The coronavirus pandemic pushed us over the edge. Pre-2020, Chatfuel was a partially remote company. We have employees in nine countries, and about 60% of them were coming into an office every day. Then in March of 2020, we switched to 100% remote work temporarily, in response to COVID-19. But now, after seeing the many, tangible benefits of being a fully distributed team, we've decided to make the change permanent.
It's not just us, of course. Lots of companies large and small have also decided to make working from home their new normal from here on out. A recent Gartner survey says at least 41% of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time after the pandemic is over. We know we're not the only ones making this transition, so we decided to share some of our challenges, learnings, and insights on life as a distributed team.
Yes, we're actually more productive
One study shows that remote workers get the equivalent of an additional full day's work done, compared to in-office workers. Since our remote transition, we've also seen a productivity boost.
First of all, we completely redesigned our entire platform since going fully remote in March. (Meet Flow Builder!) It's been a major, detailed project that involved every team, from product to marketing to user happiness. Even though it was the first big product launch we'd done with a completely distributed team, it was one of our most successful yet in terms of collaboration, speed, and accuracy.
We also sent out a survey to the entire Chatfuel team to find out more about how productive they felt they've been since the shift to remote-based jobs. Here are the work-from-home statistics we got back. ⬇️
Besides the hard data, we also invited Chatfuel employees to share their feedback and comments. When we asked how working from home has been affecting their personal productivity and communications, here's what we got:
- "Love it; helps me be more productive, flexible and focused."
- "I really like how Chatfuel's remote transition has affected my work communications. Before, there were remote call situations with some colleagues in the office and the rest around the world. The two groups felt strongly separated. But now, with everyone remote, that doesn't happen and it feels more "teamish" and comfortable."
- "After working six years in an office and then switching to remote work, I found that working from home is 10000% better for me. I'm just more productive in my own space."
"After working six years in an office and then switching to a remote job, I found that working from home is 10000% better for me. I'm just more productive in my own space." –A Chatfuel employee
Other remote-work perks we love
Time and space for self-care 💙 Remote work has given us all the freedom to customize our schedules a bit more. That means the flexibility to take time for things like eating well, exercising, resting enough, and being with family. 43.8% of Chatfuel employees said this is their favorite perk of working from home.
Working from anywhere 📍 Employees of a remote company also have the freedom to work from anywhere, which 37.5% of the Chatfuel team said is their favorite part of the arrangement. Even during quarantine, the ability to change up your scenery from desk to couch to balcony or backyard can do wonders for your mood and productivity.
Coworkers from all over 🌏 The talent pool for remote jobs includes the entire world! That means valuable diversity among employees, which is both personally enriching and beneficial to work outcomes. Chatfuel's Head of User Happiness and remote-work veteran Chris Lauzon explains, "I love remote work because of the opportunity to work with people all over the world. I believe diversity is a significant strength of my team. We all have unique perspectives and different approaches—which means we always come up with an array of solutions when there’s a problem. I love that opportunity, and that’s why I strongly believe in remote work."
New types of team connections 🤝 Building and maintaining strong social connections is a common challenge for remote workers. But distributed teams do bond in some unique ways that aren't possible in an office. Watching a cat walk across a coworker's keyboard or seeing their child pop into the frame can spark conversations that help you get to know other sides of your coworkers. It's all part of building a strong remote culture.
No commute 🛋️ Just 15.6% of Chatfuelers listed this as their favorite benefit of remote work, but it's a factor that has far-reaching benefits when you look at the numbers. Remote employees typically save around $4,000 a year working from home, thanks to lower spending on transportation, dining out for lunch, and business clothes. (Turns out you only need one Zoom shirt. 🙃 ) "The best part of working from home is not having to spend time commuting," one Chatfuel employee confirms. Plus, there's the environmental perks of fewer commuters. Win-win!
"I love remote work because of the opportunity to work with people all over the world. I believe diversity is a significant strength of my team." –Chatfuel's Head of User Happiness, Chris Lauzon
Facing the key challenges of working from home
We've identified three main challenges with remote work and remote-team leadership, based on manager observations and our employee survey. To explain these (and how we're combating them), we turned again to Chatfuel's in-house, remote-work expert Chris Lauzon. Chris is our Head of User Happiness, and he's been working remotely for a decade. Here are some of his insights and learnings on how to handle some common challenges remote employees and managers face.
