It seems that we’re going to remain a remote company for a few more months. We’re super lucky to have been born partially remote from day 1 which many thought was a bad thing (true in the short run but we’re happy to make long run decisions). One conscious choice we did make was to make teams cross-country from day 1. This means that many of us have team members in multiple countries which removes any culture of “us vs them”. Also a slower choice from day 1 but means right now that our productivity can remain high.
YC alums are some of the best run remote businesses (zapier, gitlab) and so YC has a tonne of advice about how to run remote companies well. I’ve written up what I think are some of the most relevant advice for us and what we can action.
I’ve split into 2 sections
- Company habits – as an org what should do
- Personal habits – what you can do
One of the biggest hurdles of a remote company is that it’s harder for information to spread across the company. Fun fact, studies show that the probability of natural interaction drops to virtually 0 at a distance of about 30 metres. Hence, at HQ, we have most people in Level 7 and then have meals at Level 3 to push people into the same space.
In reply the advice for an organisation as a whole is that we all need to over communicate. I was once given advice that I need to repeat myself 7 times before the information has been conveyed.
So what we’re doing as an organisation:
- [monthly] Town Halls – once a month we hold these to look at our performance, explain strategy, and take questions from anyone. Here, we try to over communicate why, how and what over and over. I encourage you to ask questions
- [every 2 weeks] Anonymous box more regularly – we’re providing an anonymous box where you can post questions and we’ll reply to them about every 2 weeks. We want fast responses to concerns, questions or suggestions you have for our future
- [weekly] Come to team meetings (on every Mon/Wed) – we talk about our performance, sales and what we need to win deals
There’s also a tonne of advice about how to action culture remotely. Here are the Xendit values that I’m optimising for in the following sections:
- Customers first – build something people want, all day every day
- Honey badgery – we will work harder than anyone else and always survive what comes against
- Family – we will keep saying thanks, laughing, hanging out, caring, eating shit together
- Default to transparency and create safe psychological space – managers need to lead by modelling behaviour that provides transparency, e.g. post decisions in public slack channels, no question is a dumb question, being vulnerable leaders so others have permission to be too
- Set clear expectations – then hit them. The fastest way to build trust over distance is to create clear goals, share them and hit them
- Set reminders to say thanks
- Include newbies into the fold – some may not have seen any of us F2F
- Use video – I know not always practical given internet speeds but default to video
Written form above all else
- The written form disciplines thought and forces you to be succinct. Most of the benefit of the written form is for the writer to iterate and clarify what they think. My practice: write things down, wait 24 hours and reread with fresh eyes – great way to catch a lot of my stupid logic before I make anyone else the victim of my writing
- Document meetings, decisions (here’s the best one I’ve seen in months). Yes, you can record Google Meets but who actually watches. So document first
- Team hangouts (recommended weekly)
- Increase checkins – ideally once a week with direct reports. As often as once per day depending on style, project, timelines. Some of this time should be dedicated to non work stuff too so we keep connected
- Have everyone in team provide plans at beginning of day and S/B/NS at end of day (can replace ‘day’ with ‘week’)
- Ensure in-depth 1:1s that dig below the surface. Get close. Get deep
- Train team to be explicit about situations where health/emotional state is impacting their work
- The ownership is on each of us to report unobservable impacts on our productivity
- Force an agenda – say it at beginning of meeting and set the goal
- Take notes: your own or have a scribe
- Agree on next steps with deadlines in meeting
- Document decisions, next steps – spread that information around
Force team fun
- Assign social section (beginning of meeting, separate meet, happy hours, joint games)
- Reward unique backgrounds
- Eat lunch together
These are some titbits I (or others) have found useful
Replace commute with some routine
For many of us, the psychological move to work helps us get into the right frame of mind. We can replicate this ourselves. I know we’re all in different situations, but we can definitely create this. For me, I keep my wake-up routine, make breakfast, play with the baby for an hour. Then work begins.
Commuting serves at least one valuable benefit, mental buffer time, and often serves as one of the few periods of personal time we get each day… (Olark)
Nobody knows if you stop showering and brushing your teeth…except for you. If you feel better with freshly conditioned hair, then you’ll work better with freshly conditioned hair. You are now free from the tyranny of doing these things for other people—but maybe you should do them for yourself.
