Remote Work at Monterail—Leader and Team Member Perspectives

Monterail Team

Person working on a laptop

In one of our recent posts, we delved a little into how we ensure smooth operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, what our remote-first approach means to our clients, and listed some of the remote work resources we find the most helpful. 

Today, however, we’ll be taking a more personal view of the situation. Many of us have either had some experience with or have grown used to working remotely prior to the recent coronavirus-related upheaval. The latter are currently at an advantage, as their experience renders them better suited to dealing with the current situation than people who have been forced to reorganize their lives and work habits in a matter of days. To help out those still trying to find their footing, we polled the remote-work enthusiasts among us for some valuable insights. This, in turn, allowed us to improve our knowledge on the topic, and share it here.

Rather than compile official data points or predictions, we wanted to share this post to relieve a little of the burden of these recent and coming weeks and cheer up those especially affected by the outbreak. We believe that stories sometimes speak louder than stats and we hope you’ll find yourself reflected somewhere between the lines. Remember, you’re not alone in this. Below, you’ll find the most popular struggles remote workers deal with and how our fellow team members tend to tackle them.

Enjoy the read and feel free to share your tips in the comment section.

Remote Leadership—Yes or No?

In normal circumstances, company leaders usually can be found working alongside team members, either in the same room or in the same office. Alas, the current pandemic and the safety measures introduced around the globe, forced many managers to shift away from that particular paradigm. In our case, however, it was different from the very beginning.

Szymon Boniecki, our co-CEO, has been serving as a remote leader and co-founder for a few years now. Marta Klimowicz, the Head of Growth at Monterail, has been a remote team leader to over ten people for the past three years. This experience with having company leaders performing their tasks remotely, and to great success, allowed us to quickly extend processes we’ve already had in place to our entire team now working from home due to quarantine conditions.

About her experience and remote leadership, Marta said:

I’ve been working remotely for over 10 years now—more than half of my professional career—and began working remotely when such an arrangement was first becoming an option. It was a must at the time for me, because the company I worked for didn’t have an office in Wrocław but offered a remote position, which I ultimately decided to try. Later on, I moved to Warsaw and decided to join Monterail as a remote member, but the remote part of the job was my choice rather than my employer’s.

Marta Klimowicz Marta Klimowicz Head of Growth
at Monterail

What do you like about remote work?

MK: Two things first and foremost: the ability to snap into deep focus whenever the task demands and not having a commute. One of my previous jobs had a rather lengthy one, around 45 minutes one way—and the commute alone was eating up way too much of my time.

What about the drawbacks?

MK: Sitting at home, you can’t really feel the energy or the vibe that you get from being around your team and during face to face meetings. I felt it every time I visited the office in Wrocław and it’s really hard to substitute with software, be it Zoom or Slack. Its absence is particularly palpable when people suddenly start laughing in a meeting but you didn’t hear the joke—and we all know how asking for a joke to be repeated instantly ruins it.

Also, as a leader, I can see how the necessity to organize your day and workload at home can be troublesome for some people, especially given the closure of childcare facilities and other quarantine measures.

The Growth Team Perspective

Being a remote leader is just one side of the coin. Let’s see how the Growth Team members see the situation:

Błażej Cepil, Content Marketing Specialist:

From my quite short perspective (three months in Monterail), the remote leader setup is working just fine. Because we're using a handful of different resources for different kinds of communication, like Slack, Basecamp, and email, the information flow is good and the decision-making remains highly efficient. So far, I haven’t noticed too many downsides to the arrangement, aside from maybe fewer opportunities to develop a more personal relationship. Communicating necessary minute details also gets pretty time-consuming, but so far it's been an outlier for me, so I wouldn't put too much emphasis on this particular point. Other than that, I feel the business side of the company is operating at near-peak efficiency, regardless of whether the leadership is remote or not.

Jan Potoczek, Key Account Manager:

From my perspective, it’s working swimmingly. Having worked first with Szymon then with Marta, I learned to manage without an on-side leader, but that also made me a senior remote mentee. In the Growth Team, we have tools and processes in place to streamline communication and decision-making. Thanks to weekly check-ins, topics that needed discussion, Slack and ad-hoc calls, I never feel blocked at crucial and key points of my work. When it comes to more personal cases, like peer reviews, a visit in the office when possible is nice, and this human touch helps strengthen the leader-mentee relationship.

