Disclosure: This article is based in our personal time throughout Startups Galaxy journey and is in no way inclusive of startups or companies in Egypt. It is not based on a study although that would be very interesting to do.
Remote working increased in popularity a couple of years back. It was the next level of employment and it was in media outlets like here and here. In fact, it got so popular, that platforms were created to find work at remote companies around the world. Remotive.io lists over 2,000+ companies hiring right now remotely right now.
It is probably not a popular opinion to have right now with this article, and maybe this will change in the future back to remote. We don’t know and right now the best is an office. Let me outline what we did and how we’re evolving!
Remote Work Vs. Remote Companies
There is a difference between being outsourced from a company in a different country and fully remote companies. Remote work could mean a mix between having some remote employees and other employees in offices around the world. They can be remote 1% to 99%, yet they have an office. Remote companies on the other hand, are those that have no office and are 100% remote.
Two notable mentions of remote companies are Zapier and Gitlab, who promote “work from anywhere.” (You can check the Zapier Careers page here, and Gitlab here.) It’s awesome! “Work from anywhere!” “All you need is internet access!” A third sibling is “work from home” and here’s a good article talking about the difference.
It sounded great. Why not? Let’s do a 100% remote team!
It sounded great. Why not? Let’s do a 100% remote team!
I thought that’s awesome; read a lot about how to do it and we started off Startups Galaxy as a remote team. Even when I wrote a previous article about meeting team members, I included how it was working out in the beginning. We started off 100% remote. It was good for some time.
Startups Galaxy’s Remote Team Organization
This is how it was structured for the initial team and we worked this way for months:
1. A “Core Team” Trello board: an agile system of working whereby each of us has our cards and we follow each other’s progress. It’s great for remote teams to know what everyone is up to. Complete 100% transparency between us. When it comes to progress, issues, and everything. We can comment, ask and pitch in ideas to each others progress. There were other Trello boards too but this was the main one.
2. Slack for communication: we used Slack to communicate. We previously had WhatsApp groups.
>> Tip: avoid working through WhatsApp. Avoid avoid. I see a lot of startups work through WhatsApp groups. Could be a whole article in itself on why not to do that. Slack provides a free plan forever. They just removed it from their website, sign up on Slack.
3. Quarter outings: we went out every couple of months together to see each other and connect on things beyond work. What were each other’s interests? Hobbies?
4. One-on-ones: We have a check in in person talking about bigger picture things throughout the months that passed and what we want to learn, the courses we can take to support us and any major issues we have. We use calendly sometimes. (Yup! Free too.)
5. Strict weekly call: the weekly call with everyone for 30 minutes each week for all to discuss what we did last week, what we will do last week, any issues faced, and anything else to add.
There were other strategies, a lot adopted from other companies and success stories. The above 4 points are the main ones and we did that for a good time. Since some of us also worked part-time, it made sense too.
I cannot deny it worked for sometime. It was flexible, and it was also built on trust. It felt good to know everyone knows their responsibilities and tasks. We never faced any major issues and everything was simple. It needed a lot of discipline to do that. The weekly call is at 1 PM which means we must always start then. We cannot start at 1:10, 1:15. The Trello board is heavily utilized. Heck, I’ve become Trello Gold because of the invites! The free power-ups received helped us make it a more powerful board. Again, not paying for Trello either. Remote work saved a lot of money too. No office cost meant we can spend on different things.
Here’s why despite doing great work through our remote policy, we’re changing it this year.
1. Connectivity Falls
Sometimes the internet and connection in Egypt fails you. Yes, we can all call each other through phones, but screen-sharing can be a disaster sometimes. Cut offs, “I can’t hear you can you hear me?” takes up your call time. Meeting physically can’t happen on-spot so sometimes you have to make calls. Sometimes you can have the weekly phone call, and someone loses connection. I’m not saying this happens every week, but when you look at the big picture and zoom out, we’re talking about 20-30% of the conversations, we faced an issue.
2. Speed Slows
Remote work is great when you are able to have the right speed for your team. Unfortunately for us, it made us slightly slower than what we can potentially do. Remote work means a lot of what you do has to be shown visibly and clearly. You have to say exactly what you have completed so that the rest can follow through. You can’t go pop up next to someone and give them a thumbs up and tell them, “done!”
3. Creativity Breaks
This happens for 2 reasons:
First, sharing ideas through Slack is not the same as passionately saying them in person. Yes, caps lock can be great when you during brainstorm and you slap one, “@channel CHECK THIS OUT!!!!” Imagine hearing this in person, totally different outlook, passion and expression of your idea. When you’re writing, you tend to summarize more than when you talk. Sometimes, good ideas can fall, just because certain people couldn’t type in all the ideas in full. I personally felt like the ideas were toned down in Slack compared to when I heard the same idea in person.
Second, when sharing an idea, a lot of links are posted. “Check this out,” and “what I’m trying to say is that we can have this idea in project x and we can adapt this part here and make it look here.” “What do you mean by here?” “Which part?” What happens is that idea sharing and brainstorming breaks. When it’s face-to-face we can work on each others’ idea quicker and we can build up on smaller tangents that people mention.
4. Miscommunication Happens
None of us have English as our mother tongue, yet 80% of our communication that is written was in English. When we have our calls, we talk in Arabic. When you’re on Slack, sometimes it’s a mix. Sometimes, it just happens that we say, “Oh! I thought you meant this,” and then there’s a MisComMuNiCatIon.
This year, in 2020 we decided to shift to an in-site team. At any point, the Startups Galaxy team could reach 26+ people working on our different projects. We could save the time spent on transportation to meetings to an actual location. Again, it’s going to cost the same to transport yourself for one hour or for eight, you’re still going and returning.
At this point, I’d thank Kamelizer for providing us with a space. It truly had a huge impact on us, on our speed and definitely on our team. We share more ideas, spend time having lunch or just having a walk together. Important meetings happen much faster than sending a scheduler, and we share knowledge across the different startups that share the office. We are learning so much from the environment around us. Especially since we are a platform for startups, being located at The Greek Campus means we are meeting more startups, getting to know a lot of people in the ecosystem and having meetings easily done with anyone. The Greek Campus has provided us with a lot of support.
We are still transitioning and there are some downsides to in-site teams. No one office strategy is perfect and definitely a mix of both is the optimum scenario. For us, it meant moving away from being remote and “moving in.”