- Challenge #1: mental health and work-life balance
- Combat it with: clear expectations and frequent communication
37.5% of Chatfuel employees say their biggest challenge with working from home is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. "It’s hard for people to maintain work-life balance," Chris agrees, "because your work and personal life are in the same space." He says managers have an important role to play in helping promote this equilibrium. "I believe the manager has to set clear expectations on work-life balance," he says. "My team works really hard, and I want them to rest, so they can go back to work and help our customers with a smile on their face. The unhappy person leads to a lack of productivity and poor work quality. It doesn’t benefit anyone to burn your team out."
Managers and coworkers need to look out for one another and communicate, too, to help keep everyone balanced and avoid this burnout. "My biggest lesson was to take your health and your teammate’s health very seriously," Chris explains. "It can be super hard to gauge in a remote environment, which is another reason why communication is so important." Checking in with each other regularly (and being honest about how you're doing) is crucial. Finding outlets and ways to take mental breaks is too. (Chris's are jogging, video games, and (pre-pandemic) Disneyland!)
- Challenge #2: effective collaboration across time zones
- Combat it with: transparency, detailed documentation, and mastery of asynchronous communication
Like any distributed team, "we needed to organize ourselves to help keep everyone in sync and know how to drive critical decisions remotely," Chris says. His team, User Happiness, is one of the biggest at Chatfuel, with employees in the US, Central and South America, India, and Europe. That means one of his first priorities was to get the right communication processes in place.
"I knew from past experience that we needed to be more focused on asynchronous communication than realtime, because someone on my team is sleeping while someone else is working," says Chris. "We document every meeting and every crucial decision. We record every stat and goal we have. If someone were to join the team today, they'd be able to go back through two years of data to understand how we got to where we are and where we are going." It's non-negotiable for distributed teams, he explains. "That level of transparency and communication is vital for remote work. Without robust communication processes, remote work is unmanageable, because your team won’t be on the same page."
- Challenge #3: enough social interaction and team bonding
- Combat it with: dedicated time/space for social interaction, regular one-on-ones
"The lack of social interaction is a genuine concern," Chris tells us. To increase social opportunities for team members, this time should be baked into every remote team's routine. If 100% of your communication is strictly work-related, you're missing out on crucial relationship-building and those all-important mental breaks.
"We spend some time in each team meeting to talk about random stuff," Chris explains, "just as we would in an office space. We even have a “water cooler” Slack channel where we communicate in GIFs or make jokes." (You can check out a few of the other tools we use to promote a healthy remote culture and a social environment below.)
"That level of transparency and communication is vital for remote work. Without robust communication processes, remote work is unmanageable, because your team won’t be on the same page." –Chatfuel's Head of User Happiness, Chris Lauzon
Remote-work tools we can't live without
To do any job well, you've got to have the right tools. Here are a few remote-work tools we use day in and day out at Chatfuel:
- Zoom. No surprises here; we use Zoom for all our virtual meetings.
- Slack. Like lots of teams that work from home, we use Slack for communication. We have channels for individual teams, projects, and topics. We also have some fun ones for remote culture and team building. There's #random for memes and jokes, #bookclub for sharing what we're currently reading, and #music for swapping songs and playlists, to name a few.
- Donut. This Slack app randomly pairs up employees to get to know each other over mini, virtual coffee chats.
- Navigator. This agenda chatbot helps us keep virtual meetings efficient and on track.
- Notion. This app keeps our teams and projects organized. It makes asynchronous collaboration and communication easy and trackable.
Where do we go from here?
Here at Chatfuel, we're set on remote work from here on out. The remote revolution was already underway—the pandemic just accelerated the shift for us, and many other companies. So where do we go from here? Remote-working life will always have its challenges, but these last several months have shown us that we're a strong team that's ready to face them. Plus, the boosts we've seen in productivity and employee happiness have proved that this work style is the best way forward for all of us.
What does the future of work look like for other companies? Of those that can do their work remotely, many probably will—even post-pandemic.
- Employees want it. 99% of people say they'd prefer to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.
- Employers stand to benefit. Think higher productivity, lower overhead costs, and increased retention. (Did you know? 74% of respondents in a survey said the option to work remotely would make them less likely to leave their company.)
- It's trending that way. A Gartner bulletin released in April says that 74% of companies that went remote because of COVID plan to stay that way permanently.
The trend of the remote-working life isn't new. But the pandemic has put this option on the table for many more employees than ever before. While it has challenges, working from home also carries all kinds of benefits that people need and want right now, more than ever.
The Chatfuel team has joined the remote-work revolution. Who's with us? 😎