Richmond and Beyond: Becoming more Remote-Friendly

by Jul 29, 2019

Have you ever considered remote work—either as an employee or an employer? We are. We’ve seen the momentum of companies offering remote flexibility and have heard the interest internally, but is it a viable option for us?

About 90% of our team works at the main headquarters in Richmond, VA. 6 of us are working remotely each for different reasons, including myself. For the next 6 months, I’ll be traveling around the world while still working full-time. I can’t thank Shockoe enough for giving me the chance to test this program and help explore what processes, tools, and guidelines will help make us remote-friendly without jeopardizing our company culture. It’s going to be a journey but in the end, we think becoming a more remote-friendly workplace will benefit the company and team.

Remote Momentum.

Employees seeking remote flexibility is gaining momentum. According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report for 2019, 72% of talent professionals agree that work flexibility will be very important for the future of HR and recruiting. In the past two years alone, there’s also been a 78% increase in LinkedIn job posts advertising flexible work arrangements. These trends are pushing more businesses towards adopting flexible working and allowing at least partially remote policies. According to a Citrix report, 50% of the workforce will be remote by 2020. Additionally, by 2020, Gen Z will comprise 36% of the global workforce. Considering how their generation grew up with technology and have an active online social lifestyle, it makes sense they are seeking the same in their work environments. More and more companies are hiring and realizing the benefits and potential that remote work can offer for both parties.

 

The Benefits

As well all know, there’s plenty of benefits for our employees. Take my situation, for example, I’m going to be traveling around the world for 6 months. Also, there are plenty of articles and studies that mention the cost benefits, recruiting benefits, and retention benefits to the company. But those are not the reasons why I think it’s a good fit for Shockoe.

Shockoe already has an international & cultural background, our founders are from out of the US, we have an office in Mexico, and we have a diverse team from around the world. But if we become more remote-friendly we can continue to own this unique quality. Additionally, Shockoe has always been a highly collaborative & inclusive environment. Your voice is heard here. Our great ideas don’t come from one person but the collective group sharing perspectives and insights. With a wider pool of applicants, we’ll continue to find the best talent and increase our diverse viewpoints to create even more strong solutions for our client’s problems.

The Stigma

Sometimes remote workers can be treated or seen differently from in-office employees. I am actively challenging everyone here to think differently. Just because someone may be working from home doesn’t mean they are out of reach. With the right guidelines in place, you know when people are available. For example, we have standard 9am-5pm EST office hours that generally everyone is held to. Exceptions can be made when needed if approved. So, it’s unlikely that a remote worker can take three hours in the middle of the day for a spa appointment without repercussion.

Another stigma I’m actively challenging is thinking it’s easier to communicate with an in-person employee over someone remote. Studies show that telecommunication removes in-person nuances and helps employees dive right into meaningful work. The key to all this though is managers outlining clear expectations and tools for communication. For example, we’ve set up our team meetings on a regular cadence with clear goals established as well as assigned facilitators and scribes. Hopefully, by setting these guidelines they’ll run smoothly and the summaries & action items are documented. Communication doesn’t have to suffer, and I hope that by the end of my 6-month journey I’ll change this perspective.

Communication, Planning, & Technology

Communication is the key to making remote work, work. The proper technology, tools, and a set of guidelines will help us stay collaborative, build community, and continue to do great work. For example, we’ve created guidelines for what tools to use when:

A video call (via Skype or Slack) is best used when you have a quick impromptu chat (Slack), design-team huddles (Skype), or mentor feedback reviews (Skype). Video calls are a great way to build comradery & bring humanity. Don’t underestimate the power of seeing someone’s face.

A voice call is good for project-specific meetings that are longer than 1 hour and when screen-sharing is used. But a good rule I like to go by is when you’re unsure if you should or shouldn’t put your camera on, put it on, it helps remind everyone there’s a human behind that voice.

Technology & tools are the reason why remote work is even possible. We like to use web-based tools like google products for project documentation, and our design team is transitioning into Figma. Figma is a web-based design application that’s perfect for our team-based collaborative design workflow. No more downloading and uploading sketch files. It’s amazing if you’re not using it stop what you’re doing and get it.

We’ve also started using the Meeting Owl, a 360° smart video conferencing camera. Since most of our teamwork in the Richmond office, it’s easy for those that are remote to feel disconnected when they’re the only one not sitting in the conference room. The Meeting Owl has been a great way for the remotes to keep track of who’s talking and have a good sense of what’s going on in the room even though they’re not physically there.

 

Culture & Inclusion

The number one concern we have here at Shockoe is making sure we keep the family vibe we have. There’s no denying that face-to-face contact is the most natural way to connect with people. The biggest reported struggle of remote work is lack of community — 21% of remote workers named “loneliness” as one of their main on-the-job issues. We believe it’s possible to address this concern, but how? What do we need to be doing differently to do so? Some ideas we have are: setting aside at least 5 minutes to have casual chit-chat; encouraging the use of non-work related slack channels for people with common interests to connect in; or encouraging a buddy system to go to a cafe and work. But the most basic and simplest idea that I’d like to tackle first is turning on cameras. Show us your office, your posters, or your pets. Show everyone there is a person behind that screen.

The journey to being remote-friendly won’t be easy but will be worth it in the end.

Samantha Carbonell

Samantha Carbonell

Mobile UX/UI Designer

In addition to traveling all over the world — China, Thailand, Korea, Germany, Amsterdam, and El Salvador — Samantha has experience working overseas in Japan. While living in Okinawa, Japan, she freelanced as a graphic designer for a transportation company, tasked with finding a creative solution for encouraging a younger audience to use the bus system. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Sam holds a degree in Graphic Design. Inspired by modern, simplistic design, she adds an aesthetic and conceptual quality to all branding material she creates.