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Remote work, before it was cool | The Dev is in the Details #1

October 4, 2023
Lukasz Lazewski

In this episode, Lukasz and Pedro discuss remote work and how it has evolved over the past years.

Working from home became the new norm during the Covid-19 pandemic, but now a lot of companies are pushing for a return to the office. Why is that? What’s the trick to building and growing a fully remote business? What are the benefits and pitfalls?

We hope this episode will help you reflect on these questions and make your own conclusions.

So feel free to keep your pajamas on, and let’s talk about remote work!

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Episode transcript

Pedro: Okay, so maybe let's start the first episode introducing ourselves. So, Łukasz, tell the audience about yourself.

Łukasz: Thank you, Pedro. So I'm Łukasz. I'm a tech-savvy guy with quite some experience, almost 20 years in technology, you know, three, four different tech stacks, and built a couple of companies from a tech perspective. Back to you. Tell me about yourself.

P: Yeah, so I'm a marketer. I've been involved in many aspects of online marketing. My background is actually in Design. I'm originally from Brazil and moved to Poland and have been working with technology ever since, sometimes remotely, sometimes in hybrid model, but, yeah, always have been interested in technology in general and yeah, that's my jam.

L: Awesome.

P: So, Łukasz, you've been a big advocate of remote work. I would like to know a little bit more how you got to this point. When did you start with remote work?

L: Right. So, funnily enough, back in 2012, 2013, I used to live in Berlin and you know it was a time where most of the startups at the time, or the startup scene, was riding that wave of excitement about Ruby on Rails and that was the challenge that it was virtually impossible to hire anyone because, you know, startups were just overbidding each other for the talent locally. As I used to live there, I was onsite and this was one of the first startups I joined, but Mariusz, who I knew from college, was still in Warsaw. So we started building an MVP, you know, just collaborating over GitHub, and I believe we used XChat like an IRC virtual interface for IRC to basically communicate asynchronously instead of Slack. There was no Slack at that time, and then we migrated to another tool from Atlassian which I can't remember... HipChat, I believe it was called by then and, funnily enough, we still used to do Skype calls at that time, if that was a thing, before Zoom or anything else. And you know what? We built an MVP. It went out. Before we knew it, we needed, you know, extra people in front and then UI and UX and QA, and Mariusz got them organized in Poland, in different cities, they were not even in the same location. It worked out pretty well. We had seven or eight people team at that point, we got a proper funding, and there was a discussion within the business whether we should move everyone to Berlin. But people didn't want to leave their lives behind, you know. It worked for them, it worked for us. So we convinced business to continue like that and out of necessity we tried a lot of things. We made a lot of mistakes. We learned that frequently, what seems very intuitive was not the right thing to do actually, at the end. Yeah, and here we are today with a luggage of experience in that area.

P: Cool. I'm just wondering a little bit more of this context that this was well before the pandemic, like a few years before the pandemic. And would you say it was, let's say, common for other startups to use this remote model, or was this something kind of unusual at the time?

L: No, it was absolutely unusual and, frankly, when I went to events for coders or business, you know, people really didn't believe that this could work. I remember back in 2015, I went to a Eureka conference in Berlin and I was presenting our setup and a couple of people came to room and they were extremely skeptical, like they were challenging everything like "but how do you track time, how do you know they're working?". Like, there was this assumption that if you don't see people, you know, at their desks, you can't really trust them to do the work. But we got that all around saying like, "do I really care about, you know, nine to five or whatever the timeframe for a day, as long as the tickets are done, as the work gets delivered and as I see the engagement from my guys", right, and it was very interesting times. Yeah. But it was absolutely uncommon. And then I believe that by 2016-17, there was some sort of breakthrough because, simply, startups couldn't get the talent, also in different technologies. So I could tell you that I've seen, you know, both with Rails but also a bunch of other people, that the collaboration or the openness for trying things, you know, for remote setup, started to take shape there in the market and the Berlin startup scene, so to say.

P: Okay, and it's interesting to see how this has sort of become, I wouldn't say the standard, but expected, at least from developers' point of view. It seems like, you know, the talent heavily favors remote work, at least as a possibility, if not as remote first. Just, you know, "if I don't have the possibility of working remotely, I'm less interested in this position", would you say that's right?

