll be able to communicate with them on a more personal level, and this will automatically improve the efficiency of your work-related communication.
However, now that another member isn't physically able to get to the office daily, how can we create those non-formal practices that are, in our opinion, extremely important at work?
We define non-formal communication as the level of familiarity and fluency between two members. It takes time to get to know another person, and doing it remotely can always be a challenge.
This is for us a very important aspect, it relates directly with the well being of the member in our company and at work, and it also creates a sustainable environment for work.
This challenge is more delicate to solve than the previous one, however, it's for us necessary to keep the remote work efficient in the long run.
This allows us to create a virtual environment that is a bit more casual and relaxed for everyone. Especially with the use of dedicated channels for the different subjects of discussion, and creating virtual meeting rooms.
For example, we have a channel named "Café Rooftop" that we use just to chat with each other. If you'd rather chat with some people while working at the same time, there is a "Focus" channel for that purpose. If you want to speak with specific people about a specific subject, there are "Meeting rooms" that are designed for that purpose.
On top of that, we also removed the formal aspects of the calls by adding, specific channels for small talks that aren't necessarily work-related.
We also try to use the webcam by default when we can, it's something that we think is important to recreate a work environment that is pleasant and favor social interactions with each other.
When the first quarantine happened, we luckily had some foundations to transition to a full work from home experience efficiently thanks to the overcoming of Thomas's onboarding challenges.
Of course, we weren't as prepared as we would've wanted to, but we did our best to adapt to the new situation.
Therefore, despite the unexpected transition, we were quickly productive working remotely. And in fact, we even expanded our team with 6 new recruitments during 2020 (doubling the number of people in the company !) all onboarded and working fully remotely.
Here are some actions we put in place to be effective remotely.
With this growth, synchronization with everyone in the company becomes a harder task to do, because of the amount of information that is shared.
To fix that, we implemented new solutions to overcome this information overload.
One of them is the Weekly Synchronization Meeting (WSM), this meeting happens twice a week and is fully written on a Slack channel.
Every Monday, each member will share in this channel how they feel about work and their personal life (if they want to speak about an event that could affect life at work for example). And then specify what are their goals for this week and how it's going.
On Friday, the second part of the WSM happens. This part is focused on sharing how work went this week, what you succeeded to do and what blocked you, and sharing anything you would like to share with everyone.
The WSM is our own method to synchronize with everyone in the company, whether they are in the same team or not. It allows us to know what's happening around us in the company and could lead to interesting conversations and social interaction if someone wants to discuss a specific point of the WSM with the poster.
Slack is also very practical for this type of meeting. It allows the meeting to happen in an asynchronous way, which is practical since it won't be as time-consuming as a normal meeting.
The thread reply feature is also great for this use since it allows everyone to discuss a specific point, without disturbing those who are not involved in this conversation.
When it comes to rituals, we have at Scalingo various types of meetings for different purposes, and those happen regularly.
These meetings are meant for everyone in the company to synchronize as much as possible. Our goal is to avoid as much as we can the confusion that can happen with online communication.
Without getting too much into details, we have the Continuous Improvement Meeting (CIM) that happens once every 6 weeks and is meant to discuss things to improve in the company.
There is the All Hands Meeting that happens once per quarter and is a recap of what has happened during that quarter with everyone else.
The One-on-one (O3) happens on a weekly basis and allows synchronization between a team member and their manager.
And finally our latest edition, the Offsite that we started in October 2021, and that we are trying to do 2 or 3 times a year.
This Offsite was a special meeting that lasted 3 days, where we all met together in the same location and did various fun activities and work-related meetings.
The first one happened in Avignon, France, and was a success. This was the first time the whole team spent a few days together.
When it comes to online communication at Scalingo, we have our own hierarchy of methods. We consider that everything should start with a written chat on slack (which is the base of the pyramid), and we then proceed with an escalation logic.
What that means is that we privilege written chat on Slack for most information, we think it's a perfect canal to share information efficiently and asynchronously.
However, in some cases, Slack wouldn't be the best solution and written chat can create confusion. To avoid that, the next step in the pyramid is Discord calls. Vocal chat allows easier understanding, and thus removes any form of confusion that happened or could've happened through Slack.
At the top of this pyramid comes face-to-face talk when this is possible. It's the best way to avoid any misunderstanding. But obviously, for most of the team, it's not something that we can do on a daily basis.
