More than a full year has gone by since everything changed, and with it, a global shift to working from home. And with that, a major change in the way we work, live, and the definition of work-life balance.
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Reflecting on the ups (and downs) 1 year after becoming a remote-first organization.
The message we wanted to send (to our employees) was, ‘You are not alone.’
— Dorota Jaworska, Employer Branding and Learning Lead at GetResponse
How is it even remotely possible?
Through this time, we’ve adapted to remote work, from working out of our kitchen or even bedroom. Working while cats sit on laptops, dogs jump on tables, and kids run through the room.
We’ve adapted on the fly, all around the world, and learned how to make remote work work for us the best we can.
Some, like us, decided to become a remote-first company and keep the remote model in place for the long haul. That’s allowed us to make changes not just for the moment, but for the long-term benefit of remote work.
Sure there are ups and downs. Perspective is important. As are collaboration, compromise, and coordination.
We’ve taken to take the mindset of, “It’s challenging, but doesn’t have to be difficult, or burdensome.”
Lending support, listening to employees, and constantly searching for ways to better peoples’ work conditions and environment was the model during normal work times.
So, we thought, how do we transition that to the remote reality?
How do we promote engagement, productivity, and healthy habits all at the same time?
Stay close, with distance
You need human contact. Somebody to talk to. Someone to tell what’s happening with your life. You can’t live in vacuum – it’s not good for you.
— Jan Marcinkowski, Product Training Expert and Customer Success Team Advisor.
From the start, communication was a key point. Transitioning something from a real workplace to a digital one presents challenges.
We set out to create dialogue and channels to build camaraderie. To help with a sense of security during challenging times by promoting closeness between people (distant yet united), sustaining a sense of belonging (in this together), and delivering clear messages and action points helped us stay honest and transparent.
Not just giving advice, but listening and understanding the experience of employees was crucial throughout the whole process. This approach includes requesting feedback, pulse check, engagement measurements, and ideas gathering.
Feedback from the source
The best way to know what your employees need, and want, anytime, is still by simply asking.
We surveyed our 300+ employees about their experiences over the past year. To our delight, 91.6% of them said they feel the company supports them in the remote working model.
Many said they appreciate the ability to work remotely. And look forward to the possibility to extend this new reality and work from anywhere in the world, once that becomes a safe again.
Empathizing and relating to our common, yet very different experiences, helped build those bonds.
My first experiences with some other teams in first month were weird. Some responded quickly, some took ages, so I was frustrated, but I had to constantly tell myself, ‘You don’t know what they’re going through … anything could be going on.’
Michał Leszczyński, Head of Content Marketing and Partnerships at GetResponse
From there, we turned to a surveying online app as a way for employees to give honest, anonymous feedback.
The app asks questions to get feedback on engagement, mood, and more, to help the work-life balance and to stay more engaged. All while giving the company valuable feedback on the true pulse of their workforce.
There’s been a 75% response rate over the past year, with an open space to give constructive feedback that leads to more improvement.
Support and inspire
People need things.
Many of us had to turn a living room, or kitchen, or even bedroom, into a home office. With a home office setup, everyone’s office became a work in progress. Everyone needed things to be able to function, working, from home.
A one-time home office subsidy was introduced to give employees flexibility in nurturing their home-office needs. They could use the stipend on new equipment, better lighting, speakers, even for personal care.
“Suddenly, working from home was not just a nice option for some but a necessity for all, almost overnight,” Jaworska said. “Looking from that perspective, it went well in terms of our ability to welcome this change and adapt. We’re putting our people first so the focus here is to take care of our employees with things such as remote benefits, wellbeing initiatives and inspiring content.”
“Also, helping set up work-life boundaries, dealing with stress and demotivation, just to name a few of our actions aimed to help people during challenging times.”
Following that, the first of several workshops were created, to impart lessons on the physical and mental demands of working from home.
Experts on mental health, remote work, and adaptability conducted webinars free and open to all employees, and recorded as evergreen content, so people would have the tools to build a better home office situation.
“The message we wanted to send (to our employees) was, ‘You are not alone,’” Jaworska said.
Can you see me?
During the past year, people have joined the team from around the world – 85 and counting in fact. They’ve never experienced the office. Never got to see the camaraderie formed in the hallways and breakroom for themselves. They were hired, onboarded, trained, and joined the team all remotely.
One of the biggest takeaways has been simple on its surface – turn the camera on. And keep things light, even in formal settings.
“It’s very important to us that when we have meetings, we have cameras turned on.”
— Maria Karczewska, Financial Controller at GetResponse.
At the start some were reluctant to turn on their cameras. Naturally. Then came the encouraging yet soft mandate to keep our cameras on if you are speaking or presenting in a meeting. Once we turned our cameras on, it became clear that this was a driving force for our spirit and motivation.
