Here’s What 4 Austin Leaders Have Learned Since Transitioning to a Remote Work Environment

December 15, 2020
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Last year, approximately 54 percent of U.S. workers worked from home at least once a month and 48 percent at least once a week, according to a survey conducted by Owl Labs.

However, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the number of U.S. workers currently working from home full time has increased to almost 70 percent.

The number of U.S. workers permanently working from home is expected to increase even more as leaders continue to realize the benefits of a remote workforce. For example, Shipwell CEO and Co-Founder Greg Price said that before the pandemic began, he didn’t think a remote work environment would be beneficial to the work and culture of a fast-paced logistics company. However, since making the transition to fully remote, the company and employees are thriving — so much so that Shipwell is now a remote-forward company. 

Shipwell isn’t the only company whose notions of remote work have changed. Built In Austin caught up with three more leaders across the city to learn what preconceived notions they had about remote work and how their opinions have changed since making the transition. 

 

AZ Moyer
Head of Finance and Operations

Proof is a marketing technology and software company that helps brands increase conversions through personal interactions. AZ Moyer, head of finance and operations, said that employees at Proof use Zoom and Slack to stay connected while working remotely and even play fun games like Drawful and Water Cooler Trivia.  

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

Prior to COVID-19, we hardly considered remote work. We thought it was exciting and could potentially attract new talent, but as a startup, we wanted everyone in our new downtown Austin office. That way, we could collaborate better and develop friendships with each other while we were building our new company culture. A preconceived notion we had was that if we go remote, then we’d lack a solid company culture and miss out on becoming good friends with each other. 

Initially, we thought the WFH life would only be temporary and last a month, max. Once reports started coming out, showing the global pandemic that we were now a part of, we knew we’d be remote for the foreseeable future with no plans of returning to the office. 

Being a software company, we were already set up quite nicely for remote work — we already used Zoom and Slack, so our daily meetings could be switched online easily and we only enhanced our Slack skills (primarily in developing emojis of each other’s faces). But still, it was going to be a wild shift and one we did not want for our company. 
 

Something I learned this year is that you have to be intentional as a company to retain good people and the culture.”


How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

My opinion has shifted incredibly since the start of fully remote work. Now, our team can work wherever they want, as long as they are getting their work done and are on our daily syncs. So many fun ways to collaborate or bond with coworkers came out of COVID-19. Games like Drawful, Water Cooler Trivia and even online poker replaced some of our all-hands meetings and were our way to stay connected while we were apart. 

Something I learned this year is that you have to be intentional as a company to retain good people and the culture. This means, first and foremost, to relate and understand that everyone is going through a lot right now. Work is important, but first we must take care of ourselves before we can perform our job well. Commit to reaching out to coworkers to check on them personally. Be there for one another during the crisis we are in and the unknowns that lay in front of us. I’ve seen that remote work can be done successfully and you can still maintain a good company culture, but you have to be intentional with what you do as a company. 

The future of Proof will likely be remote. We’d love to stay as close as we can to continue becoming good friends, but we know where the world is going and that’s remote. We’ve learned valuable lessons this year on how to do that well and will continue iterating until we find what works best for us.

 

Vivek Bhaskaran
Founder & CEO

QuestionPro is a global provider of research, experience and survey platforms. Founder and CEO Vivek Bhaskaran said that QuestionPro was used to the complexity of a geographically diverse workforce. However, he is impressed with how well his team members have done with the transition to a fully remote environment. 

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

I would say that as a founder, I was probably more open than most to the idea of a fully-remote workforce. I founded the company in Seattle, relocated to the Bay Area and then again to Austin last year. Along the way, we’ve had some team members remain in those locations and found a way to make it work. We also have offices in five other countries, so we are used to the complexity of a geographically diverse workforce. I’ve always said I don’t care where a person is as long as they get their job done. 

The one thing I will say, however, is how well our team members globally adapted to remote work, but in particular those in India and Mexico where there were infrastructure challenges. I really did not, prior to COVID-19, think that our team members could function remotely as well as they have — clearly, I was wrong in that assumption.
 

We’ve embraced the challenge and found a way to not just survive but thrive in the new normal.”


