Back in May 2020, which seems like an eternity ago, Tragic Media was asked to share tech lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Little did many know, that was just the tip of the pandemic iceberg. Since May a lot has changed for businesses everywhere, and Tragic Media has been continuing to roll with the punches.
Shortly before the pandemic went into full force, we shut down our Gaslamp office and transitioned our team to be 100% remote. In September 2020, we decided to make that transition permanent and began to close our office for good. This may not be shocking to many, since we are a software agency and it seems that many tech companies are doing this.
Square and Twitter were early on this trend. In August, Pinterest said it was paying almost $90 million to break its expensive San Francisco license in favor of remote work. And, in October, Microsoft said that employees can work from home indefinitely and even relocate.
Making the Leap
At Tragic Media, we were always a mixed culture. We maintained office space in downtown San Diego and had employees who either lived in other states or split their time between the office and home.
As we scaled over the past 2 years, we have grown to become mostly remote. Our thinking was simple: we want to hire the best people without having to fight the highly-funded startups in San Diego, and a flexible work schedule is valued by our employees.
However, we have had a downtown office since 2012, and we have been in our current space for over 7 years. We value being able to circle up around a conference table, sketch out ideas on a whiteboard, meet with clients, and have (a small) semblance of work-life balance.
So, what was it like going 100% remote?
What We Learned Going 100% Remote
Luckily, we were already set up to run as a mostly remote company. But even for us, the shift from 70% remote to 100% created a lot of hurdles.
Ensure Productivity without Taking Extreme Measures
This is a struggle we have dealt with multiple times at Tragic over the years. We do not want to be overbearing managers, but we also don't want to get ripped off. Being part of the services industry means that our billable hours matter. If team members are not working productively and logging their time, the company suffers. But nobody likes video or keyboard watchers –so how do you find a balance?
For us, it came down to accountability and billing. As long as team members are keeping up with their projects and logging their hours, we are flexible on when they work and how they break up their time.
Furthermore, we found a balance by building add-on software to our management system to provide better insight into productivity of individual team members. This helped us check in during the month, instead of waiting until the end.
Can You Effectively Collaborate with Slack and Google Meet Only?
This is a hurdle that every business is encountering.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools available to help software and design teams collaborate. While we did have some initial frustrations working out the kinks, we found that getting team members a personal whiteboard and encouraging more one-on-one meetings really helped to keep projects moving forward effectively.
For example, we use Figma for UI and UX design. Being able to share a single Figma link (that automatically updates with the latest designs) made quick one-on-one design reviews possible without extra work by the designer or product manager.
You can think of these quick 10 or 15 minute check-ins as the digital equivalent of walking by someone's desk and asking how their project is coming along.
Managing Time Zones and Fluctuating Schedules
Our remote working culture is even more complicated than most because we allow for flexible schedules, and have team members scattered in time zones all across the U.S.
A few obvious problems stem from this, including trying to schedule meetings with several team members and driving towards client deadlines.
Thankfully, we found that clear communication at the beginning can solve a large amount of problems. At Tragic, we empower each team member to understand what they are accountable for – both to clients and internally.
The alternative is forcing everyone to work Pacific Time hours consistently, and we have found that most individuals will go above and beyond to maintain flexibility with their schedules.
We suggest that you empower team members with flexible hours, as long as there are several hours of overlap between the different time zones for meetings.
Providing Good Work/Life Balance for Your Team
Let's be honest. This is still something that we are working on at Tragic.
Work/life balance is a challenge when people are working from home, and we have found that our job is to provide ways for our team to be successful.
For example, tracking team hours allows us to keep an eye on who is being burnt out. We are also all in favor of low administration, so Tragic management encourages team members to speak up about issues or if they need extra time off.
In the future, we hope to offer other perks to ensure our team members are able to find a healthy balance and avoid burnout.
Growing and managing a business is tough. Doing so during the COVID-19 lockdown has proven to be an even bigger challenge, for founders and employees alike. We highly recommend scheduling one-on-ones with team members and remembering to use tools like scheduling emails.
Just because you are working at 8pm does not mean you need to notify your team and interrupt their precious relaxation time.
Having a 100% remote team can have many benefits. For example, you can look at talent across the country and across the world. You can turn those office rent payments into better cash flow for your business, higher salaries, or a little bit of both.
Moreover, remote work can give people the flexibility that they need to fit busy personal lives filled with children, aging parents, education, and more.
At Tragic, we are enjoying going 100% remote although we would like to still find spaces to have in-person whiteboarding sessions and we do want to create a better work/life balance for team members.
What do you think? Are you planning to have your team go 100% remote?