One of the more interesting influences of the pandemic on working life, particularly as a founder of a small business looking to scale up, has been the wide-scale adoption of remote working.
While the benefits of remote working have been apparent for years, with many firms trending towards embracing the model, the way this was forced on businesses was clearly not ideal.
However, it also holds true that these difficult circumstances did little to hamper the determination of many ambitious small businesses to continue their expansion plans. Indeed, the new restricted and distanced market reality meant that founders were well-placed to capitalise on the flood of new opportunities presented by the transition to digital.
Now, as the worst business implications of the pandemic appear to be receding into the past, in the UK at least, it appears unlikely we will see a dramatic shift back to the old way of doing things.
Our company reached a big milestone in this time: having welcomed almost 70 talented people on board across our four global studios since the start of the pandemic, we have just hired our 100th employee. In doing so, we encountered a number of challenges, and successes, which are worth noting for companies looking to scale remotely across borders.
The most obvious, and ubiquitous feature of a fast scale is the expansion of the workforce. This is something which must be handled with some consideration, or risk damaging the carefully nurtured company culture: we implemented more rounds of interviews and had potential employees meet more individuals from within our own teams than we would have done in a traditional office-based hiring process.
We took the time to get to know the prospective hires on a personal level, to ensure they would make for an appropriate cultural fit. Indeed, we got this wrong on numerous occasions in the beginning. Each failure formed part of our learning curve, leading to the processes we now have in place, which have made remote hiring a lower-risk endeavour.
The challenge of scaling workplace culture and fostering organic connections up and across the team requires consideration and finesse: without some facetime and spontaneous interaction, it is hard to envisage how a culture can scale.
We tried a number of virtual team events and ice breakers, to some success. With cultural barriers and diverse professional backgrounds at play, business leaders should look to implement this with some care, and ensure everyone is both happy and involved in the event.
On a day-to-day level, regularly checking in personally with team members, and ensuring nobody feels isolated from the culture of the workplace is critical. Equally, without the ability to be in the office personally, employees can suffer with an erosion of the barrier between work and life, performing overtime to complete tasks as quickly as possible. Managers should ensure there is a clear communication around when overtime is, and is not, appropriate for the company, and consider where they can remove pressure from employees they cannot personally oversee.
Every business will, naturally, have their own way of doing things – some will see little benefit from regular team social events, while others will have hiring processes that depend far more greatly on skills and experience than cultural fit.
The main lesson we have learned has been to pay ongoing consideration to the challenges this set-up presents employees. It is becoming clear that remote working has changed employee expectations around work, and this can be of great use to founders if handled appropriately, with increased access to further-flung labour markets, and the well-established tools at hand to build a productive and beneficial workplace culture outside the office.