Returning home from the 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Seattle, Washington in February of last year, it was clear to me that the world was about to change. I attended AAAS to explore new fields of science that could benefit from our services—and in that exploration I found myself in a breakout session on the topic of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) epidemic. Scientists were concerned. I saw their fear.
On the flight home, I called up a mobile grocery ordering service and put in a larger order than usual, stocking up on canned goods and meat that I could freeze. Although I failed to have the foresight to include toilet paper and Clorox wipes!
Less than a month later, on March 16, 2020, I asked all SoundRocket employees to take their personal items, along with some office supplies, and to plan to work from home for a couple of months.
As we settled into the obnoxiously labelled “new normal”, we were faced with a series of significant decisions that would dramatically change how we do business. Our office lease was expiring in June 2020 and we were deep into negotiations with a new landlord for an expanded office about a mile away. However, by May it was clear that we wouldn’t need an office space for several more months—if not almost a year.
As a team, we talked through what it would mean for us to continue working fully remote for the long term. And in late May, we decided to leave the physical office behind—while it has not been easy, becoming a 100%, fully remote company has proven to be a very good decision.
Looking to make the switch?
In a period of rapid change, communication turned out to be key to providing stability for our employees and customers. We discussed our options openly and made decisions transparently. Immediately after starting remote work, I added weekly one-on-one 30-minute Zoom check-ins with each employee. It was the employee’s time to have my ear and to collaborate on solutions.
Life has taught me that sitting down and talking, sharing our pains and successes, is a recipe for getting through tough times. The human voice (whether it’s by phone or a Zoom call) is always better than email or texting for this type of communication.
After a few months, after the craziness of change swept by us, the weekly meetings tapered back to monthly. But frequent and open communication has remained.
We learned quickly that with this move, there was a “blurring of the lines” with office supplies. While everyone left the office in March with some basic supplies, now there was no shared supply cabinet to meet our day-to-day needs. We created a monthly allowance for supplies that’s baked right into employee paychecks. For larger ticket items (usually IT), we ship directly to employee homes. This is an area where we are still learning, as supporting an IT infrastructure remotely presents some challenges.
Homes today are not always set up well for work. This transition took from days to months and has even led to some home remodeling projects. To support the short term, however, everyone at SoundRocket was eligible for a one-time $500 allowance to help with purchasing office items like a new desk, chair, file cabinet—whatever office gadgets people needed to make things more work-friendly at home.
Find Ways to Celebrate.
Meeting for treats in the break room to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or other holidays was no longer possible, so we had to get creative. Coordinated lunch delivery Zoom meals, video parties, monthly trivia games, and cool technologies, like Donut have been key to engaging socially in groups. In February, we gathered on Zoom to celebrate a birthday (pictured above).
Expect, Respect, and “Be” Flexibility.
Our workforce includes employees with infants at home, older kids getting married, teenagers and college students stuck in the house, spouses working from home—the life experiences during this pandemic have run the gamut. And while staff have been sure to maintain a barrier between home and work life, frequent Zoom meetings means a nearly constant video window into the homes (and lives) of each other.
Everyone has had to relearn what work-life balance means. To me, we needed to meet people where they were in their lives and empower them to make good decisions with their time and their families.
We expect that everyone will find their own way, and then respect the way that works for them. This, of course, doesn’t mean anarchy, as each employee is held accountable to their responsibilities.
But most importantly, to set the tone, we must also act accordingly—we must “be” the flexibility that we offer. It serves as an example, and it gives people permission to experiment.
We have reinvigorated our existing unlimited PTO program. Employees can flex their schedule as they need, so long as their work gets done.
For the first 15 years of our existence, all SoundRocket employees have lived and worked in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area. Today over 20% of our workforce lives abroad. And one third of our employees have moved their homes during the pandemic—keeping their jobs and remaining productive throughout the process.
Working at SoundRocket
If you have questions about transitioning your own company to being fully remote or want to know more about the company’s user comprehension study services, I would love to connect—schedule some time with me here.