Working from home, indefinitely. Is it really worth the hype?
The year was 2020.. summer had just begun and businesses and offices were opening back up – it was a simpler time. Some businesses were returning to in-office work, safely distanced from others. Back in summer 2020, we asked a few founders how the felt about the changes to their work routines. Nearly half a year later and their advice is still very relevant, especially with the recent restrictions put in place as we deal with the new challenges this pandemic has brought with it to 2021.
Here’s what we asked them:
- What impact (positive or negative) has remote work had on your startup?
- Are you in favour of remote work continuing after COVID-19? Or are you eager to get back to the office? Why?
Here’s what they said:
While we had a flexible work from home policy prior to COVID, and part of the team was remote during an accelerator program in 2019, this is the first time we’ve been fully remote. We definitely miss the in-office brainstorms, strategy sessions, water-cooler chats, and team hangouts, but overall the move to remote work has been positive.
COVID has led to a big influx of people looking for emergency planning documents, so we’ve been busier than ever at Willful, and we’ve on-boarded new team members to help out. It’s very different to onboard people remotely, hold virtual happy hours, and generally try to stay connected while remote, but I think it’s been a positive experience. It’s certainly made me more positive about the fact that we can run the company from anywhere, and that we have a team of smart, motivated people who can adapt to change.
When it comes to staying remote or returning to the office – I’d say I’m in favour of a mix of both! We’ve been living out in Prince Edward County since mid-March, and we’ve been enjoying having a backyard (vs. our usual condo living) – it’s opened up our eyes to the fact that we can run the company from anywhere, and that has changed our approach to remote work in the long-term. In the short-term, we’re excited to get back to the office. Some of our employees haven’t even met each other in person, and may live in small condos with no outdoor space, so they’re looking forward to having a designated workspace again.
Regardless of how soon we go back, we’ll definitely be incorporating more remote work periods and flexible schedules moving forward. To me, the future of work is all about flexibility and choice, and COVID has been a huge catalyst for this!
Marianne Bulger, Founder + CEO, Prospect.fyi
My team is small, so adapting to remote work was faster than expected. We put in effort from day one to ensure we could adapt and build meaningful lines of communication with one another. In many ways, we are more productive and connected than ever before operating on a remote work model, and it’s 100% because we made time to experiment with new techniques, adapt our schedules, stay honest about balancing work/life, and find new ways of connecting with one another.
Remote work is a luxury that not everyone has access to. I am a huge supporter of offering greater location flexibility for employees in a post-pandemic reality. It will put control back in the hands of the employee, affording individuals the ability to create a healthier work-life balance and experience. That being said, it only works if you choose it. Many people experiencing WFH during COVID-19 are feeling the negative effects, including a full house of children who are out of school or tight working conditions in small apartments not designed for this kind of lifestyle.
Cassy Aite, Co-Founder + CEO, Hoppier
Our team was already about 60% remote so working remotely wasn’t a big adjustment for us. One interesting thing is that having the entire team remote has made for smoother communication for everyone, as opposed to previously only having a portion of the team remote and others on site. For example, previously having one person on a video call with several in a meeting room can be difficult and for that single remote person on video call we realize they might have missed details, social cues, etc, that might have been valuable.
All that said, we are in favour of remote work as we previously were. But we are now especially in favour of being fully remote as we are finding ourselves more productive. The cost savings don’t hurt either!
Ashleigh Kennedy, Founder + CEO, Neurovine
Interestingly, working remotely has increased the amount of interaction between our team members and made these interactions more personal. There are kids and animals in almost every call and so it’s brought a more human dynamic to our work environment.
It’s also brought more structure to our work flow as we’ve needed to increase our reliance on project management tools. We’re a digital health technology company, so it’s pushed our team to make all aspects of our business virtual, including our research trials and community building. This has opened doors that we would not have tried to open without the required physical distancing forcing us to take this virtual.
While our team misses the collaboration that takes place when you can work side by side, we are enjoying this time working from home. We will likely have a hybrid approach moving forward, allowing employees to work remotely when they want while keeping our physical office open for weekly meetings and special projects.
Aydin Mirzaee, Founder + CEO, Fellow.app
We’ve started relying much more heavily on written communication. Previously many things were left to verbal communication but now we’ve really leaned on documenting processes, feature specs, etc.
Given the nature of our product, Fellow, we’ve always been very good about meeting agendas and having a written record of notes and action items that come out of meetings, but even there, the usage has intensified considerably. More written communication tends to allow for more asynchronous meetings which is a major productivity win from remote work.
