Ricardo is working remotely: Featured Project of the Month February 2020
So that’s the deal: working remotely is tolerated on any day you choose, working from a train can be an exception, and if you have a daughter abroad, you’re fine to go to see her for some days in the month and work from there. Remote work becomes part of our job life, and at TX group we already have a bunch of tools at hand to make virtual communication as smooth and efficient as possible. What is still challenging: How to integrate remote work into our daily processes. Ricardo is an example of the TX marketplaces with offices in Switzerland and France, with a virtual window connecting the two offices and even a designer who works four days a week from home. We’ve talked to two of Ricardo’s product people: Daphne, Head of Design, and Michael, Product Designer. Here’s what we found out.
Because the product team is used to working remotely, they have been announcing the product designer job with the possibility of being a remote employee. Michael, living in St. Gallen with his dog and a separate study in his flat, applied for it. Since 3 months now he has been working four days a week from home. One day per week he comes into the office. Why he still takes the commute and prefers to sit once a week with his colleagues, he explained to us: “Whiteboarding ideas with more than one other person is usually easy in person. There's a lot of software out there that tries to make virtual whiteboarding easy, and many of them are great, but I haven't found one that can actually replace a physical marker. And most conference rooms are set up to show people on virtual meetings, but not whiteboards, and especially not whiteboards with many people passing in front of them. When I sketch ideas I want to be quick and sloppy, and although that is usually fine in person, it can get confusing over the internet.”
Besides saving the time on the commute, Michael likes to work from home because his dog is around and his kitchen is available at lunchtime. Furthermore, he focuses easier at home.
“In general, I think working from home allows me to get more done in a day than I would in an office. It's much easier to get sidetracked, distracted, or caught in a conversation when in an office.”
For the product designer working from home, the biggest challenge in virtual meetings is poor equipment, especially in big conference rooms. If there’s poor equipment, hearing more than one person speak at a time can sound like a garbled mess. So the company’s equipment is crucial when having people joining meetings from remote sites. How the company handles remote setups determines its success.
To conclude, Michael gives some useful tips he thinks are essential for setting up a remotely working team: Firstly, make sure your equipment is optimized: cameras, high-quality microphones and speakers that don’t give annoying feedback are central for a successful virtual meeting. Secondly, the company culture has to support remote workers: calling someone on video should be just as common as speaking with them in person, don't feel like you have to schedule a meeting every time you want to speak with remote employees. Especially in meetings with a lot of local people, make sure to leave opportunities for those not in the room to speak. Finally, don't think that just because someone is remote they are available outside of normal hours, don't take lunch, or don't need sick days. And remember them when giving out Christmas presents or invitations, that they are part of the team, too.
Rohit, CPO of Ricardo has given a clear message that the employees don’t need to ask to work remotely. The only condition is that you have to be reachable, no matter where you are and that you do your job. The product people of Ricardo don’t announce ahead if they work remotely. Next month, Daphne will work from her parent’s home in the Netherlands and her mum will take care of her son.
For Daphne, Michael was the first employee she hired to her team who would be almost completely working remotely. According to her, the success of the person in working remotely depends a lot on the fact if the person is available and reachable. Whenever she pings Michael on Slack if they can talk, he is immediately available - it is just like going to someone’s desk, sometimes even better because writing someone on Slack is less invasive than physically stalking them. But it strongly depends on the person you are working with.
The very personal things, for example, Daphne’s year-end talk, she and Rohit, CPO of Ricardo, prefered to do it in person. Also with her team members, Daphne prefers to give them feedback on their performance in person. With Michael, that is different, because they are used to talking through the camera and not in person.
However, Daphne sees herself as a people person. She personally would never decide to work 100% remote, she would be missing the energy from sitting with people and having a talk at coffee breaks. But if she really needs to get some report or something similar done, she goes home to work. Because working at home for her is more efficient than in the office. That is mainly related to the open offices and her role, which involves a lot of people stopping by regularly to ask questions.
When it comes to big room plannings or brainstorming sessions in big groups, she sometimes introduces the rule that remote people can speak up first. But in general, if there are many people around the table, it is hard to focus when they speak up all at the same time. And when you want to speak up as a remote person, it is difficult. For brainstorming sessions especially, Daphne likes to have everybody in the same room. She likes to use paper Post-its and that makes it hard if someone is just on camera joining the discussion.
During presentations in big meetings, you often don’t even see the list of people who are online. Daphne confesses: “Just recently we just hung up on everybody when we were finished with the presentation and completely forgot about the people who had been listening remotely. We didn’t even say goodbye.”
Short messages can lead to great misunderstandings. Daphne had to learn that the hard way. She asked where an unknown feature on the website was coming from on Slack as she saw it and unintentionally offended the responsible product owner by not reaching out to him first and approaching the team in such a “hard tone”. She hadn’t meant it harshly, she says, but just quickly wrote a message without thinking about how it might be read and without emoji at the end. So the short message communication should always be very specific, and that can take quite a lot of time.
And besides all these working tools for successful virtual meetings, the social component, of course, is also important. To connect the two Ricardo office spaces in Switzerland and France, they have installed a so-called open window. A camera facing the common space of the two offices, giving people the opportunity to chat in front of the window standing next to each other while still being hundreds of kilometres away. That way, Daphne thinks, the three offices in Zug, Valbonne and Belgrade feel a lot closer.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that Ricardo is one of the first TX marketplaces that has developed a remote company culture and is making efforts to integrate it more and more into their daily job processes. We’re glad we got the chance to talk to Daphne and Michael about their experiences and learn from their mistakes and successes.