May 27, 2020

Remote Work before it was cool.

by Levin Pablo

Remote Work has been on a rise lately. With the ongoing global pandemic keeping people in the lockdown, businesses are forced to rethink their processes to adapt to this new situation. The topic of remote work and WFH (work from home) seems to be omnipresent right now, and a quick look into Google trends confirms this impression. The extraordinary situation we’re in, has accelerated this transformation into a new working culture. However, remote work isn’t anything new. We, and many other businesses, have been practicing remote work before it was cool.

Google trends of the search term ‘remote work’ in the past 12 months

In this blog post we want to elaborate on our interpretation of remote work, why we love it, and share some tips on how to successfully manage a remote team. We’ll look into different aspects of remote work and share the perspective of the manager, as well as the team members. 

In order to understand why for us remote work is the default, we'll briefly explain two of our fundamental principles.. Firstly, we want to do things differently, aiming to improve the currently still established, old-fashioned way of running a business. We’re always trying to challenge the status quo and constantly rethink some basics of today's business world. Normal working hours, traditional offices and a dress code is what many think of as standard. Whenever we come across things like that, we ask ourselves ”Why?”. And for us "Because it's always been like that" is never a good answer - which is why we usually end up doing the exact opposite. Secondly, one of the first things we always tell new people during on-boarding is this: "We care about the results of your work, not where, how, or when it’s getting done”. We really mean this and it’s the basis of our leadership style. Telling your team to come into a specific workplace at a specific time goes against this principle.

Freedom & Flexibility lead to Productivity

Teams consisting of a diverse set of personality types with complementary strengths and skill sets perform better than those consisting of similar team members who are working the same way. This is particularly true for agile startups, but also applies to larger and more traditional businesses. It is therefore essential for the founders or managers to create an environment where different kinds of people feel comfortable and can be productive. Some people thrive in early morning hours, but others like to be up when the rest of the world is asleep. Some love to cooperate and communicate, others need solo deep work sessions to get the job done. Depending on the task at hand and people involved, the perfect working conditions constantly change and can vary dramatically within the same business or project. The conventional approach of forcing all employees into an office building from 9 to 5, for 5 days a week, is not attractive for young professionals anymore and can therefore lead to competitive disadvantages in the long run.

“Remote work and flexible working hours can be tools to empower workers to create the scenarios they thrive in.”

At AERVIDEO, our team consists of 6 members, on average we’re 22 years old, and live in 4 different cities across 2 continents. All team members work fully remote and have complete control over their working hours and holidays. Three of us live in Stuttgart, Germany and often meet and work together in our office and warehouse in the city center. But none of us have specific working hours or days. We do meetings digitally, work autonomously and communicate asynchronously. 

Some of us are students, athletes, like to travel or work at night. Remote work allows us to create a schedule that fits our lives best.

Pablo (founder & CEO)
First and foremost, I see myself as an inventor. I never had the intention to be a leader or to manage a team. I rather spend my time building new products than checking my team's work schedule or micro managing their tasks. Remote work allows me to put the responsibility on them to create their own optimal working environment. This requires me to have a lot of trust and let go of control. But if your team consists of like-minded and motivated people like ours, this is easy to do. 

Kai (Customer Support & Fulfillment)
It’s currently 2:30 am and whilst most people are about to wake up for their 9 to 5 work shift, I’m about to finish my last project for the week. I consider myself a night owl. I’ve always held a great fondness for the darkness because the silence at night is unlike anything else there is. It allows me to focus and get rid of nasty everyday distractions – such as daylight.

Luke (Content Creation & Social Media)
The flexibility within my role at AERVIDEO allows me to arrange my working hours in such a way, that they don’t interfere with my sport or other hobbies. I live in Alaska right next to a ski resort. Whenever the conditions are right, I’m up on the mountain, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Afterwards or when I can’t ski, I’m happy to put in some hours for AERVIDEO. I can’t imagine working a regular 9 to 5 job - I’d probably become depressed.

Global Talent

Last year we decided to get a new team member onboard who can help us with our marketing and community efforts. Having a remote team allowed us to choose from a global talent pool. We didn’t have to look for local people who fit the job description or ask anyone to relocate to Germany for the job. We simply reached out to our existing community and got applications from all over the world. We then based our decision solely on skills and whether or not they fit the team. Their geographical location was completely irrelevant. This is a tremendous advantage we have over other businesses. We can literally build our team with the best people we can find on earth.

Sarah (marketing & community) 
When I first joined the AERVIDEO team, I was living in Beirut, Lebanon. I recently moved to the US, all while there's a worldwide pandemic on the loose. That alone comes with adapting to a whole different lifestyle and many things in my life dramatically changed. One of the constants was my role in the team. I’m so grateful that while all of this was happening, I never had to worry about my job. I took 2 days off to reach my new home and get settled. Then I just opened my laptop and was able to pick up right where I left off. 

(co-founder & CFO)
I recently finished my Bachelor’s degree at university, all while simultaneously working at AERVIDEO. I now found out about an interesting Masters program at a University in Lisbon, Portugal. Thanks to our team being remote, moving there to study for a while is not a problem at all. I applied, got accepted and will be moving to Portugal soon, if COVID-19 lets me. My role and responsibilities within the team won’t be affected, how cool is that? 

Having a global team also comes with some challenges. We're currently dealing with a time difference of 10 hours between some of our team members. This means that scheduling meetings can be tricky. The only available time-slots are often late evenings for the Europeans and early mornings for our American co-workers. This alone would make enforcing regular working hours impossible. The key here is ‘asynchronous communication’ and trying to avoid meetings all-together whenever possible.  

Company Culture

One of the challenges of remote work is building and facilitating a healthy company culture. This entails forming deep human relationships, which is known to benefit from physical interactions. Video calls are a good alternative but can never substitute a real face-to-face conversation. Additionally, in-office banter gets lost because there aren’t any situations where team members randomly meet at the watercooler and chat about private stuff. As unproductive as this smalltalk may seem, it is essential for the bonds we form and an important tool for nourishing a healthy company culture. When working remotely, we often tend to exclusively focus on work-related topics and the off-topic conversations get lost. 

We try to actively replicate these effects by implementing certain remote work policies. One of them is that prior to each team call, we reserve a couple of minutes for smalltalk. We also have a Slack channel specifically for non work-related topics, where we can share anything from how our weekend was to that funny TikTok we saw. 

Having a great company culture is something that is important to me and I think about it a lot. I hope we can soon afford to organise our first team retreat. I’d love to fly everyone out to some nice location and spend a few days together. Ideally we’d make that a regular thing and get together once a year or so. 

Benji (newest team member & shipping)
I really enjoy the #random channel inside Slack. It allows me to get to know other, more personal, sides of my new co-workers. I found out about the common interests I have with the others and we can chat about random stuff without it coming in the way of our work. Looking forward to even more of that! 

More Resources

We’re only dwarfs standing on the shoulder of giants, when it comes to remote work. We have, and still are, learning from a lot of other businesses who have been doing this for many years. We learn from their mistakes and copy whatever works. If you’d like to find out more about remote work, we recommend the following resources: 

Doist Blog

The company behind ’Todoist’ and ’Twist’ has been remote-first for many years. In their blog, they regularly share insights and resources about remote work. 

Amir Salihefendić on Twitter

The founder/CEO of Doist also uses his Twitter account to talk about remote work. Give him a follow to get interesting insights and news directly in your timeline.

Zapier's guide to working remotely

"Zapier is a 100% distributed company with over 300 remote employees in 17 time zones and 28 countries. Whether you work remotely all the time or you've been thrust into it recently, we have tips that will help you thrive.”

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