"Remote work," "working remotely" - these expressions have become a new reality for many people and companies when the COVID-19 pandemic started. We at Mad Devs worked remotely initially. The process transparency and asynchronous communication were those pillars which used to support our remote-first approach to work.
During the pandemic, even those specialists who preferred the office, had to shift to working remotely.
The remote-first approach means additional opportunities for both the company and its employees. So, it allows us to hire specialists from different cities, countries, and even continents. But well, we keep our office open for those who love to work in the company of their colleagues though.
What our specialists say about remote-first approach
For the company, moving to a remote-first approach is definitely something beneficial. What do our employees think though? What does working remotely mean for them?
Dmitrii Khalezin, our DevOps, shares his experience about working remotely:
“During the first six months or even more, working remotely was a challenge indeed. This fine line between work and home didn't exist. I used to feel as if I woke up at work, and I went to sleep at work, too.
When I spent some time like this, I understood that something needed to be changed. It is impossible to live like this anymore. So I started planning my day properly and tried not to take tasks that I couldn't complete within one working day.
Now, I try to work until 6-8 p.m. It is still a challenge, but I am working on it.
Sometimes, I have a wish to escape to some coworking space.
Benefits that I see in working remotely:
- I don't spend time and money on commuting.
- I don't depend on schedules; I work in perfect conditions whenever I feel like working.
- I do not depend on a specific location. I can live in any place, and it isn't going to influence my work.
- I can organize my working place in a way I like.
- When I learned to work remotely, I discovered that I can be super-efficient.
Drawbacks? Yep, I have some:
- My family simply couldn't understand that I work even though I am at home. I had to talk to them a lot before they finally got it.
- I had to arrange a room to work conveniently.
- Due to the time difference, it is pretty difficult to communicate. Mostly, it is all about asynchronous communication, but sometimes, when I am working on specific projects, I still have to be in touch with the team constantly.
- I am missing some team-building events. Sometimes, I crave offline communication with my colleagues.
I don't have any secret recipe for how to organize a day to work most efficiently. I wake up, have my breakfast, and start my work by checking messengers and chats, replying, clarifying everything. Then, I might take a break. In the afternoon, I work on the current tasks. The schedule might differ though.
The main thing is to plan everything properly. When I started working remotely, I couldn't leave home for several weeks; it was the most bothering. Now, I know how to plan my working day, and thus, the drawbacks are eliminated.”
Denis Chernienko, our developer, was much more straightforward:
“Well, I don't spend time commuting. However, working remotely is not completely compatible with the proper work-life balance. It is difficult to separate work from home.
Though when I work on projects for clients from, for example, the USA, it is more convenient for me than for my colleagues from Kyrgyzstan. On the other hand, it happens that I am still working, and everybody has already completed their working day and is offline. If I need to ask something, I have to wait until the morning.”
How we organize work with a remote-first approach
With the available modern technologies and tools, the work organization in a remote-first company isn't as difficult as one might believe. We at Mad Devs got used to working remotely pretty easily. Why? Maybe because we are mostly developers, we always deal with tight deadlines; therefore, proper time management is a must. It is also one of the main challenges people face when they aren't used to working efficiently.
Time management isn't the only challenge though. When you are moving to work remotely, you have to adopt a completely different way to work and communicate with your team. If your colleagues live in different time zones, asynchronous communication becomes a crucial point in communication organization.
Asynchronous communication: What does it mean?
Remote-first companies work asynchronously most of the time. That's why it is important for everybody to know exactly where, how, and when to communicate, where the decisions are made, and what channels are available to get support.
To arrange asynchronous communication properly, specific tools are needed, those that allow keeping all the work-related conversations in one space. By documenting all discussions, the tool ensures easy access to the discussion regardless of when an employee joins it. Video calls are crucial to establish proper working relationships and guarantee the dedication of employees to a specific project and the company.
Tools to collaborate remotely
We at Mad Devs use a lot of tools to ensure the top productivity level of our team and avoid our employees feeling under-appreciated or shut out of decision-making processes. So, we use the following tools to organize proper remote communication.
Jira is one of the most powerful and widely used project management tools for teams developed by Atlassian, an Australia-based company.