L: Yeah, very good point. I think nowadays, after the pandemic, especially the world view and the business view on remote has shifted significantly. I see, obviously now there's a lot of fallback to the old ways, but you see that in people's minds there's a breakthrough now, and especially for coders, since they can work from really anywhere. As long as they get their focus time, there is a natural expectation that they can do it from anywhere.

P: Yeah. So going back to this idea of, you know, if it works so well, then why are the companies falling back to, you know, back to the office, and cutting down on the remote work possibilities? I mean, there are some downsides, maybe just for the companies, not for the workers, or do you see, you know, pros and cons for both sides?

L: This is something which we dwell with Mariusz on that topic a lot, you know, since we started doing this like what, like as an iterational process of how can we improve our own processes and what worked, what didn't. And our feeling is that openness to work remotely is directly tied to the company' culture, right? So if that culture is having proper incentives for openness, for ownership, for commitment, for delivering results, then we will see management of medium and high level being more open to trying remote. When there is no culture allowing for that, and I believe the alternative on that spectrum is control, and that implies that you need to see people. This is a bit of an exaggeration on my side, there is a lot in between there, but just to draw a picture, just to have a starting point to further that conversation. And I think for certain activities, especially mid-tier management, prefers to have people, you know, in what they call a "war room meeting" right, where everyone is all hands on deck and everyone can just draw on a whiteboard, and it's true that that's beneficial. But you know, we live in times where you have tools like MIro and, you know, even over Figma and other tools you can collaborate remotely and even with 100% remote culture. We tried that once a quarter, once a month, whichever is your cadence, you actually meet somewhere. You know, we tried WeWork, we tried a bunch of other locations, and we think it could really work, because the human factor in connecting in the physical space outside of, you know, only being online constantly, is helping to build connections with people as well, right? And it's all sort of like, on pure remote you never meet the colleagues, right, versus being in place, being in the office and all sorts of different flavors in between.

P: So yeah, basically, this hybrid approach seems to be the best in terms of being the most flexible, not just for the business but also for the workers, right? I personally even prefer, I like the possibility of being able to work remotely, but also being able to go to the office when it makes sense, when there's something, some reason, or just because I want to see the colleagues and interact on a personal level. I think this is what the best benefit of this you know, remote work revolution brought is just, you know, you're not tied to just one model.

L: Right, Right. I mean, I think it's great to just be open for experimentation with it as well and, you know, if the proper KPIs are in place and OKRs or whatnot, the companies can just measure how successful this is like in an actual output, you know, versus expectations of work hours in a chair. That's my way of looking at it.

P: For sure, a lot of people might like the idea of working remotely, but it's not maybe as simple as it sounds. As you even mentioned before, sometimes there are some good practices that might be counterintuitive. So what would you say are the biggest pitfalls that you kind of encountered along the way and, you know, what solutions you've discovered?

L: Right. I think one of the biggest challenges – and we went through this ourselves as well, it's not to say, you know, that it didn't happen –vis to copy and paste our expectations from normal work in the office to a remote environment. So one of the things that we noticed is that, at some point, we notice people prefer different working times. And in software development that can be easily addressed because, you know, for GitHub tickets... if you actually think about some of the biggest open source projects in the world, they don't have offices, right? That was our point of view, like we realize "wow, people are building operating systems, like Linux and FreeBSD and whatnot, and they're never in the same room. I mean, once a year they have a conference or something where they all meet, but otherwise they work remotely and, most importantly, they work asynchronously. So they meet to divide the work and off you go and they, you know, work on their own and they come back whenever they're ready or whenever they have some sort of touch point and sync up. And I believe with Agile, with Scrum, this can be really well organized, that you set certain boundaries and requirements for "look guys, let's show up at 10 in the morning on a Central European time zone, let's say, so whoever is, you know, plus or minus a couple of hours, has to wake up earlier, later, whatever, and that's our touch point". And then throughout the week, it's all deep work. And this was very surprising because we actually realized that deep work is very rare in the office environment. While with remote, most people were, you know, at their desks, wherever they were working from, would stay focused on their task, meaning that their output from actual measurable, you know, tickets per day or whichever KPI you want to apply, their output was 25, 30% higher. And that was really shocking, right? This was a massive surprise, because then we realized one of two things can happen: Either people keep working eight hours or whatever to finish the task, and we have a 30% bigger output; or you keep the same output but people work less, which again, makes them happier, and that again boosted their output. And we've seen that happening.

