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How to turn remote work into a competitive advantage - 5 takeaways from our portfolio HR workshop

Fair to say, the startup community was amongst the early- and (compared to the old economy) easy-adopters of the enforced upon us home office situation. This does NOT mean though, that the sudden transition to the home office did not pose any problems to young technology companies. Quite on the contrary - when we asked our portfolio companies what they would like to talk about in our HR workshop, the vast majority of responses circled the topic “remote work” in all its facets: “culture in remote teams”, “keeping employees motivated in the home office”, “improved remote communication” - just to name the front-runners.

Therefore, we used our first-ever virtual portfolio workshop to share experiences on this topic and listen to remote-native experts (big shout-out to Henning, COO of Frontastic, a remote-native company). How can we turn this externally induced threat to our traditional working set-up into an opportunity and while we’re at it - why not internalize it and turn “remote” into an organizational strength (hello SWOT 👋)?! If you’re now wondering - “HOW?”, check out the key takeaways from our portfolio workshop.

#1 Covid-19 home office DOES NOT equal a remote company set-up

What are we experiencing now IS NOT what it means to be working remotely. We should all keep in mind that also fully-remote employees experienced a harsh shift in their work environment due to external factors that have nothing to do with “remote work” but are fully attributable to social distancing measures.

A remote set-up does NOT mean:

  • always being on your own
    working without a physically binding location can on the contrary foster exchange with others, e.g. lunch and coffee dates with external parties
  • never meeting your colleagues
    regular physical all-hand meetings are part of most remote company set-ups
  • having to juggle work and family
    confinements and lock-downs are an effect of COVID-19. In a normal remote set-up, kids would be at school, partners at work, and if you don’t like to be at home on your own, you could be in a co-working space as well!

#2 Communication is key

This seems to have become one of the mantras of the past weeks. Rightfully so - communication IS the key. Not only in remote work, but for creating a good work environment in general. The difference is that communication does not just happen when you’re working remotely. You have to foster, plan, and manage it.

Organizing communication and making a dedicated place for it may seem tedious in the beginning, but it also makes communication more intentional. The best thing about it - it works! Our workshop participants voted regular 1:1 check-ins by managers by far as the most beneficial measure for engaging employees in the home office.

#3 Keep some physical parts in the equation

As stated in #1, abstinence from people is not usually a variable in the remote equation. All companies in our portfolio that have partially remote set-ups or various locations set up special events where all employees gather and meet in person. Fun fact from Henning’s remote experience: the thing you’re most surprised by when meeting people in person after hours and hours of video chatting, is their height.

How do we keep “physical” in the equation though, when #stayhome and #socialdistance have moved to the top of our society’s agenda? Get creative! One of our portfolio companies, for example, sent out Gin bottles to all their employees to host a cocktail making contest after their all-hands meeting.

#4 Use the right tooling

In all those reflections, we should not forget that technology is the enabler of remote communication and therefore of remote work. The right toolset is crucial to enable efficient remote work - the exploding MAU of Zoom et al. speak for themselves.

Most tech startups do already have very remote-friendly tool-stacks. Indeed, most tools that our portfolio companies relied on for better managing remote-work had been part of their tool-stacks previously. If you’re looking for extra inspiration outside of your usual suspects (G-Suite, Slack, Zoom, Trello, Asana, Jira, …), head to the great overview of the Remote Work Tech Landscape by Federico from Paua Ventures!

#5 Make “remote” a USP for talent

Remote can be an opportunity and implementing a strong remote strategy can be a great advantage in the competition for talent. Not only will it allow you to access a way larger talent pool, but it will also foster responsibility and ownership at an individual level and give your employees the independence and flexibility to use their full potential.

At the end of the workshop, ⅔ of our portfolio companies told us that they will reinforce their remote strategy in the future — the remaining third was not sure, yet. A remote set-up certainly is not the right set-up for everybody. As Henning pointed out, we should all question whether the traditional office is the right default though.

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