July 13th, 2020
Adopting a Remote-first Approach at Rasa
You probably thought this is another one of those articles about the best tools to use while working remotely or how to be productive without losing your mind. I promise this is not that kind of a blog post. This post is about how we at Rasa decided to go beyond just remote-friendly to a fully remote-first mindset.
By now, everyone has read multiple articles on how companies are transforming to remote work, how working from home actually boosts productivity- not to mention the many articles on techniques to improve the work from home experience. The COVID-19 outbreak and sudden change in reality has made us all wonder- what's the future of work and how can we adapt our work style to these new circumstances?
Taking the next step, from remote-friendly to remote-first
I must admit-since the coronavirus pandemic began, I am one of those people who attended a dozen webinars about remote work and read 20 articles on how to structure your day so I would not end up wearing my pyjamas and working from bed. Up until now my understanding of how to successfully master the art of remote work was limited to taking my computer back home from the office and deciding not to commute the next day. Actually, this is what remote-friendly at Rasa meant to me: that I have the choice to work from home, but most of my work still happened in the office. I didn't yet see how I could use this flexibility to its full potential.
I was definitely aware of the remote-friendly advantages at Rasa when I joined exactly one year ago. It was great to know I could visit my family back in Lithuania without hitting pause on my work. My results are what matters the most, not the place where I sit. Nevertheless, I knew that if I work from Lithuania for a month, I might miss important social opportunities, like meeting new employees on their first day or getting together with my colleagues at the Berlin office to cook dinner. But, even though this remote-friendly mindset was the default a year ago, the truth was we actually only had one person who wasn't living and working in the Berlin office full time.
That was around the time we started to hire more people who would work completely remotely or join the growing San Francisco office. Despite the increased number of remote employees, telecommunication was still centered around the Berlin office-remote employees would be dialing into calls where the majority of their colleagues would be sitting in the same room. This naturally created troubles hearing others or-even more important-being properly heard as a remote employee.
One year after we hired the first person to work outside the Berlin office, we now have multiple colleagues living and working at Rasa from all over the United States and Europe. As unexpected as it might sound, onboarding new employees via Zoom, coordinating meeting times across different time zones, and Remote Lunch meetings became unremarkable, everyday things.
We definitely appreciate flexibility at Rasa-even before the pandemic we always emphasized the quality of our output over enforcing a rigid schedule. I've seen co-workers come into the Berlin office at 9 a.m. or 11 a.m., and I've also seen a desk sit empty for a week only to realize the owner of that desk was actually working from Australia. None of these things raised an eyebrow... But soon, we found ourselves re-evaluating whether these flexible work policies actually went far enough.
Why we decided to make the change and go remote-first
Why now? I would be lying if I said the coronavirus pandemic didn't make us think about the pros and cons of remote work, well, almost everyday. Every video call or friendly chat would start with a conversation about how work routines have changed or tips & tricks for structuring your day while working from home. Rasa is definitely not the first company to make the change to fully-remote right now, alongside Shopify, Quora, Twitter, Facebook, and Google.
I'd say we already had a decent understanding of remote-friendly culture, and asynchronous communication was part of our daily routine, so the step towards a remote-first mindset didn't seem so scary. Even so, overnight the entire company found themselves working from home. This presented several logistical challenges: setting up home offices, balancing work with family and childcare, and maintaining social ties without meeting coworkers face-to-face. We had to rethink every aspect of office operations, from adjusting communication styles to moving our company offsite (usually an in-person event held in Berlin) fully online. But, our first few weeks as a remote company actually showed us that we can achieve amazing things, completely independently from our physical workspace. Instead of going back to our old ways of doing things when the pandemic subsided, we decided to carry the positive changes forward.
One advantage of the remote-first mindset is the opportunity to break the invisible barriers between "us" (those working in the physical office) and "them" (those distributed around the world). Collectively, we are all working toward mutual goals at Rasa. Remote-first means there is no disadvantage to working at home versus in the office.
Indeed, going forward we have to stop thinking about the office(s) as the centre of our work and social life at Rasa. This is not as hard as it may seem-even though we are located in different time zones, we gather for yoga, game nights, book club meetings and even our team offsite! At one of our very first remote-only All-Hands meetings, I finally saw all Rasa employees joining the call from home, and the sight of my screen filled with small videos of everyone made me realise that there are so many of us in many different places! That gave me a strong feeling of... togetherness. Importantly, I have never had this feeling while attending All-Hands from our Berlin office, as I could never see all the participants at the same time.
Being remote-first means creating an inclusive environment, and it allows us to hire the best talent possible-no matter where this talent is located! In addition, if a current Rasa employee wants to move, they can still stay with Rasa.
The pandemic may have sped up the process of going from remote-friendly to remote-first, but the move did not come as a big surprise at Rasa. We already had great processes and communication styles in place, and now, we plan to keep the good learnings from the situation going forward. Going remote-first means changing our mindset and there are still a million lessons for us! Just like I had to learn how my position at Rasa changed, working from home showed me that I can work on many different projects and continue creating those connections between my colleagues online. It was definitely a surprise to find an Office Management team without the office but it did not stop us from caring and helping other Rasa employees smoothly transition to their home offices. I might have stopped managing the physical offices but went into a different role, a role of a Community Manager, where my community is my colleagues.
It is important to us that all employees at Rasa have the same experience. Whether someone is dialing in from Vienna or Detroit, no one should miss out on a work-related conversation or have trouble being heard. We are lucky that we are able to attract the best talent regardless of their location and we will do everything in our power that current Rasa employees could potentially relocate and stay with Rasa.
We are taking brave steps toward making this happen-we are redesigning our offices to reflect our remote-first mindset and we are shifting all our social interactions to virtual events but we understand that real interactions are without a doubt of great value and that's why our bi-annual in-person offsites will become even more important.
We have to be open minded and ready for this change to show what we, as a team working together, can achieve. If not now, then when? I am excited to see this change and where it takes us next as a team.