P: Yeah. So this raises an interesting point about control and trust. So did you feel like you were losing control? Or did you feel like the trust you put in the workers to just do the work, without someone checking all the time if they are working nine to five? Or you know how did it work to make this leap of faith of saying "we'll just trust people to do the work they are supposed to do and I don't care if it takes them four hours or eight hours or 12. They are just fulfilling the role that we agreed on".

L: Right. Frankly, I think as a developer myself, it's not so hard to see progress. I mean, if you take Git and GitHub in particular, the online system, you can clearly see in GitHub issues how the tasks are being closed and GitHub projects how you move forward with your velocity, with your progress, but also through the number of, you know, comments and pull requests open, close, and comments and engagement on pull requests for other developers' input. So we see clearly "ok, this guy is all over the place and someone else was, you know, not visible". And what was very interesting is that we had a situation where the team itself would self-govern. That was fascinating. So it would probably be my responsibility as a leader at that time to coach and look after outliers and help them catch up and whatnot. But the team themselves first of all tried that, and second of all, it was a bit of a group decision saying, "okay, this person is too far off", right? It was self-governing because everyone was committed to that result that we wanted to deliver, that next cool feature, that next big release, and if someone was dragging them, holding them back, they would speak up about it openly.

P: So basically, what I hear that you're saying is that, in order for the remote-first model to work, it's really all about the people inside the company feeling connected to the culture, like the remote culture. And if some of the workers maybe aren't so interested in, let's say, making a transition from fully in-office to fully remote, or they're not ready to deal with the, let's say, downsides of working remotely, this will naturally appear and... it's not going to happen if there are people who are not willing to make it work, right? If people are trying to, let's say, take advantage of the benefits of remote work without actually putting in the "work" in the "remote work", just working from bed two hours pretending like they're doing something, like Elon Musk says, "remote workers are just pretending to work", right? If workers are like this, obviously it's not going to be sustainable for the business and this issue will naturally appear, right?

L: Yeah, got it. So there's a lot here to unpack. All right, so let's go back to first fact: I have never been in a company where we were in the office and then we transitioned to remote. Actually, in all three, four last businesses we built that from the ground up as a remote business – especially in technology, because it was different, with sales and the local market, being on site because they have to go and shake hands. So I don't know for sure that remote is the right way for every single role, okay? I know it's great for developers and before COVID, before me, there is the open source community that proves it, right, that it can work. I think for a lot of creative people it can work that way because we are just wired differently, I think, and we like our deep work state and it's okay for me to maybe pair with one colleague in front of my laptop over a code challenge I'm solving at the moment, but not the entire team and not in a loud environment, and that was always there. Whether you would take the laptop and go to the meeting room just to isolate yourself from all the other distractions. Remote just enables it much, much better.

L: When it comes to the second part, where you say there are people who game the system. I don't think that is really important because if they can game the system in any setting, they will always continue gaming the system. And frankly, if you tell me, you know, you work or anyone works from their bed two hours a day, I actually don't care as long as the results are in. And if that mentality is shifted, it's in place for us to say "look, at the end of the day, you did everything that you were supposed to do. You're in stand-ups. All your impediments are solved. Everywhere else, when someone needed you, you were present or you were pulled into the 1-on-1 or group calls for resolving something. The client is happy, the team is happy". What do I care, you know, if you're working in your pyjamas, right? I mean to be frank, for meetings I encourage people – actually, I require that they turn on their cameras because there has to be a connection, a human connection. So maybe that's a bit, you know, embarrassing to pop up in a pyjama, but again, you know, at the end of the day, if the KPIs in place are correct and business measures these correctly and continuously, I don't mind people popping up in their pyjamas and working from their bed.

P: Nice. And what you mentioned there also raised an interesting question about maybe some kinds of roles being better suited for remote work rather than others. But as a company grows, you can just have developers, right? You have to have administrative roles and finance or HR etc. So how was this experience for you as the company grew, and still keeping it remote first, if not fully remote?