How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

We’ve embraced the challenge and found a way to not just survive but thrive in the new normal. For us, it’s no longer just work from home, but rather work from anywhere. I believe in empowering the workforce to find the right solution that allows them to be productive, engaged and always taking care of the customer. If that means I need a small office in India? Done. If our chief operating officer wants to work from home? Done. Technology gives us the capability to work remotely — we give our employees the freedom to do it.

It also has opened my eyes to innovative ways to connect, from remote hiring to virtual wine tasting with customers and playing trivia during weekly town hall meetings!

 

Smarter Sorting uses machine learning technology to enable cost-effective, compliant decisions for all unsold products, advancing partners’ zero-waste goals. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Co-Founder Charlie Vallely didn’t think the work at Smarter Sorting would be possible in a remote setting. However, his team members and employees have adapted well and he believes they’ve all gained a sense of resilience.

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

If I were to have answered this question prior to the global pandemic, my answer would be that I had preconceived notions that large corporations would struggle to work remotely, certain things simply wouldn’t get done (e.g. “This sales meeting HAS to be in-person”), and that some members of our team wouldn’t like remote work because their work processes are so rooted in human energy and the smell of whiteboard markers.

But those would be preconceived notions based on the assumption that we’d have a choice and a strategy around remote work, not a global pandemic forcing everyone to change their reality (provided you're lucky enough for “remote work” to be a thing).

A pandemic sure made it easy for people you didn’t expect to be on Zoom to suddenly live on it.
 

We’ve gained resilience and I’m hopeful that’s what will have the deepest impact.”


How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

I didn’t previously have opinions about remote work that accounted for a global pandemic, but I think our team has transitioned to full-time remote work quite well. We’ve found new ways to work, generate mojo, communicate with customers, circle around the water cooler, think, build and stay sane. I’m very proud of how we’ve transitioned and grateful for it. I definitely think we’ve trained the remote-work muscle in ways we wouldn’t have done so otherwise and that’ll stick with us going forward.

What I do know is that the exercise of being forced to change so rapidly — and coming together, being decisive and creative to make it happen — have made us much, much stronger. We’ve gained resilience and I’m hopeful that's what will have the deepest impact.

But I do miss the smell of whiteboard markers.

 

Greg Price
Co-Founder & CEO

Logistics company Shipwell replaces opaque and manual shipping processes with a tech-enabled, fully-connected logistics system. CEO and Co-Founder Greg Price said that he was apprehensive about remote work at the onset of the pandemic. However, since making the transition, Price said Shipwell is thriving and now a remote-forward company.  

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

When I started Shipwell in 2016, many technology businesses were still completely in the office, and a few — for example, Zapier and InVision — were completely remote and wrote quite a few blog posts and articles on how to make that work. At Shipwell, we wanted an environment that was flexible, but in-person, and wanted to build a strong execution culture early on. We always had remote work but it was more of an exception rather than the norm. I felt that it was better to be in the office due to the speed at which we were moving and the culture that we were trying to build. 

 

How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

On March 6, we planned on doing a test to have everyone work from home. This became a permanent work environment as we haven’t been back to the office since. Largely, we were unaffected by the transition, but it did mean we had to change many of our business’ processes. 

We opened up hiring to every state, which means we needed to redo budgets and get even more data to help with compensation and benefits to stay competitive. We had to talk about performance management in a remote environment and set our managers up to successfully manage their teams remotely. We also discussed how to best set up a home office, put boundaries on our workday, and make sure all of our team had what they needed to be successful working from home. 
 

Being intentional, goal-oriented and over-communicative is important for a remote work environment.”


Our people operations team helped onboard new Shipwellians remotely through Zoom calls, recorded videos, shipping equipment and making sure that they connect with the larger organization. Culturally, we have gotten creative with virtual events and team bonding — and it’s working! We made sure that we are having all-hands meetings every two weeks to keep everyone apprised of what was happening at Shipwell. Communication is even more important when the whole team is working remotely. Being intentional, goal-oriented and over-communicative is important for a remote work environment. 

We are thriving during this time of working remotely and we have told our team we are now a remote-forward company! We’ve given employees the opportunity to work remotely not only now, but in the long term if that best suits their productivity. Whenever we do reopen our office doors, it will be an option for local employees to return if they choose, but we also have employees in over half of the states in the U.S. since going remote. 

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