Jira is applied by Mad Devs for project planning, assignment, tracking, reporting, and managing. This set of tools is aimed at teams of any size and specialization.
It is an instant messenger used widely. It allows employees to communicate in general threads or write private messages. Slack is irreplaceable for sharing quick check-ins, sharing updates, and synchronizing. It is an amazing tool for the organization of asynchronous communication because it documents all the conversations. All the threads are accessible and searchable, so any information is available whenever you need it. Video calling is also supported by Slack.
The extensive functionality and ease of use have made Slack one of the most popular tools used by remote-first companies. This tool is extensively used by our team members, too.
Google Meet is another popular tool in the Mad Devs community. We are a team, and we don`t want somebody to feel out, so calls are a part of our daily communication procedures. We love using Hangouts for this purpose, too.
While Google Meet is used for communication among team members, Zoom is applied for calls with clients or for important calls to discuss a project or similar matters. Zoom offers an increased security level and additional features that help us to be more efficient:
- Video Webinars,
- Workspaces, among others.
Missing a call or a video session might be very unpleasant if you are working on an important task and need to discuss some details. Google Calendar helps Mad Devs to keep everything under control and be always prepared for things to come.
For documents and spreadsheets creation, storage, and sharing, we use Google Docs. It gives us access to the needed documents wherever we are, no matter what device we are using.
Confluence is a comprehensive workflow tool for all types of teams. This tool is created for putting all the company's internal knowledge and documents in an online platform. In it, you can group related tasks, assign them to specific users, manage calendars, and similar.
This content management information helps to organize written information in an easily accessible way.
Why remote-first approach?
With the COVID pandemic, we have moved to work remotely. We liked it so much that after the pandemic was controlled, we kept the remote-first approach while keeping our office open for those employees who preferred to work there.
For many companies, a transfer to working remotely was a painful and time-demanding process, but for us, it was smooth indeed. We believe it happened so because we are mostly developers. So, working with any tool does not pose any difficulties. Time management is one of the key factors for a developer because we are always fighting with deadlines, while for the majority of employees working in other fields, time management was the main challenge.
Do we want to move back to a traditional approach to work? Well, our office is open, and all the employees are welcome there. But we understand also that working remotely has already become an integral part of our company.
Is a remote-first approach crucial for our employees?
Our research has shown that yes, for some employees, working remotely is crucial. Yep, we have some specialists who live abroad. For them, commuting is not an option. Even though they are not in majority now, we are planning to expand our team abroad, too. So, in the future, the red sector on the graph below is going to grow, we believe.
However, we are happy to see that the majority of our employees, those who can afford to work in our office, would still consider Mad Devs as their employment place even if a remote option was not available.
Pros of working in a remote-first environment
The benefits of working in a remote-first environment are evident. Even though it was believed that those who work remotely don't perform their tasks as they shall to, the practice has proved that, on the contrary, remote workers can be much more productive than workers in an office.
Based on a FlexJobs survey taken in 2020, 95% of employees admit to be more productive and perform their tasks more efficiently when they work remotely rather than from an office. Employees save around 35 minutes every day when they work remotely. It means that during one year, one employee saves around 16 workdays.
Working in a remote-first environment brings the following benefits to employees:
- No money is spent on commuting.
- Additional savings on parking and gas for those who prefer to travel in a car.
- Savings on food due to the absence of any need to go out to have lunch.
- Savings on childcare: remote workers don't have to rely on full-time childcare services.
- Finally, remote workers save the time needed to go to the office and back. In some cases, it is at least a couple of hours that can be spent on work or hobbies.
Drawbacks depend on the company type. While some companies don't offer benefits to remote workers, this situation is changing now. So, companies that care about their employees don't differentiate them based on where they work remotely or not. In such companies, workers can count on all the benefits that are offered by companies with a traditional structure.
We believe that a remote-first approach is going to be widely adopted in the future by the majority of companies. It allows the company to hire the best specialists around the world by offering them the needed flexibility and providing them with competitive salaries. For employees, it is an opportunity to save money and time and to choose whether they prefer to work in an office or remotely.