L: So we had, in every case, either initially or after sometime, we had an office, and there were two reasons for having it: One is as a place where people can still meet optionally if they want to, and I really liked that. So there's always a place where you can go to or fly into and spend some time as a, you know, retreat or workshop if you need to brainstorm things with the team; And, second of all, yeah, there were roles, and there are roles, I'm sure of it, which will always work better in a, you know, hands-on, face-to-face, same room, same office experience. I think it boils down to types of jobs that attract different types of characters. So, speaking for myself as a developer, I'm mostly an introvert, so I like my, you know, quiet environment for whatever problem I'm working on. But for a marketing team, which is maybe, you know, brainstorming some ideas and building storyboards – I don't know, because I never did that, I'm speculating – maybe it's better if they meet, yeah, and they are in the same location. For salespeople who are constantly on the phones, and they can then use that energy that it creates to motivate each other, you know, to which one of them makes most calls, what is the next, you know, threshold, what is the next high score of number of calls and things that they're trying to convert to customers? That could be very beneficial. But consider this: for accounting, in most cases, most businesses I know of take external companies to help them with that, and maybe at some point they get a CFO in the house, but most of that can be outsourced. So your relationship with your accountant a lot of times is also remote, and it used to be like that even before the whole remote thing started. If you take PR agencies, it's the same. You have a couple of meetings and then you can continue over email, Slack, Zoom calls and whatnot. There's tremendous amount of benefits, even if you don't want to cross country borders. Like, I mean, commuting to work takes a lot of time. It's a time that people could use to, you know, go outside for a walk, go to the gym, do something else with their lives, and that those other activities will convert in them being more rested, more happy, more committed and focused on the work at the time of work, rather than rushed and stressed through, you know, committing process or whatnot.

P: This makes it seem like remote work will necessarily bring a better work-life balance, and I guess there is some truth to that, but people who criticize remote work also say it's a bit isolating, or people are just staying at home, not interacting with others. This can increase, I don't know, depression or lack of engagement sometimes. So what do you think? Do you think there's some truth to that and how can we mitigate this effect?

L: That's a very good point. Thank you for bringing this up. My personal experience, and a couple of friends that we have been experimenting with in terms of remote working confirm my experience, which is working remotely should not be working from home. There should be a clear division between your private life and your work life, and if you don't have that... what happened to me is, you know I had a lunch break, I would go and start doing my home chores you know, do the laundry or whatnot. And initially it felt very innocent, but over days and weeks and months it started building up in me a certain pressure and a feeling of never being out of work, never being out of home. So I started going out to Costa Cafes and Starbucks and so on with just noise cancellation headphones, and I suddenly became more happy and improved my work-life balance. The clear division between work and life has been brought back into my life. And it's not something that people see these days. I mean, even if you look at the regulation that just came in in Poland where the government says companies should pay people for electricity bills because they work from home. But that's a narrative, I don't question that, whether they should or not, but the narrative that they are at home and that we should incentivize them. Working from home is not something which, in my opinion and in my experience, has been the right thing to do. And now, with all sort of different coworking locations across the globe, whether you buy a subscription for WeWork or anything else, there's plenty of spaces where you can go and work from, you know? I mean, with modern internet, you can even sit in a park, right? Who cares? As long as you're having your quiet time, your headphones, whatever your setup is, right, and there's no distractions from other people around you or sounds or kids playing, whatnot. That makes perfect sense to try.

P: Funny enough, when I had my let's say, my only serious experience as an entrepreneur, by accident, it was also a remote company, like fully remote, and it wasn't even tech-based. It's basically a book publishing company and my business partner was 700 kilometers away and we didn't even think about the fact that it was remote or not. We just decided to do it together and found ways to make it work, and it did, and it's still going strong.

L: Fantastic.

P: Yeah, it's not just for tech companies. It's just about wanting to make it work, right?

L: This is so great. Did you have any particular techniques that you used to manage communication and knowledge exchange between you and your colleague?

P: You know, in Brazil, like 99% of the population [correction: 99% of smartphone users] has WhatsApp, and that's the main tool we use to communicate anyway with our families, with our friends, and in work as well. So the basis of our communication was always, you know, just using WhatsApp and email, doing some meetings whenever we needed, and just setting tasks for each other and trusting that each of us will do their parts, and then coming back and just touching base every once in a while, using these asynchronous ways of communicating, through WhatsApp, and just working together on, you know, cloud-based tools like Google Drive and, yeah, slowly building up from there.

