With everyone working remote, dynamics in the team are more balanced
Moving to a different ﬂat every few weeks. That's what Alex has been doing since the summer of 2021 – when she gave up her apartment in Cologne to become a house-sitting nomad. If you’re not using your house or ﬂat for a few weeks or even months, you can ask her to live at your place. That Alex has been able to put this experiment into practice (and meanwhile has also been working from places like Norway, Turkey and the Eifel), is thanks to the fact that location-independent work is the standard work model at bevuta. No wonder Alex is a huge fan of remote work. And that I absolutely had to talk to her about her experiences with this working model.
We talked about isolation in lockdown, communication after working hours and the impact of different time zones on work routines.
How did you start your work at bevuta?
I started in December 2020, right in the middle of the lockdown winter. Which meant that I hardly got to know anyone from the team in person. I did spend my ﬁrst two weeks in the office in Cologne, but there were only two colleagues on site, and they were only there from time to time. Everyone else was working from home.
Was that a problem?
In general, I don't think it would have been, actually, but in my particular situation it was. In the sustainability project I was hired for, I was completely on my own from the start. So I hardly came into contact with any of my colleagues through work. In the beginning, I only exchanged ideas with our CEO Pablo. As a result, I felt quite isolated for a long time. Of course, the lockdown situation made things worse – but I think the basic problem would have existed even if we had all been on site in the office.
That's why I proposed working on the nora-emergency call project for a while, in order to better connect with the team and get to know more of bevuta – and then pick up the sustainability project again.
That worked out really well.
So you are now working on the sustainability project again, on your own?
Partly. I have started the project again, but I am still taking care of process optimisation and operational support for the nora QA team. Now that I know my colleagues better, it is not so difficult for me to work on my project alone for the time being. And I probably won't be alone in the long run.
Apart from that, I help out wherever I’m needed: quality assurance, formal information security issues, website – anything that comes up. I always enjoy working in new areas, because I can quickly get up to speed on new topics.
How do you organise your working days? Do you have ﬁxed working hours?
Yes. That was one of the ﬁrst things I learned in my home office: it's important that I separate my work hours from after-hours. And also that I have a structured routine before and after work to help me transition in and out of work mode.
For me, routine has become very important, especially in the home office. If you no longer have the daily routine of going to the office at the same time and making the trip to and from work, other routines become more important.
That's why I try to start work at the same time every day. Working in support has been really helpful for me. If the hotline has to be manned from 8 a.m., I have to get up early even when I'd rather stay in bed.
And you always ﬁnish at the same time?
Not at the moment, but that's because of my new line of work. Because I'm currently working a lot with colleagues in Kosovo, who tend to start a little later and work longer, I'm still available to be reached until everyone goes home. So even if I close my laptop at 5:30 p.m., my colleagues can still reach me on my smartphone afterwards – that was not the case before. I have our company chat software Mattermost on my phone. Direct messages or mentions in Mattermost will ping me, otherwise the chat stays quiet.
Basically, I don’t mind working a little longer. However, there is an understanding in the team that we all wrap up at some point – unless there is something that really can’t wait. So the team does respect the end of communication after work. I think that with everyone working from home, it’s especially important that the whole team sticks to this understanding.
Because of your life model, you have lived in different time zones. Did you adjust your working hours then?
No, I tried to avoid that because I realised that it wasn't good for me. When I was in Turkey, I started at 8 a.m. local time, even though there was a two-hour time difference and it was only 6 a.m. here in Germany.
This is actually a really important question for my future housesitting plans: How big a time difference can I manage?
Based on my experiences so far I think that two hours is the maximum time difference I can handle because otherwise it gets tiring for everyone and the time you have available to coordinate with colleagues becomes more and more limited. Or I'll have to stay available for longer periods of time after work, which isn't ideal either. Especially as I’m someone who gets up and starts work early, that makes it rather difficult.
So for now, I'll probably stay on the European continent and won’t go living in Argentina or New Zealand just yet.
How efficiently do you work in your home office?
Very efficiently by now. The pandemic really took a lot out of me in the beginning, and I didn't feel very resilient for a while, especially at home. When I worked at home, I quickly felt tired and I needed to take more breaks.
It was a new experience for me. In the office, it was different, I was always kind of sucked into the ﬂow, always on the go and at some point I ﬁnished up for the day and thought: Oh, nine hours have gone by.
But by now, working remotely has become quite normal for me. Having ﬁxed times gives me a clear structure that’s very helpful to me.
You also dealt with the topic of remote work and working in digital teams as part of your HR management studies. In your experience, how is bevuta different from other companies?
Because we all work digitally and from home, we don't have the imbalance that arises when some employees work from home and others see each other every day. Otherwise, such arrangements can quickly create unbalanced dynamics. The fact that the whole team regularly works from home and that, especially since the pandemic, it's the exception rather than the rule for someone to be in the office makes it easier for everyone. Everyone understands the situation and adjusts to it for themselves and for the others.
Because everyone's situation is the same, it is easier to ﬁnd points of contact and to build networks.
If some people are mostly in the home office and others are in the office every day, it is difficult to form balanced networks because everyone has different opportunities to build them. When everyone works remotely, the dynamics are much more balanced.