To replace that we can make a video call with the webcam activated (on Discord). Having clear vocal communication is very important and is more efficient than simple text chatting. And adding the camera adds a layer to the communication, including a visual on your call partner, making the call a bit more natural including seeing the body language of your teammate.
Today, our company counts 17 employees in 4 different locations in France, and we consider ourselves "remote first".
Now that the pandemic is getting to a level where we can afford to go back to working in the office.
In August 2021, Scalingo decided to keep and push our remote-first policy, but we are now offering a hybrid form of remote work, mixing the best of both worlds.
What we mean by hybrid is that we keep our work policy focused mainly on remote work, but we are also letting each person decide whether they want to proceed with remote work or go to the office.
We consider that both solutions are sustainable, and everyone has his preferences when it comes to managing their own work.
To better understand these preferences, we've led an internal survey on how employees were experiencing remote work.
Here are some results 🎉: * The majority are enjoying the experience giving it an average score of 8 out of 10 * The majority prefers remote work to regular work at the office.
Most are saying that they feel that they are more productive working remotely. And also have a better capacity to focus, since everyone has his own practices and setup at home.
However, remote work isn't completely perfect neither. Some people claim that on the opposite, working from home can be a bit more challenging due to distractions. And that it can also lead to social isolation and difficulty to communicate in some situations.
In order to avoid those drawbacks from happening, and to create more social interaction between everyone in the team. We decided to implement new rules :
To dig a bit deeper in understanding how remote work can affect a team member. We've interviewed one of our employees, Alice, our Key Account Manager. She is working remotely in Paris.
Alice experienced remote work like most people with the first lockdown. It was unexpected, and no one was really ready for it.
After experimenting for over a year of dealing with remote work, and after joining Scalingo in September. Alice has reviewed her ways to manage remote work and is now satisfied with it.
First, for Alice, the biggest strength of remote work is the work hours flexibility.
As a mom, having flexible work hours for her is a great opportunity to create a perfect balance between work and personal life.
It allows her to be available when necessary to take care of her children when needed and reduces her overall stress towards this task.
On top of creating a serene environment for work, this allows her to gain a considerable amount of time when it comes to transport.
Alice has the opportunity to work in a private room turned into an office, outside of her house. This allows her to separate workspace from home and gives her a better environment to focus.
Of course, everyone can't get an office outside their home, so Alice suggests using a neutral space within your home and turning it into your office. This is what Alice did with her daughter's room during her early remote workdays.
To sum up, for Alice, working from home represents a great solution to optimize her work and personal life balance. It gives her more time to take of her daughter and reduces her everyday stress.
Now, remote work can't be all perfect, and there will always be downsides.
For Alice, it's mainly social isolation, and it's one of the most common inconveniences for most remote workers.
She states that remote work implies a lack of social interaction and social life, especially with coworkers.
The coffee break seems to not only be a break from work, but also the occasion to have some social interaction. And Alice thinks that this is missing to remote work.
To fix that issue, Alice has two solutions :
First, there is the Discord alternative that offers the possibility for virtual social interaction. It's not as good as seeing someone face to face, but it's a perfect solution for remote work.
The second solution that Alice found is to co-work two days a week with Thomas, who is located in Paris as well. This way, Alice and Thomas can still work remotely, while being in the same co-working office. This allows them to avoid social isolation, and since they are both in the Sales team, it's perfect for them to synchronize in person.
To finish this first Life at Scalingo article, we wanted to share with you how we managed our own style of remote work at Scalingo.
We think that remote work is a great alternative for us and for our type of work. And we are overall satisfied with how it's going, and with our internal organization.
Remote work has a lot of benefits for everyone in the team, and flexible work hours can be a strength to manage work and personal life balance.
The reduced time and money spent on transports are also an important gain for our team.
This mainly helps everyone reduce their stress, and allows them to manage their own organization at home, which allows better productivity.
However, remote work isn't perfect, and it can have multiple drawbacks depending on people and how they manage their remote experience.
The most common problems seem to be social isolation, difficulties communicating and spending too much time at home.
We have implemented multiple solutions to help fix those problems such as Discord non-formal channels, Off-sites, meeting in the office at least once a month.
These solutions seem to be efficient, nevertheless, we are constantly trying to improve our process.
And we think that the constant improvement is not only normal but necessary in order to optimize our management and improve our team's work conditions.