L: Fantastic. When you say WhatsApp, you mean like text messaging, not calling, right? So fully asynchronous.

P: Exacly. It's funny, I used to say that I was talking more with him on WhatsApp than with any other person like my family or my wife or anything. Just all the time talking, because if we were in the same place, we would be having a conversation like we are having here, but when you have interactions based on text messages, it's not that you are all the time interacting, but it's like... throughout the day. It's like small interactions, you know, punctuating the day.

L: Exactly, that has been also my experience. And do you feel that, because it had to be in a text form, you would have to be more precise than in a conversation or on a call?

P: That's interesting. I did improve my abilities of being succinct and clear in communicating, because when you're just writing, you don't have the tone. You need to be very transparent in what you're communicating, be very clear, and I guess this really helped us be efficient and, luckily, this business partner also had this practice of being very clear in his communication. It wasn't something we decided together, it was just, you know, when we noticed that we were a good match to create this business together, it naturally showed that this style of communication worked for us. So we just kept it and we're still doing it now that I'm, you know, I don't know how many thousands of kilometers away and five hours away in the time zone, our business still exists and we still interact in this way, and it still works.

L: Super, so there's a massive impact if the time zones are spread five hours apart?

P: It does make it, let's say, more asynchronous than it was before, when we were in the same time zone. But it's nothing that planning can't fix, right? When we have to have a meeting, I just say "hey, it has to be in the afternoon in Brazil, because that's night time here and, you know, after my normal working hours" and we can always go around that. So, during the day, when I'm not available for a meeting, he's doing other things, and the same for me, you know.

L: My experience has been that anything above and below three hours is too much for us. In 20+, 30+ people teams like we used to have in the companies in the past, what would happen is that individuals would derail meetings because the remaining 29 people couldn't align with a single person and they would always be so asynchronous that they wouldn't, for example, show up for a daily stand-up or something, and that didn't work. We experienced some failure there and some learnings, so I'm really curious to hear about the five hours difference working so well for you.

P: I definitely feel like it requires you to be extra organized and plan properly, and it's not for everybody, that's for sure. When we started growing and we had another person working with us, I could definitely feel this difference because if the other person wasn't as, let's say... she maybe felt the need to have a more constant communication, or maybe the person is more anxious and expects the answers to come quicker. This could create some friction or some tension and also even just the idea of working remotely. The person has to come to the project prepared for that and knowing themselves. If they need this human interaction all the time, more than the asynchronous communications allow, maybe they should look for some hybrid model, or at least deal with the frustration that comes with not being in constant contact all the time.

L: So your colleague and yourself that own the business, you're both founders, right? Do you feel perhaps that the fact that you're both founders and it's your vision and it's your baby, you're going to make it work, versus people who are employed and they will struggle to work asynchronously in the five hours time zone difference? That's the reason why it worked between you and him and why a newcomer like her, right, your first employee, would have that difference in perception on whether this works or not.

P: Yeah, and it's interesting to note that it wasn't that it changed productivity levels. Let's say it's more about the personal satisfaction. I think that maybe the person works very well in this format and with asynchronous communication and, you know, tasks being assigned and delivered. But I could tell, whenever we had a meeting, that there was this human element lacking on her side, and not so much for me and my partner, because we were already used to that and we decided to work this way, right? So maybe this is something I think should be considered, I guess, when the company is fully remote and they are hiring someone. It's not just being capable and a good fit for the role, but also being a good fit for the remote work model, right? How was that experience for you, like, did you ever see maybe some rejection, let's say, from the part of the candidate, when you know "it sounds good, but I'm not sure if remote work is for me".

L: So what we have observed is that candidate, as a coder, right, they have seniority, but they also have what we call maturity. And, more frequently than not, someone who could be a really senior coder, if they were not mature as a person, they wouldn't be, you know, able to own their time and probably plan their day. They would fail at this, they wouldn't be great work remotely. They would need this constant... I don't want to say supervision, but some sort of attention and exchange. And this seniority level, we have noticed that the more junior people were with their code base, the more that attention in the maturity level they also needed, if that makes sense. So, in other words, statistically, we would have way better success hiring people who already knew how to code pretty well and we just had to talk, you know, show them how our project works and where things are, and they could work quite independently, versus more junior people that needed constant attention and that was hard to synchronize sometimes.

