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How To Go Remote — 4 CEOs & Tech Leaders On Making the Transition

It’s been nine months since all non-essential workers in the U.S. were sent home. In March, a global pandemic accelerated the already growing trend toward distributed work, shuttering office spaces around the globe and forcing companies, many for the first time, to figure out how to manage their workforces remotely.

So nine months in, how’s it going? According to early indications, not bad. Still, like all paradigm shifts, it’s complicated, and the intricacies of our newly online work lives will probably take years shake out.

In the meantime, we checked in with some of Rocketplace’s CEOs and tech leaders to hear how they’re handling the change. Here’s what they told us about their newly Zoom-filled lives.

Mike Stone

Co-Founder @ The Gnar

Industry: Software

Headcount: 18

Talk a bit about how your company has adapted to remote work. If it’s been a process, and you’re still figuring it out, talk about that too.  

We had an office in downtown Boston but have transitioned to being a fully-remote company. We are currently trying to sublease our Boston office and will remain remote for the foreseeable future.

As a small company, it’s difficult to justify the cost of an office if it’s not well utilized. I imagine there are a number of small businesses who feel the same way and will decide to make remote work a permanent solution, or maybe move to managed offices like WeWork.

While we have some clients outside New England, the new acceptance of remote work makes it easier to successfully pursue projects across the U.S. and also allows us to hire talent from anywhere.

Mike Stone, Co-Founder @ The Gnar

What’s one tip you’d give a team struggling to make the transition to remote work? 

Transitioning our close-knit team to remote work was hard. We simply didn’t see each other very often, and that hurt our culture. A change that helped us, and that I would suggest to other remote teams, was to make sure we always had at least one companywide check-in every day. They could be ten minutes long, but for those ten minutes we ask everyone to turn their videos on so we can actually see each other.

During daily check-ins everyone answers three questions: What challenges are you facing? What is getting in the way of you doing your job? What are you excited about? It’s really nice to see everyone’s face every day despite being remote, and the check-ins also give people the opportunity to call out if they need help from their teammates. 

How has the shift to remote work affected your industry broadly? 

Paul Bianco

CEO @ Graphite

Industry: Finance

Headcount: ~35

Talk a bit about how your company has adapted to remote work. If it’s been a process, and you’re still figuring it out, talk about that too.  

We’ve always been a remote-first company. We wanted the flexibility and it just always made sense for us. We do have physical offices but most folks work from home three or four days a week. Now, obviously, we’re not in the office at all. 

This is a long time coming. Cloud-based everything has made it possible to work this way and COVID just accelerated it ten years. So I guess my advice is that if you’ve been hesitant about investing in a remote work model, it might be time to reassess.

Paul Bianco, CEO @ Graphite

What’s one tip you’d give a team struggling to make the transition to remote work? 

This is a long time coming. Cloud-based everything has made it possible to work this way and COVID just accelerated it ten years. So I guess my advice is that if you’ve been hesitant about investing in a remote work model, it might be time to reassess. For example, if you have an office right now and you’re paying rent and you don’t want it to go to waste — it’s kind of already a waste. That’s a sunken cost and I’m not sure it’s a good enough reason not to change.

In the day-to-day I’d say try not to over-Zoom people but find ways to stay connected. We are doing regular team meetings and companywide meetings to get everyone connected. We do lunch and learns. If we get a new customer or have company news, we send an email out. We always want the team to know what’s going on, to make sure they feel like they’re part of things. It’s tough to be honest and it’s the thing I struggle with most as a CEO right now. 

How has the shift to remote work affected your industry broadly? 

Ilya Brotzky

Founder & CEO @ VanHack

Industry: Global Recruiting

Headcount: ~100

Ilya’s company VanHack helps startups hire software engineers and other technical roles from abroad, who either work remotely from their home country or eventually relocate. Ilya spoke to Rocketplace’s CEO Louis Beryl in early July about what the new shift to remote work might mean for the workforce globally. The text below has been drawn from that conversation.

Talk a bit about what this moment, the forced adoption of distributed work, has meant for the companies you work with.

I would say it’s definitely a double-edged sword. We’ve had a lot of companies say, “Hey, you know what, we don’t even want to think about international hiring right now. We just want to hire locals because COVID makes everything more complicated and there are too many moving parts otherwise.”

Then we’ve had other companies — and more and more of them — saying, “You know what? We tried this remote thing for a few months. It’s great. Let’s hire people! We can have them start remotely. If they want to relocate, we’ll provide that when it’s possible.”

I immigrated to Canada when I was five years old from the Soviet Union. I think that a big part of why I love my job so much is that I get to give that to other people.

Ilya Brotzky, Founder & CEO @ VanHack

Do you think that giving employees a remote work option is actually giving some companies an edge?

I do. Giving people the option to work from anywhere, the flexibility to organize their life the way they want to, is in my opinion a huge lever that you can pull when competing for top talent.

Not being bound by borders, that’s such a huge and life-changing value proposition. I immigrated to Canada when I was five years old and my dad always talks about how life was in the Soviet Union versus how life is here. I think that a big part of why I love my job so much is that I get to give that to other people.

VanHack itself is one hundred percent distributed, right?

Yes! For five years now, since the very beginning. We have employees from over twelve countries. It’s a big part of who we are, we’re diverse and we really value that. And it’s worked. We’ve been able to have this multicultural, diverse workforce because we’re distributed.

At the same time, if someone on the team is looking to relocate, we’ll facilitate that. Interestingly, two of our developers and one of our VPs moved to Canada in the last couple of years. The VP stayed but the two developers decided not to. They were in their twenties, they wanted to be with their family and friends back in Brazil. So they left. Maybe one day they’ll want to come back, maybe not, we’re fine with it either way.

Talk about what it takes to succeed using a remote work model. What should companies be doing?

To start, I think a lot of people don’t take remote hiring seriously. They just kind of think that if they happen to find a great candidate, they’ll hire them. But you have to invest in the search, especially with remote candidates. Top talent isn’t generally waiting to be snatched up.  That’s true in the U.S. and Canada, but it’s also true in South America, Africa, Eastern Europe. Don’t treat candidates differently or have different expectations of what they’ll expect just because they’re abroad or on your computer screen.

Then culture is also huge. You see this in the onboarding process, the day-to-day, the setting of expectations, team-building. These processes all have to move online now. That’s the challenge and the opportunity.

🎧 Listen to Ilya and Louis’s full conversation on Rocketplace’s podcast, The Startup Stack, and if you like it, subscribe!

Ryan Doty

Technical Solutions Engineer @ AgilityIO

Industry: Software

Headcount: 300+

Talk a bit about how your company has adapted to remote work. If it’s been a process, and you’re still figuring it out, talk about that too.  

AgilityIO has been structured such that we’re not operating any differently than we did before we were fully remote. Since we are true believers in Agile software development, our teams are very experienced with working remotely. Since half of our team is located in South East Asia, we have become accustomed to working from remote places across multiple time zones. From our experience, this is not a quick transition and takes months of iteration to perfect the work from home model. 

From our perspective, we believe that over the past six to nine months, the world has seen a three to five year advancement in e-commerce and other technology and business-related products.

Ryan Doty, Engineer @ AgilityIO

What’s one tip you’d give a team struggling to make the transition to remote work? 

Communicate. Remote work provides a multitude of challenges across every workforce. A major way to mitigate these issues is by setting up proper communication channels and providing transparency between team members. All team members must understand their work processes and have easy ways to collaborate. Ensuring proper communication channels and having team-wide syncs is a surefire way to ease communication-related concerns. 

How has the shift to remote work affected your industry broadly? 

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