I don’t think this is binary. When Kindle first came out, some people prognosticated the end of print books. The reality is that the world won’t go 100% remote, but we do see a massive tailwind for remote operations. This can be as basic as, more people will work from home more often to companies going 100% remote.
Fellow is a product for remote teams to have more productive meetings and so we are definitely in strong support of the movement and will continue to build products and features that will help our users succeed in this new environment.
Lindy Ledohowski, Founder + CEO, EssayJack
Our team at EssayJack has always had a remote first approach, with much of the team having access to work together in an office as and when they choose. So moving to 100% remote was pretty easy and seamless as we were already using a number of tools to let us all collaborate and work together remotely, and both our offices in Canada and Asia aren’t 9-5 workplaces to begin with.
The impact was pretty negligible. However, as time goes on, it is stranger and stranger to never see one another, and to never have in-person meetings. So we have longer 1:1 video calls and touch base a little more regularly online both synchronistically and asynchronistically.
I’ve always preferred remote work and I’m keen to continue with remote work. The benefits are:
- Work-life balance can be easier in that people can do home-related errands in increments throughout the day rather than doing 6 loads of laundry on a weekend (for example)
- Managers must be more organized and clear about tasks/deliverables. If you work remotely, there’s no de facto “I’m at my desk therefore I’m working” performativity. Remotely, you either do or don’t do your job and are judged on that, so managers need to be very clear on expectations, which is never a bad thing
- Remote-work can allow for both quiet, intense work – writing, coding, researching – but also collaborative work – video calls – as needed. In a traditional office someone can walk up and disrupt your flow more easily, but a video call is a scheduled disruption on your own time
- There’s a big environmental aspect that is eliminated by not requiring commuting and/or big, traditional office spaces
- There is less of a tendency to micro manage. I have long believed in giving workers freedom to shine and seeing what they can do, but if I am right there I might look over their shoulder and interfere more, which isn’t good for anyone
- I feel remote work helps to build/maintain trust; instead of caring whether someone showed up early or stayed at the office late as markers of “hard work” with remote work you don’t care how/when the work is done you just care that it is completed.
You don’t have to see him doing it, you just trust that he’ll get it done; I think that’s actually really great for team culture…more productive than the stereotype of gossiping by the water cooler!
And, of course, the best thing about remote work is having my cat-coworker home with me. I mean, who doesn’t love that?!
Kibby Pollak, Founder + CEO, MyPITBOARD
Working remotely has challenged our company to expand the way we think about completing our short term projects and long term goals. It has allowed us to get creative with how we communicate with each other and our target market.
MyPITBOARD produces real-time feedback systems for motocross riders, therefore a lot of our strategy this summer had planned for in-person visits to different tracks in North America and overseas . With the sudden impact of COVID-19, and the need to work remotely, our team was forced to quickly change our marketing techniques and come up with a new strategy for our fast-approaching product launch. Although the pandemic changed our plans, it drove our team to think quickly on our feet and come up with creative techniques to sell the device globally.
In the past, our company has offered a hybrid approach to employees by giving them the option to either work remotely or come into the office. Although I think the team is eager for the human interaction and ease of communication that comes with sitting so close to your teammates, the impact of COVID-19 has definitely made employees feel more comfortable with the idea of working from their home and has improved their efficiency out of the office. MyPITBOARD will continue to offer the option for employees to work from home at their discretion, but we wouldn’t be surprised if we see people exercising their choice to work at home more often than before.
Anastasia Valentine, VP AI Technology Commercialization, Rhonda.ai
Since Rhonda.ai is in the business of employee engagement and measuring satisfaction, we had an opportunity to not only encourage other companies to use our tool but also, use our own tool heavily ourselves. Our team is finding we are communicating more often and collaboration on our projects is better than I’ve ever seen. The situation has definitely forced us to get creative like fitness challenges, funny hat day, and even board games via zoom for team building
At the same time we miss each other! It’s great to see people face-to-face, bring treats into the office, go for a run along the parkway, or even head out for a BBQ in our office backyard!
