One of the best things that came out of Covid-19 pandemic is that our company has decided to work from home (work remotely), permanently. Before the whole ordeal of Covid-19, we have been practising 2 days per week work from home (WFH), so we have got a head start on this. The last 1.5 month of MCO (movement control order) or lockdown in the three cities that we operate in is just the final acid test on whether we could go permanent work remotely (PWR).
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As a measure to stretch the runway of our startup, we have found all ways to reduce our monthly expenses, including a company-wide pay cut. After rounds of discussion between my co-founder and I, we have decided to cut the office instead of an additional 13% pay cut in order to maintain the office. The expenses involved are office and co-working space rental, utilities, internet services, courier services, office cleaning and upkeep.
Going officeless is a bold move as most people that have visited our office previously was challenging the effectiveness of working from home, even when we were just doing 2 days per week. Some of the questions and my answers are:
Q: How do you know if they are working?
A: This is one of the most common questions I get. I pointed to one of my colleagues sitting 10 feet from where we stand. He sits in front of his laptop with his ear plugs on and I asked my visitor if he can tell if my colleague is working. I admitted to him that I couldn't. The first thing I tried to decoupled is the measurement of productivity and the sense of monitoring with the close proximity within the office. I admitted that we are still working on having a scorecard (or KPI) for every Candyholic, what we call ourselves in SalesCandy, but I don't think that having them reporting in the office is a good solution. In fact, having not being able to see them will force us to really measure their productivity or at least start putting more focus to come up with better measuring mechanisms. This thought was reaffirmed in a book written by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, who are partners in Basecamp, a global tech company. The name of the book is Remote: Office Not Required.
Q: Can they start and end work at any time?
A: At the moment, we practice permanent work remotely with synchronous collaboration. It means that we still expect one another to clock in to work not later than 10am local time every day and work 40 honest hours per week, from anywhere. During working hours, we expect all Candyholics to be reachable via phone call and instant messaging (slower response time). Some time in the future, maybe we can "graduate" into PWR with asynchronous collaboration, where all of us can work from anywhere at anytime, as long as we churn in 40 honest hours.
Q: How do you onboard new team member?
A: We have planned for some work-together sessions if we were to onboard a newcomer. Eventually, when the budget allows, I think a small 1-week retreat to a local resort to onboard newcomers will be amazing!
Before the decision is made, we did a company-wide survey among 33 Candyholics and I was surprised to find out that two of us actually commute 6 hours per day to-and-fro work, which is almost as much as the working hours! We also found out that all Candyholics think that they themselves and their teams are either equally or more productive, in both quantity and quality of works, when working from home in the past 30 days.
When I went to the office yesterday to arrange the disposal of some assets before handing over the office back to the landlord, I found that I don't miss much of the commute and the office. However, I do miss the face-to-face time with my team and it is something that we have allocated budget and resources to make sure that we will have enough face time, both virtually and in-person, through coordinated and sponsored company events.
Going PWR also forced us to look at what other processes that we need to reduce or simplify. We have managed to push our company secretary to adopt electronic signatures for all the company resolutions and to reduce the need of printing and scanning of documents. We also have less access (keys, access cards, etc) and assets to track after going office-less.
We do see that this move may not be suitable for every team, especially for teams and the management that have not really mastered what accountability is. However, we do see that transiting to PWR and getting good at it will give us an unfair advantage in terms of attracting and retaining talents, scaling regionally and globally and having a clearer focus on productivity.
I believe that working remotely will be the future of working and the transition has been slow even though the technology is available. Covid-19 has sped up the transition. I have always believed that in order for us to be ahead of the other players, we may need to take moves that others may not or can not take.
p/s: Another good thing that came out of Covid-19 is the acceleration of wide adoption of conference calls (Zoom meetings, Google Meet, etc), especially making it a norm for businesses in Southeast Asia.
Updated on June 21, 2020: This piece was picked up by BFM, the leading business station in Malaysia, and here is the podcast version with Audrey Raj. We have also followed up with our clients on the service level and the survey results show that all of our clients believe that the service level, in terms of response time and response quality, is either on par or better than before the PWR.