overworked young woman sitting at workplace in office
overworked young woman sitting at workplace in office

Work From Home (WFH) is not a new phenomenon, but the global adoption of it certainly is. Even as we’re slowly able to return to the office, many companies are opting not to. Why? Because of the various advantages of remote work: drastically reducing CRE (commercial real estate) and carbon footprint, implementing more efficient ways of working and collaborating, creating a truly global work environment such that your talent pool increases exponentially.

We wanted to know what founders of successful startups make of this new work world and what they’ve learned so far. Here are the highlights (inspired insights! actionable advice! transformative takeaways!) from Run The World co-founder and CEO Xiaoyin Qu’s immersive discussion with John Dahl (CEO, Mux), Dan Westgarth (COO, Deel), Rajiv Ayyangar (co-founder and CEO, Tandem), and Chris Herd (founder and CEO, Firstbase) about the future of work and how best to navigate the shift to remote.

Xiaoyin Qu, co-founder, CEO of Run The World.
Xiaoyin Qu, co-founder, CEO of Run The World.

Right tools, right comms

How you communicate matters as much as what you communicate. Level this up in a pandemic context. Taking the time to consider if a communication tool or platform a good fit for your specific communication will increase your success.

Of course, this requires a variety of go-to communication tools in your kit. John Dahl notes that using the wrong tool impedes communication and clarity. At Mux, they’ve developed a pre-communication framework to consider key questions: is the communication piece simple or complex? Urgent or non-urgent?

With these answers, they can align the communication with the right tool. A complex-urgent comm merits something immediate, like Facetime. But a simple-urgent comm can be accomplished via Slack. A complex, not-urgent comm may head to Notion. The choice for simple-non-urgent communications varies from team to team, according to their preferences and needs. (HubSpot is working for their marketing team, for example.) Priority, preference, and proximity matter.

Screen fatigue is real

Speaking of the right tool, ask yourself: does this really need to be a video call? Don’t over-do the video meeting! In the pre-Covid world, video calls were mostly infrequent, and usually occurred only when teams had visual documents to share. In the current context, it can seem like everything is a video call.

Rajiv Ayyangar, co-founder, CEO, Tandem.

Having a good old-fashioned phone call (gasp!) allows you to get up and walk around (and we know that walking meetings are both creative and generative), stretch your legs, pet your cat. You might even be able to take the call on an outdoor walk and to absorb some vital vitamin D. Calls can be both healthy and productive.

At Tandem, they are partial to the audio-only virtual meeting with screen share, especially when internal. Rajiv Ayyangar says that it feels more like colleagues gathering on the same side of the same desk, looking at the same document. This allows you to collaborate without the pressure of prepping for the red carpet.

Virtual meetings run a high risk of low energy: without bodies in a room together, even a compelling presentation can feel like it drags. The key is to Change. Things. Up. At Run The World, Xiaoyin Qu and her teams are always attending to virtual attention spans. She suggests that rather than having one person talk for 45 minutes, have them talk for 10 minutes and then share the mic (the feature on RTW is called “grab the mic”). Variety is key to engagement and energy.

The virtual is not physical

We know you know this, but we’re going to say it anyway: a virtual environment is inherently and necessarily different from physical space. The attempt to simply replicate the physical online just doesn’t work. So use virtuality’s differences to your advantage.

Dan Westgarth, COO, Deel.
Dan Westgarth, COO, Deel.

While it’s laborious and time-consuming to change up a physical boardroom, virtual rooms and their furniture are easily and infinitely changeable. Explore them! Play with their potential and possibilities.

Speaking of possibility, while we miss tapping a colleague on the shoulder for a quick chat, walking into another’s office to ask how their weekend was, or grabbing a group coffee, all of these things disrupt workflow. Chris Herd suggests that one of the real benefits of remote work is dodging these distractions and “being able to do deep focused work” (and introverts everywhere rejoice).

Jon Dahl, co-founder, CEO, Mux.
Jon Dahl, co-founder, CEO, Mux.

Corporate culture matters

But working alone can get, well, lonely, especially if you’re accustomed to the hustle and bustle of a dynamic work environment. It’s vital to foster virtual community and camaraderie. That said, there are only so many virtual cocktail hours that one can—or wants to—attend!

Change up the social options. How about a fireside chat instead? Or company trivia? Online gaming? Group exercise? One of Tandem’s customers created a plank room and when someone enters, everyone gets up from their desk and drops for a 30 second plank. Or how about guessing the height of new hires using RTW’s real time, interactive polling feature? All of these ideas help to connect colleagues, bridging the literal distance.

Fostering corporate community is not only about the social. It’s equally important to do so during work time. Tandem, for example, is working toward opening up meetings to other (internal) listeners. People in other roles and on other teams can join as listener only and remain on mute, with no expectation that they participate. This kind of approach works against silos, is great for idea flow, and offers radical transparency, giving everyone a chance to learn what’s happening in areas that are adjacent to their own.

It’s a whole new world

It’s crucial, for you and your company, to identify what has changed and what is challenging: it can also be a powerful morale booster. Naming a challenge is the first step toward navigating it successfully.

Chris Herd, founder and CEO, Firstbase
Chris Herd, founder and CEO, Firstbase

As the world has changed, so have the needs of your remote colleagues and clients. Dan Westgarth notes that while we all might be working remotely, our remote needs are not identical. At Deel, they are emphasizing increased “accessibility and optionality” (more selection, more choice) and “customization of power to our platform” to better serve the necessarily distinct needs of remote workers.

And if you thought work-life balance was challenging before, Covid has upped the ante. How do you create a boundary between work and life when both are playing out in the same space?! You’ve had to turn your kitchen table into a desk, to (try) to keep children entertained and/or schooled during your workday, to shift from 9-5 to seemingly anytime.

Remember that you’re a human in a weird and challenging time. There is no playbook for this, but we’re starting to build one here. As we write The New Playbook, we must generate new ideas and radical solutions.

The New Playbook requires experimentation and creativity in every chapter. In this way, the field has changed but the game remains the same.

Attendees pose for a groupfie, or group selfie at the end of The New Playbook on Run The World

This event was part of The New Playbook, a series of interactive talks with industry leaders about how they are adapting to the changing workplace hosted by Run The World.

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