Lessons Learned in Remote Working Before and During the Pandemic
Mary Roberts

As many parts of the world start to emerge from the pandemic, many of us working from home, it seemed a good time to share with the world Buurst’s experiences. As for Buurst, one could say that not much has changed for many of us. You see, Buurst has always employed a remote workplace strategy, finding ways to collaborate effectively with co-workers across the globe. Still, the choice to stay at home and work is not the same as being forced to by external complications. As such, we thought we’d share some insights from a company that was working from home “before it was cool.”

First, let us look at some of the reasons that Buurst has employed the remote office strategy in the first place. It all begins with our founder, Rick Braddy. According to Rick, it all began with his employment at Citrix, a company that made remote work software allowing work from home options a selling point for their company. As a result, he knew first-hand that remote work was not only feasible but could be potentially even more productive.

“From the outset, I wanted to create a ‘virtual workplace’ type of experience, both for our employees and me. Countless hours of people’s lives are wasted in traffic, not to mention the frustrations it causes everyone (and the pollution). I also observed a lot of wasted time and productivity from people’ visiting’ in the office a lot of their time. My theory was that between the increased productivity and increased work/life balance that working from home offers employees, is that it would result in lower turnover, happier people and better results.”

His experience at Buurst, operating a 100% remote workforce for over eight years, has only reinforced this idea.

Rick Braddy also mentioned that remote work allows folks to improve quality of life simply by living where they choose rather than in geographic proximity to the workplace – places where rent or housing prices might be higher, along with other expenses. I can attest to this, as I live in a small town in Alberta, Canada, 50 miles outside of Calgary, where rent and housing (and groceries) can be considerably more expensive. Not only this, but I have been able to work remotely to extend vacations, allowing me and my family to spend a bit more time in desirable locations, such as family trips to Vegas and Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. As long as I have wi-fi access, I can sneak in a couple of hours of work nearly anywhere. As a single father, this flexibility has proven indispensable.

But how do you establish a remote resource strategy for your company? Where do you find quality resources? For Buurst, the answer was in a freelancing site called ODesk, which, after a merger with rival site Elance, became known as Upwork. (Interestingly, I was a member of both sites when first starting my freelancing career. I found each to have strengths that, for the most part, carried over in the merger. Concentration on a single platform soon shored up weaknesses.) As Rick tells it, “Early on, we discovered Upwork, then known as ODesk. We began using part-time contractors early on to gain access to the skills we needed from a worldwide contractor talent pool. As Buurst grew, we continued using Upwork as a means of finding full-time employees who continue to lead the company from wherever they live.” Without this active global network, Buurst’s remote office strategy would not have been possible. Upwork ensured that Buurst (then SoftNAS) gained a trusted employment track record that attracted high-end talent while at the same time providing freelancers with the opportunities that best fit their needs.

Buurst uses several tools to keep in contact during communication and collaboration, notably several staples such as Microsoft Teams. For the development team and technical writing (as the technical writer needs to connect closely and often with the development team), Assembla has been the tool of choice for several years. Github integration and other features help keep the dev team on track, of course. Still, the ticketing system is also invaluable in tracking changes to the product as they happen or, in the best cases, well before. Asana manages tracking projects such as web design, white papers, and other activities for marketing and sales. But it was often cumbersome for those who bridged teams to keep track of notifications from a separate project management solution. Microsoft Teams proved very helpful, allowing us to link Office 365 functionality, replace Skype as a meeting tool internally, and serve as a repository hub via SharePoint for all our files and documentation, organized according to teams. The file repository and team organization proved immensely helpful in adopting Microsoft Teams for everything not directly related to development. Files are more easily found within team folders and shared readily across departments and teams, and past meetings are shareable.

More importantly, meetings are simple to organize and schedule, and team members can find one another at any moment for face-to-face calls without the need to share contacts or search a global database of users. As Vic Mahadevan, CEO of Buurst, tells us,

“I previously always enjoyed meeting the team and the camaraderie that develops face to face in the office. However, I have been very pleasantly surprised how technologies like Teams and Zoom have allowed us to stay connected to our employees, customers, and partners worldwide. We have been able to delight our customers and partners with our efficiency and productivity without skipping a beat during this pandemic.”

To create this sense of community and camaraderie, Buurst has leveraged Microsoft Teams to set up a company-wide meeting every week to highlight all things Buurst and contributions from team members.

Buurst also has leveraged meeting capabilities for fun and games to break the daily grind. A couple of times a month, an open meeting is set up to play a game with fellow Buursters. The last activity chosen was a game of Bingo, complete with prizes. Bingo resulted in some good-natured ribbing of the Bingo caller for not calling “the right numbers” and jokes about the Finance team rigging the game, with the Dev team claiming they would tweak their algorithm for better results the next time. In other words, a typical office get-together, with the same banter, the same relationships built over time and conversation, with the help of technology and shared goals.

But while it might seem that the remote office strategy is pandemic proof, there are a few challenges that have arisen. The most notable of these is that everyone else is staying home too. We, too, had to shift schedules on occasion simply because our children are home too. Noise levels during the day can determine meeting schedules and work schedules. Stephen Spector, VP Marketing, notes,

“The biggest challenge for remote work is finding a location in my house to work while still having to set up space for my two children who are both attending junior high primarily virtual this year. With my ‘office’ in the family room, having my kids at home has created plenty of daily chaos. I find that working early in the morning and taking time late at night to finish up work offers a few extra hours a day with minimum disruption.”

You might think that we parents who work from home all year long have practiced for this covid-related chaos every summer when school gets out. But unlike summer break, Covid has meant we can’t simply send children outside or to a friend’s place to gain a few more hours of blessed silence.

For those considering remote office employment, remember that it requires a different mindset. It requires discipline to ensure that the distractions inherent in the home environment do not affect your work. As Rick tells us, “It takes a shift in the mindset from ‘show up to work’ to ‘deliver excellent work results’. ” as a non-office-based company holding employees accountable for results and develop a level of mutual trust. Over the years, we have seen that some people just aren’t cut out for remote work as they lack the work ethic and self-discipline required. But for those who can separate work from where it takes place, remote working is a great way to go.” This shift may become more and more necessary until Covid-19, and its variants have run their course. Embrace the change and the challenge, and the experience will serve you well long after. Who knows, your office may be the next to be “pandemic proof.”

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