CEO Diaries: One month of running a remote company
It has been a little more than a month since my team has gone remote. In this time, I have had to rethink every part of my business, and this has indeed been one of the most challenging months for my company. I don’t want to be ungrateful, so I do acknowledge that we are still doing better than we could have anticipated. Being a company that is digitally equipped and with most processes automated, we’ve been able to dodge many curveballs this month.
Here’s a summary of my testing yet insightful month - hoping there’s some optimism and advice for fellow entrepreneurs and startup leaders!
We had a few days to prepare the team and ourselves before we went fully remote. Announcements were made that the entire company is going to be working remotely starting Monday, March 16th. All business travel, events and gathering were immediately suspended. We put together a document with all important information that my team could use at this time including guidelines on how to make their workspaces at home more efficient, and how the management team can help with that.
Some instant problems that I had to solve for my team in this time were helping them assemble home offices, making reporting and collaborating within teams smooth and efficient, catering to the challenges of employees who are parents and have to take care of their children while working from home as well as, employees who had travelled abroad before the lockdown and were now stuck in another country.
I was able to relate with most of the challenges as a parent who had to now setup a home office while I keep my toddler entertained so we don't bother my wife too much who is eight months pregnant and running her own fashion house, Marimo Fashion.
Luckily, at the office, with the right tools and resources, we were able to get everything up and running. We did put together a list of things we did and solutions we adopted immediately to solve these initial problems and to keep efficiency levels high which can be explored here.
I was happy to see people in Thorgate helping each other adapt to the new setup, moving furniture and things to set up home offices and simply enable one another to do better.
My team clearly adapted to the change really fast, I could see efficiency levels in many teams were better this week. Overall, people in the company were happy with each other, however, there was an obvious fear and uncertainty for the general future.
So we ended the week with our company wide Friday meeting that happened completely online for the first time. I took this time to take back some control of the situation and let everyone know that we’re all doing fine, and we just want everyone to be safe. Interestingly, the team wanted me to talk more about the economic implications of this lockdown and crisis. Hopefully, that discussion about how a digital transformation is now necessary to survive made everyone feel more optimistic about our own future.
This is the week when I found myself transitioning from reactive to proactive measures. I started to think about our finances, what are we bridging, what is our 3 month plan, our 6 month plan and our year plan. I had to make some tough decisions about agreements we might need to pause. The Thorgate management discussed every way we could save as well as, determine our sources of income. We knew we did not want to lose our people, that meant we need to find other ‘nice-to-have’ expenditures we have planned and suspend them until we can.
A lot of smart people working in companies around us were being laid off at this time. I started thinking about them as well, what could we do for these people? I immediately asked for an affiliate program to be rolled out on behalf of Thorgate. I knew my industry would only grow as businesses digitised, so we could hire these people who lost their jobs to be our affiliates, helping them earn safely from home.
We had two MVP workshops scheduled for this week, I knew our team would be delivering them online for the first time, which is great! I was trying my best throughout this week to stay in touch with everyone or each team, help them with challenges, and appreciate their small wins in this time.
We also faced some setbacks this week, however nothing we did not expect. Many of our clients wanted to pause their work for now, and many of the ones we were about to start working with postponed the projects. That just meant we need to stay focused on the ways we can impact the world with technology, and our motto of thinking people not products.
Eventually, I was also happy to find out that teams had found their ways to stay engaged with each other through virtual game nights or other activities that had been happening. We ended this week with a company wide call where we just have a conversation with each other, relax, play games if someone wants and enjoy each other’s company. It was important for me to be there for my team at this time, but I did let them know that my wife feels a little funny today and we might have the baby coming in a little early - just in case I need to leave mid-session.
This week was the end of the month, or start of a new one. It went by rather quickly. The challenge of working remotely now felt like it has galvanized the team. Spirits appeared to be higher than at the beginning of this new work situation, thriving in the face of adversity.
This week we started talking about our people and again how we don’t want to let anyone go due to the financial stress. I discussed with team leads the possibility of us taking 30% pay cuts to help the company and everyone in the company agreed! That made me feel more at ease as I could tell that everyone is trying to push harder in this period for the company.
I gave a lot more of my time and effort to the sales team this week to help them as their jobs seemed to be the hardest with fewer companies willing to invest in product development at this time. We thought this was a good time to help out small and medium sized businesses through free webinars or business consulting, to help them create digital products in optimized resources, or to work efficiently when remote. I started getting teams mobilized to help with these ideas and arrange any kinds of sessions to keep on helping the startup community through these rough times.
Things definitely started to look a lot in flow this week. We were now having online birthdays, virtual after-work meetups, an organized flow of information to keep everyone in loop and better team-wide communication. I also seemed to be getting similar feedback from clients who were now on track with the new setting.
This week we were thinking far ahead, we already seem to have things under control for the next couple of months when the lockdown is expected to be continued. We started planning end of the year events like our annual PyCon to be a virtual event.
This remote working seems to be the new normal now, and in all honesty, it's not so bad. My team seems to be happier, work efficiency is better and we’re all trying to help our community in the best way possible. This is the time when we’re truly thinking about people more than products!
Of course, some challenges still persist, like the toddlers we bring to our online meetings because they are home while we work, or the deliberate effort that is needed to keep on having the coffee machine chats.
I heard about many large companies anticipating internal crises this week, asking for bailouts from governments. It is indeed a hard time, however, it will pass. We at Thorgate need to try our best to help companies digitalize so they can stay afloat. We are already helping businesses update to stay functional and relevant.
At the end of the week, we had our usual company-wide Friday meeting, and our traditional “Grilling the CEO”. One of the anonymous questions I got from my team was, “What do I think are the perks of being a CEO?”. My answer was that it is indeed the full picture view I get to see. I get to enjoy and celebrate small wins of everyone in the company. Particularly, in this period, I have been rather delighted with the way everyone at Thorgate adapted to the changing circumstances and gave in more than usual to help us all. As a leader, my role is to keep us all focused on our goal of changing the world with technology even in these times when the world is changing rather fast. While we do this, I am comfortably embracing this uncertainty and anxiously waiting to meet my second baby who should be coming to this world anytime now.