L: I mean we, we found a solution for what we call a "mentorship program". So a newcomer receives a mentor and then, only when the mentor and the newcomer mutually decide they're ready to let it go, they work more independently. But before that it was not so great with, you know, staff that was not senior or at least regular level in coding. I would say three, four plus years of experience that was working. Anything below that, yeah, posed a real challenge.

P: As I mentioned, I feel like it's a great model of work being remote – or especially, in my opinion, being able to go hybrid, have some kind of combination of in-person and remote. To me personally that's the best, but it's not for everyone, right, and there are some pitfalls. So what do you think are the major pitfalls to be aware of and consider before making a decision to start working fully remote.

L: For me, probably number one is a common understanding of the term and the rules in the organization. Because you know, as the world embraced the possibility of working remotely, various different individuals have a bit of a different interpretation of what it means. We mentioned it here, right? From home, or from somewhere else, right? For me, remote means not from home. For some people, it literally means from home, and it's a massive advantage for them. It would not work for me, I experienced that, I understand for someone else who is different, it could actually be very beneficial. Also, times zone differences, right? I realize you said that a five hours difference worked for you. I noted for us, above or below three hours was too much. Other things are, if people try to literally copy and embed their offline or office culture into into remote, you know. Some of the more ridiculous examples include snapshotting people's desktop and sending that to their managers so they can check if their working really, right, it was Unbelievable. I've seen that in some bigger organizations which I'm not gonna mention here. And on top of that, there are people who, probably character-wise, need that other person or group of people around them, and they might be able to do it one or two days a week, but for the remaining two or three days of the week, they still need their colleagues around them to be productive and to be focused and to feel part of the group and community that they're a part of. So, certainly there are businesses like factories and, you know, actual production and mining and whatnot, where remote is not even a possibility. But even coming back to office or technology companies, I still think that it should be done on a team by team basis, you know. So we see how each individual, each specific team, is coping with it. And, you know, my only experience has been building those organizations as remote-first from the beginning. So we, while we had some sort of hybrid situation with, let's say, the sales team or marketing team being on site, all the product, all the design, all the marketing for the product, and all the developers were always remote. So that's my only and primary experience. I don't know how would that look like if we were in the office and then we would be asked to actually work remotely. Maybe that would be, yeah, harder to do.

P: Yeah, yeah, and I totally agree that it's all about expectations and communicating clearly how it works in each particular organization. And I don't know if you agree, but from my observations I see that, let's say, 90% of problems in organizations boil down to poor communication.

L: That's right. I have a similar experience, and that is independent whether you're remote or not, right? If something is not being said in the office or it's not being sent in an email or slack message or whatever, Microsoft Teams, it doesn't matter. If the message is not conveyed and the other side doesn't have a chance to understand that message – or if it's poorly conveyed, that's another thing – then it doesn't really matter, right? But with remoteness, I think extra attention is put into being very precise in the conversation, right? Yeah, basically transferring your expectations.

P: You know, it makes me think that it's actually a good practice from remote work that could be very helpful in, let's say, in-office interactions. Like, pretend like the person is remote and be clear in your communication, be straight to the point in what you need and what you expect.

L: However – and this, you know, personally, I would love that – but in my experience this is also a culture thing. In various cultures you have a different level of mannerisms, right, where people would acquire, you know, various different levels of chit chat before a conversation, before you can go to business, versus some cultures which are straight to the point, "just do that and dot, I'm expecting results", right? I'm more on that side, yeah, on the precision direct, "I want that" and if it's time for work is time for work, if we want to have chit-chat there are designated areas in the calendar for that, or you can just meet for an "e-coffee" over zoom. But I can see how it could be challenging for various different cultures or organizations which are tremendously multicultural. We have seen that as well.

P: Okay, one thing that you mentioned that I think it's interesting is this idea of team building. How was your experience doing team building activities remotely?