Create dedicated workspace (achieve focus)
Your home life will distract you. This viral video was a great example of how home life can interfere.
https://youtu.be/Mh4f9AYRCZY I know a setup is not always practical but as best as possible, I’d create a dedicated workspace. At minimum, you can change your clothes to work attire, e.g. wear your xendit shirt when you’re at work.
My setup: I have a corner of the living room with my setup against the window. I have my desk, monitor, mouse, notebook, keyboard and mac set up ready for work. I look into the outside (so no distractions when working) and throw on headphones so the family knows when I’m at work.
You have to manage your own time.
I live by my calendar and I probably work longer hours than most people. However, I dedicate outside work hour time to hang with family, eat, exercise etc. I know many of you have come to managers with questions here – agree on output with your manager, figure out how much time you need to achieve those goals and set aside time. Then dedicate time for non work stuff
Forcing the written form is the “smartest thing we ever did” (Jeff Bezos). Learn to write succinctly (unlike this) is a super useful skill. Document your meetings (example from FinOps), document decisions, document everything. Paste those things in public channels where other people can read.
Recently, we made a decision that involved all the senior leadership. I then needed to speak with their relevant direct reports. I ended up writing nearly the same context, update, next steps to 5 different people. But everyone knew where we were in the process and we cancelled one meeting – which meant things even went better than planned.
Social life needed
We’ve heard positive results from coworking virtually, shared group chat rooms, online group fitness classes, scheduling lunches and coffee dates on FaceTime. (Olark)
- Socialise – use our virtual watercooler rooms: random/thanks/general/xendit-change
- Coffee chats – arrange coffee chats with friends
- Join Xendit fun: online yoga, happy hours
There’s a reason solitary confinement is a punishment. Take care of your brain, identify issues early and work to remove triggers and replace with the right things. One note here – your parents don’t have monopoly on being correct. I’ve heard from many of you that they end up being negative triggers. A personal thought, but as adults, parents should treat us like adults and you should fight to preserve your ability to retain good mental health.
- Read, study, pick up a new hobby – my hobby is a newborn
- Be transparent about your mental state with your co-workers or managers. In return, be golden – if someone is down, set up social calls, cheer them up, send funny pics
- Open communication when taking time out of the office for mental health reasons
- Exercise! It produces endorphins and makes you happier. Underrated but it works!
- Take the time to reflect, this is a good time to write a diary or a blog, or to paint or do whatever it is that gets your mental state in a nice peaceful space
- It’s ok to have bad days, tell your friends, tell your colleagues
Want help? Talk to Anzil, Viki (Talent Retention), your manager or me.
Tessa (COO) on this section:
- Exercise 3-4 times a week. Youtube has tons of free stuff, or pay for an App. The $5 a month is worth your health
- Take the time to cook simple meals, salads, veggies, surprisingly it’s not hard!
- Go outside if you have a garden, or go out on your balcony if you are in your apartment. Even Jakarta’s air is going to be very clean so take advantage. Do this in the morning before you start your work day
- To stop binge eating, put on your jeans once in a while and see if it still fits! lol (but also I think important for your general health)
Forgive faster – it’s easier to get terse when confined or when we’re being triggered by family. Give feedback to each other but forgive – it hurts you more than others to hold the pain.
Say thanks – one of the easiest things to do to make you happier with the added bonus of making others happier and being great for culture.
Advice from a US Navy Submariner
US submariners endure up to 3 months without seeing anything outside a submarine. Here’s advice from my friend:
- Eat meals on smaller plates – you need less calories on a sub
- Create rituals you stick to. Like on a submarine, every Saturday morning you clean the whole ship and at night you eat pizza and play a movie. Every Sunday is more restful/recharge.
- Exercise. be creative with what options you have available. Nike Training app is free
- Try to play games with people (if possible) that don’t involve looking at a screen – card games like spades and cribbage are very popular on subs
- Plan your time – if you’re an officer going on watch to drive the sub you spend an hour briefing and planning what you’ll be doing for the next 6 hours. Then you take a few hours off. You could draw a similar analogy to working life. If you start it with a few minutes of time actually orienting yourself you’ll do the important things first.
YC’s advice for remote teams https://blog.ycombinator.com/yc-alum-advice-for-managing-remote-teams/
Gitlab’s guide to new remote workers
Zapier on remote work
How to build trust on a remote team
Zapier’s survival guide to WFH
18 WFH tips other tech companies won’t tell you
Productive remote work