This affects the sense of belonging and the sense of security, because having a network is important for feeling secure within the company. If I know who I can go to with what issue I feel safe, more able to take action and more satisfied.
Apart from the fact that everyone does it, are there structures at bevuta that you think make remote teamwork easier?
Yes, there are. What helps a lot is the daily stand-up meeting, where we spend 30 minutes discussing what we are currently working on. This is an opportunity to also meet colleagues with whom you don't work directly, and so it happens frequently that you suddenly discover connections – or that someone can contribute with their own experience to another colleague’s topic. This kind of daily exchange makes it easy for me to ﬁnd my bearings within the team.
Would you work at bevuta even without the possibility of remote work?
Probably yes, because it was bevuta ﬁrst, then housesitting. But if I didn't work at bevuta, I wouldn't be able to live this life model.
For these constant changes, bevuta offers something that I haven't found in any other job. And I haven't heard of many employers who offer this.
Maybe it's because of the industry – I believe that many companies in IT rely on remote work. But I think the level of remote work we have here at bevuta is very rare.
That’s a shame, isn't it?
Yes, definitely. Especially because, for independent thinkers like me, these are great conditions to help us thrive. This extent of being on the road, discovering new cities, meeting new people, rediscovering your surroundings is only possible by living this work model.
But the IT industry in particular thrives on this kind of beginner's spirit, which looks at things without preconceived notions or biases. There are always new challenges, and you can only overcome them by looking at the problem anew each time and not thinking in predetermined patterns. This lifestyle suits me very well. Living the "Beginner's Mind" holistically – I wouldn't be able to do that if I had to go to the office every day. And bevuta, through its professional design and the freedom it gives us, encourages us to cultivate this beginner's mind not only in a professional context, but also in our private lives.
Is there anything that you think bevuta could improve on in terms of remote teamwork?
At one point or another, it might be important to put even more focus on leadership and to get teams on board by saying: We have talked about this, we have thought about it – what are your thoughts on this topic?
Leading remote teams needs a different approach than in the office. Setting clear priorities is incredibly helpful. And it needs very clear communication:
- What is our strategy?
- Where do we want to go?
- And what are the steps that will get us there?
This information makes the team feel confident. A lack of confidence leads to a lot of questions and uncertainty in one's own actions.
You mention communication as a key factor for successful teamwork. In your experience, does communication work well in a remote setting?
To be honest, it's actually easier. I’m not sure if that's due to our ﬂatter hierarchies or perhaps because of the technology we use. For me personally, communication works even better digitally.
But at bevuta we have really cool alternatives to classic office communication.
The chat in Mattermost offers many more contact points than classic office communication, especially because it can be used asynchronously, independent of the situation. And if I want to see my colleagues face to face, I can always open a video conference room with Jitsi.
In the office you usually have two main ways of communication:
- The informal conversation.
- The very formal e-mail.
The conversation often takes place only between two or a small number of individuals and not in larger groups. With Mattermost channels, bevuta has a completely different tool that covers both informal and formal communication and can control who gets which information in a much more targeted way.
I think this makes communication not only easier but also more efficient.
How does it make communication more efficient?
In the office, if someone walks into a room with ﬁve people and has a piece of information that is only relevant to one of them, all ﬁve will be distracted.
Situations like this can be prevented with a tool like Mattermost – if you use it properly. And I noticed that bevuta is very careful to avoid work disruptions, by thinking carefully about where and how to communicate in order to avoid work disruptions.
I found it very exciting to observe that there is a high sensitivity for this topic at bevuta. None of my previous employers gave it much thought.
From an economic perspective, it’s a very important factor though: If I get distracted for ﬁve seconds it takes me 15 minutes to focus on my topic again – and after ﬁve minutes there’s the next distraction.
In remote communication, I have more control over which information I take in and when. When am I in the ﬂow of work? When do I really need to be left alone in order to focus? And what information do I choose to receive and when? I can decide for myself when to take in information that’s nice to know rather than of the greatest urgency for me. I can't do that when the door opens in the office and someone comes in.
Sounds like more personal responsibility, too.
Yes, working from home requires a lot more personal responsibility anyway – and also more individual time management. Which, to be honest, also overwhelmed me a bit at the beginning. It was only when I worked more closely with others that I was able to consolidate the structure of my work day. All on my own, it was much more difficult.
But what is also helpful and makes a lot of sense is to have clear rules on how to deal with the different communication channels. In my experience, such rules need to be more explicit in a remote setting. In the office, a lot is done by implicit rules. For remote teams to work efficiently together, those implicit rules need to be defined more explicitly. This makes them more tangible and makes it easier to communicate them to others. One of the advantages of implicit rules being explained explicitly – in an employee handbook, for example – is that a corporate culture also becomes easier to understand for someone new coming in from the outside.
Did you choose bevuta because you wanted to live your nomadic life this way?
To be honest: bevuta chose me. :-) And indeed, I was incredibly fortunate that they did. I knew I wanted to work for a company like this but I didn't know where to even begin looking.
I think we feel just as fortunate as you do. :-) Thank you for the interesting conversation.
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