Radically remote: 6
Insights on thriving under a remote-first culture and navigating the challenges that come with change
Running a remote business: How far do you go?
Last month I shared tapas with eight members of the Buyapowa crew in Madrid. The sun shone and the Rioja flowed but – most importantly – we shared three days of laughter and camaraderie. After two years of distance comms, we could finally do our sales summit in person. And boy did it feel good.
Becoming a remote-first business has been a triumph in so many ways – we’ve embraced incredible global talent and thrived despite the pandemic. But I’ll be the first one to acknowledge that it has its challenges too, and over the last couple of years, we’ve had several conversations around just how remote we should go. Taken to an extreme, a remote culture can be stark and cold, and in our experience being purely remote certainly isn’t perfect. We’ve certainly encountered our fair share of pitfalls as we’ve worked our way towards achieving the right balance.
For a start, whether you’re in sales or software, taking a new job can be stressful – 80% of professionals are said to be nervous, and I’m surprised it’s not more. Added to this, onboarding, mentoring and training are inevitably more challenging for a team that’s dotted across continents and time zones. Our original, pre-pandemic team have spent hours with me, living and breathing the business and our culture, but for those joining remotely that process now takes time and TLC. That’s precisely why PwC created Virtual Park, an entire virtual world where prospective new hires can watch presentations, chat with their people and get to grips with the work culture.
Here at Buyapowa, we’re making significant strides with our own onboarding strategies. We do a series of presentations across all our business units, telling new starters who everyone is, what we do and how we fit into the bigger picture. To scale this and keep the experience consistent, we’re currently creating the Buyapowa Academy, an immersive online training resource. It’ll include video, reading material and quizzes too, all aimed toward giving new talent easy access to the information they need to be a success.
Learning by osmosis
But models also suggest that a whopping 20% of learning happens socially through colleagues and friends. Sitting in an office where you can hear your team chatting about everything from new clients to contracts serves a purpose. You’re constantly absorbing tacit knowledge – or learning by osmosis – and without that, it can be slower to sprint out of the starting blocks.
Then there’s the banter and anecdotes that bind workmates together. Is your boss more approachable in the morning or afternoon, and does your colleague love coffee but loathe tea? Sure, getting to grips with these quirks isn’t going to make or break your career, but it can make you feel part of the team.
To help with this, we curate plenty of opportunities for newbies to learn by observation. At first, they’ll shadow a team member (virtually) and sit in on sales or client meetings, until they’re ready to chat to sales prospects or clients. And if they are joining us on the tech side, they’ll be paired up with another developer until they’re up to speed.
At our Thursday All Hands, new starters introduce themselves too, with two truths and a lie. The anecdotes are fabulously outlandish, while intriguing truths emerge – like the colleague whose parents met in a cult or the newbie who had scored three goals against Barcelona FC. It turned out he was playing for the Under 12s – which is still pretty impressive to be fair.
A wholehearted commitment
But while being remote-first has its challenges, we’ve concluded it’s something we can’t commit to half-heartedly. For us, a hybrid structure – with some colleagues in offices and some at home – just doesn’t sit right. It’s the simple things, like the fact that those working remotely can all too easily feel excluded from the rest of their team. If those onsite have an impromptu meeting and forget to invite the guys working offsite, that instantly makes them feel left out. It stops being a level playing field, and that’s a sure-fire way to knock someone’s confidence. It puts them on the back foot, potentially even sparking fears that they’ll be slower to move up the career ladder too.
For that reason, we arrange all our meetings on Zoom or Teams, even if a couple of invitees are sharing the same physical space. And being remote has challenged us to find new, innovative ways to hold company-wide parties too. Gone are the days when the London crew got stuck into axe throwing and escape rooms – now it’s all about all-inclusive, virtual events across time zones. Yes, the Canada team might be tucking into Cornflakes while the UK crew sip caipirinhas, but what matters is that we’re celebrating together, as a team.
Uniting the team
Importantly though, while we are committed to being remote-first, we have also pledged to bring our teams together regularly too. And instead of automatically flying people based in Bogota or Vancouver into London, we meet in more neutral locations, like Madrid or Berlin. It dissolves any sense of ‘them and us,’ while also keeping it exciting for those based in the UK.
After bringing a team together, we often notice they’re more relaxed during their virtual interactions too. When you’re entirely reliant on messaging or Zoom, it’s all too easy to misinterpret someone’s tone or misread the room. But meeting in person gives you the chance to read each other’s body language, connect in person and build that all-important trust. Later, if someone seems short with you on Slack, you realise it’s nothing personal.
I love seeing my colleagues face-to-face and – while we are committed to being remote-first – I’ve realised it will always remain a critical part of running our business. Since lockdown eased, one of the most joyful things has been meeting employees I’ve only ever chatted to in a virtual space. Yes, of course, you can create a relationship online, but that will never replace the
powerful connection you get when you meet in the flesh. Conversation flows, you feel empathy and you enjoy surprises too – for a start, it’s hard to tell how tall someone is on Zoom!
Gideon’s been leading digital brands for over 20 years. He’s proud to have built and businesses for the likes of Universal, HMV and LetsBuyIt.com, but right now he’s busy helping other brands acquire new customers in an altogether smarter way. He’s the Founder and CEO of Buyapowa (https://www.buyapowa.com/), and they’re the world leaders in reward marketing, and their platform powers customer acquisition for over 200 leading enterprise brands across 27 countries and in 21 languages.