Without the benefit of ever actually meeting the people interviewing her, or the people she now works with, Rosi Vitanova recently joined the GetResponse team from her home in Bulgaria. She is one of the people hired, onboarded, and trained all remotely.
The ability to be yourself on screen, and to see people’s true reactions on camera made her feel comfortable from the beginning.
“This is the way to overcome this barrier, even communicating through a screen I feel I can be myself, it’s not too formal and stuffy,” Vitanova said. “That’s how things are at GetResponse, everyone talks the way they talk in real life. When you start with this approach, people open up to you.”
It’s to the point that now, if cameras are off during a meeting or presentation, that’s the part that feels ‘off’.
The number of issues to deal with outside of work had the capability to derail people’s entire lives. Which is why the engagement with each other became an anchor to stay grounded amidst it all.
“You need human contact. Somebody to talk to. Someone to tell what’s happening with your life,” said Jan Marcinkowski, Product Training Expert and Customer Success Team Advisor. “You can’t live in vacuum – it’s not good for you.”
It might sound simple, but it’s something we all need a refresher on now and then – even us.
Feedback led Leszczyński and other team leads to scheduling regular coffee talks, and to encourage their teams to find what works best for them
“I heard from my team they missed those things, a random chat about anything,” he said. “We talk about our hobbies, whatever, and never chat about work. Since then, we’ve been very loyal to each other and 95% of the time we make it.”
The new definition of Slack’n
It can’t all be video calls and meetings though. Communication still needs to flow, and the day-to-day flows a bit better with a tool to message each other about important tasks, news of the day near and far, and also to say hey or share a funny photo.
Aside from the various Slack channels dedicated to ongoing projects, scrums, campaigns, there’s also numerous social channels for cycling, advice, and even just sharing interesting info.
One new tool adapted by the company is a Slack channel add-on called Donut. The app pairs random people together and encourages them to schedule a video call to socialize – to get to know each other, or in the occasion they know each other already, reconnect.
Marcinkowski tried several approaches to engage his large team in a personal way, eventually landing on creating a channel for people to pose and answer questions in one place. They made a dedicated channel in honor of the place they meet and talked back in the office to keep the connection between everyone going.
He also started a quasi-interactive blog that recaps all the week that was in a humorous, informative manner. Besides that, he schedules regular meetings with all of the team for feedback and to give support.
“There so much info coming from so many sources it’s difficult to stay up to date,” he said. “So, I created this blog, I thought it’d be a good idea, gave it a try, and people are really grateful. They know they have one place to go to checkup on things.”
Some teams in the back office also have a different structure to their day and interactions, where finding time to connect became essential while separated remotely.
“In my team we still are in touch very closely, every morning we have meetings can even take an hour but it’s important we don’t speak only about the job but also about our lives,” Karczewska said. “It’s a crucial part to make sure we’re still engaged. This remote job can be an uncomfortable thing because you feel isolated, so it’s important to talk also about simple things.”
Our biggest takeaways after the year unlike any other boiled down to:
- 🌞 Flexible work schedule to build in natural breaks; work during the day or night hours (so long as you attend any big, relevant meetings)
- 🎊 Company-wide virtual activities and events, such as wellbeing webinars, digital holiday parties, team integration activities with games and team-building exercises
- 🧰 Remote-work benefits offered in the form of a one-time home office subsidy, and a monthly GetRemote bonus for the things needed to work from home every month
- 👁 GetFocused Day ➡️ 1 day per week dedicated to no meetings, to use creative energy uninterrupted
- 🌐 Incorporating asynchronous projects and documents so employees could work effectively in the new disrupted environment, and when on differing timelines or even time zones
- 😹 Keeping it light ➡️ we use Slack for daily communication, and created 10+ new channels dedicated to sharing interests, hobbies, equipment advice, and of course, pet photos
“I’m happy we are all flexible in a way, that someone says, ‘I’m going to work now then have a three-hour nap or go for a walk,’ you don’t need to tell me that unless we’re working on the same doc on the same day. You can even say, ‘I’m taking a break now, I’ll work on it later and send you the edits tonight.’”
“We have the tools, we have the mindset,” Leszczyński said.
A few key inspirations are still with us, guidelines to keeping positivity and always refining that work-life balance:
- Sharing information and feedback openly is important for yourself, and for your colleagues
- Setting clear goals and working with action plans in place, and in mind, is beneficial for everyone
- Promoting an autonomous work approach empowers employees, allows for flexibility, and creates a system that can function amidst all the variables that come our way
- Create and hold effective meetings – stay on topic, get to the point, create materials and prepare ahead of time, and recap meetings with any action points to follow
- Also, make time for non-meeting, non-work conversation, interaction, and engagement
- Trust is key
We genuinely hope this helps, now, and into the future