In iubenda we have adopted “remote working” or “smart working” ever since the company was founded in 2011. What was initially a necessity dictated by the startup phase, has, over time, become part of our DNA, so much so that today more than half of our team members work from home.
Although working remotely is extremely popular among software companies like ours, many companies outside this industry are experiencing it for the first time as a response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
The idea of this article is to share our experience and practical guidance gathered over many years, hoping it will be useful to the many companies that are approaching remote working only now or have been practicing it all along. The post is separated into two sections, the first mostly relevant to companies on an organizational level, and the other targeted to the individual.
iubenda provides more than 90,000 customers worldwide with software solutions for compliance with online regulations, such as the GDPR and cookie regulations.
Our team consists of 55 people of 14 different nationalities, working from 10 countries. Of these, 54% work remotely, while the rest prefer to work from one of our offices – one in the heart of Milan and the other in the center of Bologna.
In regulating company life, two elements are fundamental: transparency and fairness. That’s why the first step to introducing remote working is to create a clear policy that distinguishes those who decide to go to the office from those who work permanently from home. This is the balance we have arrived at:
This allows everyone to choose their preferred way of working, not forcing anyone one way or the other.
While the organizational arrangements of a remote team also apply to those of a physical team, the opposite is not true. Therefore, if your company has always operated physically, organizational changes should be considered.
We often hear talk of moving from an organization based on the number of hours worked to one based on objectives. The key lies in always quantifying the activities with a method in mind. At iubenda we have structured according to these principles:
It goes without saying that the above method, however flexible, must be adapted to your company’s individual circumstances and functions. In the case, for example, of customer care, indicators (e.g of how well the method is working) will be directly quantifiable by the number of responses and in the customer satisfaction rate.
Remote working can only work if supported by software tools suitable for asynchronous communication (task management) and synchronous communication (calls and chat). You may notice that email is missing from the list. This is because we do not use it as a form of internal communication, as our chat systems completely absorb its function.
Important: asynchronous communication should always be privileged; chat, meetings, and calls interrupt workflow and concentration, reducing productivity.
To organize tasks and schedule them, our team uses Asana. There are many alternatives, but this is the one we find most suitable for our method.
Formalizing, in writing, what has been said so far may seem obvious for companies of a certain size, but it can often be overlooked in small companies. Creating a set of written documents to clarify internal policies on remote working, organization, and use of the use of tools is essential regardless of team size and should be combined with appropriate training.
The economic benefits of working remotely are significant for both team members and the company. Here are a few of its benefits.
Considering the average cost of a workstation, each team member working remotely can save up to €3000 (approx. $3300) per year in office space. This budget can be reinvested in activities for the team, as we will see later.
Our team works from 10 different countries, and working remotely allows us access to a pool of possible candidates that is enormously larger than what you can have when a physical presence is required. This is made even easier if the internal language of the company is English, as it is in our case.
In addition to the recruitment advantages, this also allows you to enrich your team from a cultural point of view.
Working remotely allows team members to:
This increases overall productivity and loyalty, thus lowering the turnover rate and associated costs.
In order to facilitate remote working, it is necessary to have an internal policy that allows everyone to equip themselves with appropriate equipment, in our case, mainly a laptop computer.
Our set-up is as follows: we give each team member an equipment budget ranging from € 600 to € 1300 (approx. $670-$1430)per year (depending on the company function, with the highest budget reserved for those who are involved in software development and need a high-performance computer). In cases where someone may want to purchase more expensive equipment, they can use up to 3 years of their budget, thus allowing a purchase between €1800 and € 3900 (roughly $2000-$4200) from the first day of joining the company.
The overall economic benefits of allowing remote work contributes to the ability to provide in this regard.
Although remote working brings many advantages, nothing can replace the value of direct, face to face contact. For this reason, we create opportunities for all team members to interact, including those who work in different offices.
Every week, at fixed intervals, each team meets on call. During this call, each team member explains what they worked on in the previous week and what they will work on in the following week. Standups are very useful both to familiarize all members of the team with each other and to give everyone a sense of what the entire team is working on.
Twice a year, we organize a retreat where we gather all team members, from wherever they’re based, for a week of work and fun. It’s an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and congregate in a deconstructed and informal way while also working on planning.
The most recent retreats we had were in the relaxing environments of Tonnara di Scopello in Sicily, Canazei in the Dolomites, and on the island of Capri.
If it’s your first time, working remotely can feel a little disorientating and it can sometimes be a challenge to focus and be productive – especially if you live with others. In this section, we’ll cover some useful tips to make the transition to remote as smooth as possible, as well as some useful resources to help you along.
Pick a spot (not your bed) where you do all your work – it creates a routine and necessary boundaries. Also, avoid sleepwear or sweatpants. This helps you to get into the right frame of mind and to create a clear distinction between work and relax mode.
Being productive and getting work done often requires medium to long blocks of focus – with focus often being easier to sustain than to initiate.
While it’s incredibly important to pause ever so often, intermittent interruption (as can often occur at home) can harm your ability to be truly productive. This is where scheduled breaks come in. The breaks don’t need to be spaced as far apart as is common in most workplaces (e.g lunch once a day) but they should give you some time to build momentum and focus. One popular approach is Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro time management technique, however, it’s up to you to determine what works best for your situation.
Another important issue worth a mention is eye fatigue. If you’re working remotely for the first time, you’re likely spending more time than ever in front of your computer screen. This can lead to eye strain, causing headaches and making tasks doubly difficult. To avoid this problem, follow this simple 20–20–20 rule: take your eyes off your screen every 20 minutes and stare at a focal point at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. These eye exercises can, of course, factor into your scheduled break structure.
Netflix, YouTube, podcasts, audiobooks – we all love them. The problem is that they’re also distracting. Avoid things with visuals and words going on in the background (even some kind of music), and you’ll get your work done faster.
When working at home, it’s easy to over-snack. Often work-stations are set up in the kitchen in smaller apartments, and food is often within easy reach. It’s important to avoid junk foods and quick snacks, and fill your kitchen with healthy options instead, like fruits, veggies, lean meats, cheeses, and whole grains. While food might not seem obviously related to remote working and productivity, it is, as healthy food choices provide focus-improving brainpower. Also, be sure to drink lots of water (and don’t overdo it with coffee).
When working at home, the temptation to merge your job into your daily life can be great. Slipping in a report after dinner can seem like a convenience but over time blurs the line between home/family time and work mode for both you and your team. Set and stick to working hours to keep your personal life healthy, set proper expectations with your team (they’ll know when you’re truly available and when not) and avoid burnout.
Given the emergency situation caused by COVID-19, thousands of companies are forced to have their teamwork from home. The hope of this article is that our experience can help companies and individuals to be productive in these difficult times, and possibly provide to give some tips for adopting remote work as a working structure even after the end of the emergency.
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This post is also available in Italian.