The Covid-19 pandemic gave rise to an acceleration of a trend many startup founders – particularly in tech – have been keeping an eye on for many years; the transition to remote working
There has been longstanding debate about the benefits of this, though it has been on the up consistently over the years. It was anticipated, months before the virus was even discovered, that as soon as 2025 we would see around 70% of employees performing at least some substantial portion of their role remotely.
Despite this transition happening under less-than-ideal circumstances, the shift appears to have been a qualified success. The ONS report that the vast majority (85%) of workers now wish to continue with a hybrid working model, splitting time between an office and remote workspace.
The apparent longevity of this model now raises some particular issues for businesses looking to scale, particularly across borders. The benefits of remote working are, of course, recognised and highly prized: employees appreciate greater flexibility in their working schedule, freedom from laborious and unproductive commutes, and more time for their family and friends. Higher morale across the team benefits any business implicitly, so these factors should not be disregarded as only profiting the employees.
The drawbacks, in turn, can be of significant detriment to the business and employee; including the enhanced likelihood of suffering distraction, erosion of work/life barriers, and lacking communication with colleagues. The latter point is crucial; building a healthy workplace culture remotely can be challenging enough in a domestic business – applied globally and crossing language and culture barriers exposes the business to the risk of organisational drift and miscommunication, leading to a loss of productivity which is very difficult to amend from a distance.
At Studio Graphene, a digital design agency, we were fortunate to experience significant growth throughout the pandemic, scaling from 31 employees to recently hiring our 100th team member, spread across offices in four countries. In doing so, we have observed a number of critical factors which could make or break any companies’ aspirations to scale quickly with a remote workforce.
It must be noted that there is no simple formula for scaling at pace; any approach must be tailored to the needs of the company and its workforce. Nonetheless, prioritising establishing practical structures and processes, and being mindful of supporting positive and productive communication between teams will go a long way in rising to the challenge.
The expansion of the workforce is one of the greater headaches a scaleup business will experience when working remotely. Our preference was to be cautious and patient in our approach; introducing additional rounds of interviews, and affording candidates the opportunity to meet more team members than usual. This allowed a broader assessment of ‘cultural fit’, as a greater array of perspectives had the chance to get to know the prospective hires, and make an informed judgement.
It is important to note here that a good match doesn’t necessarily mean that new hires must think and act the same as existing team members; instead, we were careful to look for candidates that share our core values, but can bring fresh perspectives to the table.
On the other hand, the onset of the pandemic led to a flood of new talent looking for new roles, so every position available resulted in a surge of applications above expectations. This has settled in recent months, but afforded a rare opportunity to add a diverse set of skills to the team. It was clear that many prospective hires were looking for a change, and so Studio Graphene has looked to embrace, where possible, the building of heterogeneous team structures, where employees working closely have a variety of skills at hand and backgrounds to draw from.
Establishing successful tangible practicalities and processes is one thing; building and scaling up an attractive and productive workplace culture across numerous cultural barriers is another entirely.
There is no doubt that videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and Teams are of critical importance. Communicating only by text – or even voice – would limit the seamless communication and co-operation between colleagues, and risk frayed teams suffering organisational drift.
The utility of these platforms should not be limited to productivity – they are also of great use for facilitating virtual team events and ice breakers. While it is crucial to ensure that every team member feels involved, these events are widely applicable to different businesses in fomenting scaleable workplace culture among smaller groups.
Every business will find their own path to scaling across borders in remote settings. Naturally, there will be growing pains and headaches, but applying failures to a learning curve and amending processes to create a refined management structure will go a long way in finding the right balance.
About the Author
Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.
Featured image: ©Peera