All that being said, I’m definitely in favour of remote work. The intrinsic value of an employee is not necessarily whether they are sitting in a physical location (unless they must be in a specific place to do their job). It is the value they bring to the organization regardless of where they are. If we change our thinking with regards to whether we need a bum in a specific seat in the office or a talented employee making a meaningful contribution, regardless of where they are located, we can build better and stronger companies. That is not just because I’d be eliminating my 3 hour commute per day…
Remote work has yielded both positive and negative results. On the negative side, for example, there is nothing that could make up for a team trying a problem and sketching on the whiteboard. Creativity and problem solving suffers working from home. As we are a startup, there is a lot of time, there are impromptu meetings to solve problems, discuss client feedback, etc. We don’t need to plan for this.
In terms of returning or remaining fully remote, it’s too early for us to tell. It’s interesting to see all of those companies making decisions to work from home permanently. At one point, everybody thought that open office was the best route to take. A couple of years later, it was declared the worst setting for productivity. I’ve never liked extremes. Before COVID, we supported working from home, meaning we had remote team members and Ottawa employees could work from home up to two days. COVID proved that we can work remotely without jeopardizing creativity or productivity. It proved that we can offer more “customized” solutions for people to work from home or office, whatever helps them work more creatively and efficiently works for us!
Scott Wright, Founder and CEO, Click Armor
It has been harder to monitor and promote our team culture without being able to meet in person. Most of us had already been working remotely, so we really valued our in-person meeting times when we had the chance. So since we aren’t able to have those in-person moments, we started looking at ways to supplement that.
One thing we did recently was to hold a ‘Houseparty’ team building session one Friday afternoon. We played trivia games and pictionary, which are built into the ‘Houseparty’ app. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t really know if we would last more than 30 minutes, but before we knew it 90 minutes flew by. It was a nice way to promote taking some time together that wasn’t just focused on work.
On the fundraising side, it has been more difficult when I can’t meet in person with investors. I’ve found that the in-person vibe is important in conveying energy levels.
In our market, which is cybersecurity, there is a positive feeling that security will be more important. We are trying to find ways to shift our messaging to recognize that previous security policies and procedures (if they were in place) are being bent or broken to accommodate people working from home during the pandemic.
I do think there will be a permanent shift to more of the workforce working from home.. It can make things more efficient in many ways, but as I mentioned earlier, it can make corporate culture harder to upkeep and nourish. So I think that has to be a priority if we want to make working remotely a long term change. It’s also better for the environment if more of us can travel less every day, and without having to commute that leaves a little more time in the day for either personal or business activities.
Startup Marketing Consult supports entrepreneurs with marketing and also coaches startups to align their solutions with the SDGs. It has been very difficult because we are unable to meet with entrepreneurs in-person and offer training. That being said, we are using the period to grow our network and focus on business development. Even though the response from potential clients remains “let’s meet up after the lockdown”, we are optimistic that our engagement during this period will yield great results down the road.
We are in favour of continuing to work remotely. Since the team has already been working from home, there is not much difference as far as our internal operations go. We have started to integrate some digital platforms to fill in some of our external challenges; communication and collaboration with clients and partners. As a company working with multiple startups, we are optimistic that this is good for the startup ecosystem as the need for more innovative solutions and digital strategies are required. It also reduces the operating costs of most startups. Every problem brings some opportunity and for COVID19 I believe it is the ability to work remotely. Startups can emerge stronger and continue to power the Canadian economy!
Bryan Belanger, Founder + CEO, Selladore Inc.
With Selladore being a relatively new startup our team was already fully set up for remote work, currently having staff in Ottawa, Montreal, Kitchener, and Warsaw. So from a day to day “operational” perspective, there was not a huge impact. We continue to hold routine video conferences and as CEO, I tend to check in on Teams more than I typically would prior to the pandemic.
However, one area where it has negatively impacted us is in business development and driving new sales. We were accustomed to networking and meeting potential new clients in person, especially in the Ottawa region, and that has become increasingly difficult with the impact of COVID19. We had to pivot our approach somewhat and reach out to clients virtually (and via referrals) and then hold Zoom calls.
From a current client perspective, we immediately shifted to Zoom calls, and that process has worked well, as for our clients this was now the norm for them to run their business as well. We’re missing that “in-touch” vibe you get by being in a room, but for now, we have adapted.
As stated above, being a diverse workforce already, we will continue to leverage remote work for a majority of our operational needs. However we do plan a yearly company summit to have everyone together in person, so that may be more difficult in 2020, but hopefully by 2021 travel restrictions are lessened.
From a sales and client interaction perspective, I am looking forward to at least being able to network and visit some clients, or prospects, face-to-face. There is a level of engagement that can’t be completely accomplished via Zoom or email.