Disclosure : I am the founder of Skystra.com. Everything detailed here happened, exactly as described. The only edits are to names, protecting the privacy of those involved.
As 2020 comes to a close, the biggest shift in the workplace has been the move of so many companies and jobs to the home. This is something we’ve been doing at Skystra for many years. However, it’s never been easy and there are some definite pros and cons to remote working.
I’m going to share how we all work from home, how we started off that way, and the system we built up over the years to give everyone on our team the flexibility to work from home, and also still feel connected to everyone on the team.
The Early Years
Every new business has to start somewhere. We were no different. Ours started in a small apartment, which grew into a co-working space. Not too bad so far, but come to find out, a business that runs 24/7 with customers in over 13 different countries at the time, had a very hard time hiring for the night shift and did not have the cash flow to support an expansive office.
So we hired remotely, in the UK. Our 7th hire was from London, and would help cover the night shift for the team. And this was our first experience at hiring, training and working remotely. We would never actually meet our first UK team member in person until years later.
Rapid Growth and Expansion
And so it went for a few years. We grew, we hired. Hiring from the UK, Australia, USA, Canada, Japan, Singapore and so on. And it was all very efficient for the longest time.
We developed a number of tools to keep everyone working effectively. We made our remote support and administration something that was completely transparent to customers. Customer satisfaction had never been higher, nearing 98% on a monthly basis.
Our own team’s happiness was trending upwards too. Our internal churn rate was less than 2% annually. Everyone we hired, trained and became part of the team, remain part of the team. And that has never changed.
And then came newly reported feelings of isolation, shades of depression, feeling disconnected from the team. And then our key business metrics started going down.
If everything was working fine, why did all this negative feedback happen and lower productivity levels come from?
Particularly, social isolation.
This was a big surprise. We spent a lot of time reading on the subject, consulted with a few experts, and worked on finding the best solution possible given our remote structure and systems.
Isolation is a real issue, and hugely more so given the 2020 pandemic. This was a serious wake up call for us at Skystra. And in a way we were very lucky this happened prior to the pandemic hitting.
The solution involved teams from various departments, including Systems, HR, Management and Operations.
The answer: Create pods of team members. Hire a few people in specific geographic areas, and then expand our systems from there.
Some of the strategies we implemented:
- Get togethers
- Reserve co-working spaces so everyone in the area can work together whenever they want
- Planned group activities
- Hold remote meetings between the pods
The main problem is and always will be security. Keeping our systems secure on other networks, remotely, and with different devices is always a challenge. The well-being of our team is well worth meeting that challenge.
Within the first six months of this new system, along with a wave of new hires to create the pods, we launched a new team survey, and the results were a massive improvement over the purely remote nature we had earlier.
In fact, it’s now better:
- 98.83% of our team members would refer someone to work with us
- 1.63% turnover rate. We are very proud of this stat
- 99.2% customer satisfaction rate. This is our main metric, and a clear reflection of the quality of work this new hybrid working environment gives us the ability to do
We also found this new pod system helps spur creativity a lot more than a purely remote environment. Our “ideas” board has never been so full.
All this to say, this was not a cheap investment. We had to temporarily over-hire to create some pods in specific regions, the cost of the co-working spaces takes a toll, along with the increased resources required to keep everything secure. It was not an easy transition, but one our maturing business needed to make to move onto the next phase of growth.
In a future post, I’ll dig in further into the more granular impact this had on specific teams and the psychology behind these impacts. As with everything, not every team benefitted immediately from this change, just like some others took full advantage of it. This also gave us solid insight into the differences between a remote workforce and a hybrid workforce.
I will be sharing those details soon.
Until then, to every manager and entrepreneur out there, always keep an active eye on your team. They make your company, and you need to be very in-tune to what you hear (and what you don’t hear). It’s critical to your team and business.