Well, we did it. Today Aviasales has announced that the entire company is going remote. Forever. Just so that you get the idea – we have 3 offices, roughly with 60-100 colleagues in each one. And a bunch of remote workers, too, of course. I’ve also probably mentioned that in my 9+ years in the company I’ve spent 8 years working remotely out of Sydney while the majority of the team was either in Phuket or St Petersburg (we added Moscow much later).
Why is it news when remote work in 2020 is cliché at best? Well, we have reasons to believe that “this time it’s different”:
This remote work arrangement is forever. This means that all our current employees can work remotely, and this applies to everyone from a support engineer to a software developer to a sales manager to a CEO (yes, I work from home, too, being located 8 minutes walking distance away from the office). This also applies to new hires, too.
Grade levels. The devil is in the details when it comes to remote staff. We’ve had software development outsourcing for 25+ years (and your truly started doing it in 1999). But we’re not talking about just developers, testers, support, etc. We’re talking all the way up to middle managers. And maybe even senior managers (no open roles in our company as of now, so I’m not bringing this up). It’s super-important and challenging at the same time, because … onboarding. In the usual environment a newly hired manager takes anywhere between 1-3 months to understand what’s going on and stop making silly mistakes. The common consensus is that onboarding a remote manager (on top of the obvious risk of the expectations/skills mismatch) easily takes twice as long. So the challenge for us is compressing this extended time period back to a comfortable 2-3 months period, with accelerated indoctrination, explaining the rules of the place and making sure the person gets their first row of successes.
Hybrid work mode. I’ve said it before and say it again: working 3/2 or at least 4/1 (days at home vs in the office) makes an enormous difference when it comes to the quality of interpersonal communication. Long-term I don’t believe in innovation or fully remote teams, as logic and routine are a pale shadow of randomness of thoughts and communications. (People who know me have heard me say “The best things in life are random” way more than once.) The best ideas I’ve got have always been a result of having random coffees with the people I respected, the best travels I’ve had were the ones when I closed my eyes and clicked the “buy” button, etc. Seriously, innovation is less about structured analysis and more about the ability to see your thoughts through another person’s perception prism.
Competitive advantage. As the saying goes, if everyone goes crazy, there’s a huge benefit in pretending to be one and leading the pack. The earlier we as a company can accommodate remote work, onboarding, management and monitoring - the higher long-term competitive advantage we’ll establish, because we’d be able to offer the best mix of self-respect, comfort (especially when it comes to family logistics with kids) and self-management. I personally don’t think we’ve cracked the code of how to promote remote workers (hope our HR Director doesn’t send me a death note for saying this), but hopefully this knowledge will come naturally.
We are not wearing rose-coloured glasses; this is going to be one hell of a ride. One doesn’t have to look far ahead to see possible mistakes and performance drop in certain areas. My counterargument is that we’ve been working remotely since the beginning of March 2020 and while there were certain variations in individual performance, I guess we’ve overcome the remote work fatigue. One thing that was clearly identified by the exec team is that in this time of uncertainty people were afraid (emotionally and financially) to make a bold move: relocate somewhere, buy a place (next to the office or near a forest?) or make another serious commitment. It’s fair enough: almost everyone sticks to the illusion that old times can be repeated, just give it time. While I’m being unnecessarily philosophical here, it really hit me in March that my gig in Moscow (which I thought would take no longer than maybe 3-4 years max) now doesn’t have an expiration date, and while I want to go back home to Sydney, even if I make it, I’m going to be a completely different person who would try to have the same fantastic first experiences only to find that it’s a different person and you’re not a 30+ y/o person anymore. But that’s a completely different story. Anyway, my point was that there’s no need for our employees to go somewhere temporarily if they can do it permanently. Hopefully our culture is strong enough to make us proud of our people even if we’re never going to see them in person. Quite sad, actually, but hey, it’s a new world.