L: We tried and we we keep going with two types of activities. So we have a weekly or multiple times a week meetings which are not about work, you know, some of our Kaizen meetings where people can come up with ideas for either improving work processes or just sharing the experience of, you know, enjoying their hobby to the rest of the group, so people can look at them from a different perspective. You know, there is a group for people who like to play chess online or any some sort of other game, or discuss and play "Guess who" games and whatnot,. But also once every six weeks or two, three months, once a quarter, we would have a get-together meeting, per team, not as a whole company. As a whole company, we tried once a year a retreat somewhere in a nice location like Athens or Lisbon or whatnot, and that has been great, you know. We did NPS surveys and measured the satisfaction of employees and a sense of commitment and belonging in the group, in the company, and we had very high rates for that. And also HR could show us the statistics of churn being very small, so people were not really, you know, leaving the company – and when they were, it was not because we were remote, they actually enjoyed it a lot. I believe there is a certain level of freedom and trust in the remoteness that you give to individuals who are able to recognize that there is value in it, that you treat them as grown-ups, and that you don't tend to control them, and then they actually appreciate and respect it and give back their best to also prove that on their side it works.

P: Yeah, yeah, that's interesting. It's like any relationship it's two sides right, it's a two-way street. If you don't give trust, you can't expect to get trust back.

L: Exactly. Yeah, I totally agree.

P: And what you mentioned there about having these opportunities for people to connect and work colleagues to be able to interact and the conversation not be about work, be about them knowing each other a little better. This for me, from my experience as a remote worker, made all the difference, because I could see how different it was during online meetings. This feeling of you know, "I actually know this person. It's not just a face on the screen, right, it's someone I know, I know what they're like, we have the same musical taste, or we have the same hobby or whatever". It makes a stronger connection and this connection stays after you go back to being fully remote, right? It's a nice way to keep it sustainable.

L: Yeah, it's a fantastic experience as well. As you mentioned, the connection on a human level actually, in my opinion, grows stronger because there's a lot of superficial activities in the office, like people going for drinks after work, but it doesn't suit everyone on that day of the week. Also, since there's a commuting aspect which means people then after the pub or wherever they have to go home and they have to plan for that, which means maybe they will not stay for that long. Also, online meetings you can do around 3pm, for one hour or 45 minutes. You have off-work topics meetings where people just enjoy each other's company rather than everyone is rushing back to their thoughts and lives after 5.30pm in a meeting in the pub. So yeah, there's certainly a benefit there and focus on being present in the moment versus like okay, 5:30pm, some parents have to run to pick up their kids from kindergarten and other locations, other guys are going to the gym... It's very hard to coordinate that, but remotely, you can just say "hey, here at between 3 and 4pm we do 45 minutes of that team activity once a week, or once every second week, where we all pop in and, I don't know, play some chess or tell stories about our last holidays". It could actually create stronger bonds, I agree.

P: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, but you know we went through most, if not all of the questions, and I guess there's just one final which is, you know, some tips and recommendations, and I understand you have some.

L: When it comes to tips, I think what there's one thing only, which is: don't be afraid to experiment, okay? Because we have certain habits and we have a certain imagination of how this should look like, right, from the past, from working in the office, and the fact is that there's no one-to-one translation between office and remote work. It just shouldn't be like that, and people should not try to mimic the office. So experiment, try things for a month and then either go back or, as a team, agree that "hey, this worked really great", right? And with that attitude, you're going to arrive at your own perfect recipe for working remotely.

P: Cool, amazing. Yeah, I guess what I would like to ask also is if you have any recommendations for books, like, was there some book that inspired you or some other material that you think is worth sharing with our listeners.?

L: Yeah, funnily enough, back in 2014, as I mentioned, it used to be the era of Ruby on Rails being a very popular tech stack, and David Heinemeier Hansson, who created this tech stack, the author, he has his company, you know, 37 Signals, now called Basecamp actually, and they have released a book called Remote, and it was very controversial at that time. I mean, they have a lot of really controversial statements there, with some of them I'm also not fully understanding or agreeing with, but overall, I thought it was very eye-opening to this possibility. And in fact, I used that book to convince, in our first companies, our management, our business people, to try that for a half a year, for a year, and then, after this day, we never looked back. We just, you know, continued that way.

P: Cool! So, it works.

L: It works, yes. I have no doubts that it can work.

P: Yeah, I guess that's it for my end, Łukasz. Thank you for the nice conversation.

L: Thank you, Pedro, it's been amazing.

L: Thank you for tuning in to the Dev is in the Details Podcast. Stay tuned for our next conversations about tech leadership, AI and startup culture. See you next time!

Remote work
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ROI Calculator – IT Staff Augmentation vs. Hiring


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