It is possible to run a company that highly relies on remotely working employees. This is stated by Bjarney Sonja Ólafsdóttir Breidert, Managing Director of the international software company 1xINTERNET. She says that people become even more disciplined and productive in remote working environments than in a traditional work environment, given that it’s well-organized and processes are well defined.
During discussions about increased remote work, sometimes it gets forgotten that in order for it to work well, good remote leadership is a key factor. This is stated by Bjarney Sonja Breidert, CEO of 1xINTERNET, a 40-person software company headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany. The company also has offices in Reykjavik, Conil and Berlin. In addition, about ten employees work for 1xINTERNET based around Europe. Two years ago, the company went through radical changes that included, among other things, that all employees, whether they were at the company's headquarters or not, began communicating through teleconferencing. The company went completely to the "remote level". “People in remote work are often a bit out of place in traditional companies, because they loose the flow of information in the office, as well as the beer at night with the co-workers and other social events. That is why we decided to change all our processes so that everyone who works for us can be a full participant in our daily work, whether they are in our offices or in remote workplaces. In the past, everyone in the office was in a meeting room, except perhaps the “one” on the wall joining the meeting via computer monitor. This felt uncomfortable for everyone so we decided to change this.
That is why the COVID situation does not change anything for us, because we have already undergone the changes that many companies need to make now. I think many companies will continue with remote work when they see how well it works for people. Before COVID, I think that remote working has in many ways affected the progress of projects, with others thinking involuntarily: "Allright, I’ll talk to her on Monday, because she's working at home today." This has changed with COVID. “I think many companies will realise now that remote work may well be part of their corporate culture. And, I also think executives will quickly realise that they need to document the processes around communication in their company. This also improves the possibility of remote working, thereby increasing the flexibility and making the staff more satisfied. The software industry has long shown that this is possible. ""
No inhouse emails
She mentions the importance of working with good tools and having clear work processes regarding how and when they are used. "We created our own 'Manual', a kind of guide to explain how communication between us works, with the tools we use in our daily work. We have a project management system, Slack for talking and we use the Google suite for everyone. All conferences take place through Google. We have a clear policy that all communication is open and transparent. As a result, we only send emails to outsiders, never indoors. It's part of the game rules. If I ask an employee to do something, it goes through the project management tool. If I'm going to ask a question, I'll go through Slack. And if I have a document and need feedback on it, it's in Google Docs and you make comments there. There is never a reason to send an email. "
Another thing they did was creating clear processes for meetings. "People can't stand it when they feel like they are spending time on nothing. We have no meetings unless we have decided what we are going to talk about. If we don't know in advance, nothing will come out of the meeting. We have a fifteen-minute meeting for all employees on Monday mornings at 9, which we call a check-in meeting. They are just for saying hello and starting the week off as a team. Each project team has a 15-minutes daily status meeting so everyone knows what others are working on. Then we have an half hour meeting on Thursdays for the whole company where we go over what is happening in the company at the time being. Therefore, it might be similar to what would normally be discussed over a cup of coffee or over lunch. "
Clear game rules
Bjarney believes that working environment will never be quite the same anywhere, after the Corona virus has pushed so many people into remote work, often with good results. If the transformation is to continue successfully, the discussion about remote leadership needs to be greatly enhanced. "There are plenty of tools available to facilitate this process. Managers need to learn about them in order for this to happen. "
She says the biggest challenge for her company has been making decisions about workflows, when to what for communication and getting everyone to stay on the same boat. "Experience shows that employees are even more disciplined in a well-organized remote environment than in a traditional office environment, but this takes time. People have different opinions and are used to doing things their own way. As soon as we were able to set the rules, talk about them and at the same time be flexible about changing them if needed, people began to feel better. It is very important to create a routine for your staff, same as you have in your household. If people do not have these fixed points, then they feel uncomfortable. It was an important discovery for me as a manager, afterwards I have focused on creating environment that works for my employees."
She says clear working environments and regular routines also help remote managers stay on top of things when it comes to how people feel. “These routines gives you an opportunity to get closer to the face to face contact you have in an office. Since we “meet” everyone so regularly, we can sense when something changes, like when someone is under a lot of stress that needs to to be dealt with. Now find that many of our employees are under great stress due to COVID. Some have many children at home, others are completely stuck at home and cannot leave their houses, for example our people in Spain.
There is a lot of mental strain on people and everyone is trying their best at work too. In such circumstances, it must be possible to give people flexibility, to enable them to do what they can sometimes on their own terms. We have also increased one-on-one communication with employees now, because we feel that it is needed. "
It is important to meet occasionally
Just as in other operations, Bjarney says it is important to create cohesion and unity in companies that rely on remote workforce. Then it is important that they meet occasionally, though it is not often. 1xINTERNET employees meet twice a year, around Christmas and back in the summer. “We find it extremely important and we place the greatest emphasis on doing something fun together. We also have groups within the company that come together "online" for fun. For example, we have a music group but a large part of our staff plays musical instruments. They meet online to play together. We also have a coffee group that shares an interest in good coffee and meet at a certain time and get a good "virtual" cup together. "
Compliments for what is well done
Some may wonder if it is really necessary to have processes as detailed as Bjarney describes. Whether or not it can not just affect the creative process of employees. On the contrary, she says. “My experience is that everyone feels better when the processes are clear. It causes irritation in people if they do not know what is expected of it. You want to create an environment where employees feel that they are successful in their work, that they deliver something important through their work. Most people have ambition and drive to do well and the work environment must support that. If not dissatisfaction arises. "
Translated interview that was published in Stundin, Icelandic news paper 17.4.2020