Olga Chala, New Business Manager:

In my previous job, I had a manager in Barcelona while I was located in Wrocław, so I wasn’t exactly surprised by the setup when I joined Monterail, it was what I considered normal. Of course, the onboarding process would have been slightly easier if we were all on site next to each other. Other than that, Monterail has definitely proven itself up to the task of operating remotely at 100% capacity under our pandemic conditions. I feel consistently up-to-date on what we're working on as a Growth Team and in broader business contexts.

The People Team Perspective

Being a remote mentor is not an easy task. What about being a mentor for remote mentors? Let’s hear the perspectives of the People Team, who were forced by our current public health circumstances to transition to a fully remote mentoring setup.

Wiktoria Krzyż, HR Specialist

Shifting to remote leadership can prompt many questions and insecurities in both us leaders and our mentees.Things that we once believed could only be done face to face now have moved online, so we expect some things to go sideways, we expect some loss of contact and motivation. However, I believe that with good intentions on both sides, our leader/mentee relationship can grow stronger in the face of this crisis. Extraordinary circumstances often make for impressive solutions.

Marta Dziergwa, HR Team Lead

Our peer-review process has been quite remote-friendly from the very beginning, so switching to 100% remote feedback collection went mostly without a hitch. On the other hand, the “summary” part proved a bit more challenging than usual on account of no face-to-face contact. Fortunately, our leaders have great contact with their mentees and are ready, with a bit of engagement and additional preparation, to conduct feedback sessions online. Should any help be needed—the People Team is ready to share all the tips and tricks at its disposal.

Kasia Michalska, HR Specialist

 Being an HR partner for mentors in a remote work situation does not exactly bring additional difficulties or require additional special skills over what we’ve grown used to. However, working on-site, alongside our team members, it's somewhat easier to notice someone's fatigue, frustration or that they’re struggling with a problem. That is why it’s so important to build an honest relationship based on trust with your co-workers, because should the need arise, the mentee will know that they can write or call their mentor at any time and with any matter, without anyone considering it a distraction. As an HR partner to mentors, we try to be in constant contact with them just to make sure that they’re alright or whether they need any help from us. We want them to know that, just like in the office, they can reach out to us with whatever they need to, even just to let us know that they are having a worse day than usual—that's fine too!

Our role is to ensure that mentors stay in regular contact with their mentees, discuss the current situation with them without reservation, and stay unafraid of asking or answering difficult questions. We also try to provide proper support in terms of good remote one-on-one practices and mentor responsibilities, including collecting and giving feedback.

Magda Paczyńska, HR Specialist

Although I joined Monterail only a short while ago, I quickly realized that the care for employee wellbeing goes far beyond just work-related issues. Especially now, when we need to support each other more than ever, we try to make sure that we stay in regular touch via Slack or Zoom. We organize virtual lunch and coffee meetings, hold fitness classes to relieve stress, and take care to ask about the wellbeing of our loved ones. Understanding people and their needs in this difficult time is vital.

Getting regular updates on the situation from company leadership via official channels like email is also very important and I appreciate it a lot.

Stories From the Back- and Frontend

The Growth team is just one part of Monterail and the majority of our forces make up the production team—developers, designers, project managers, and QA specialists. Before the pandemic, those choosing the remote work lifestyle usually did so to save time, improve their work-life balance, or due to family reasons.

Tobiasz Waszak, Backend Developer

I’ve been working remotely for five years now. At first, I was at the office for like three months, then i began coming in less and less often, until I eventually moved to the fully remote option of working from Kalisz. Back then, not everyone on the team approved the approach, but I managed to show that it doesn't make much difference where I’m sitting, the job gets done regardless.

Marcin Szulc, Backend Developer

I’ve been working remotely for slightly more than a year now. I had to move cities and adjust to my family’s situation so I was really glad when I heard that working remotely was an option at Monterail (long before it became obligatory for safety reasons).

Gilbert Komin, Backend Developer

I wanted to reclaim the time my daily three-hour commute took up. So I liked the option immediately.

The Highlights of Remote Work

TW: One key advantage of working remotely is that I never need to think about whether a conference room is available when I want to make a call—my room and a pair of headphones are enough. The time-saving factor is also important because I can spend more time with my daughter instead of commuting to the office. What I appreciate most is being close to my kid’s school and the ability to leave my home office at any time—although the latter is possible at Monterail, it seems a little bit more comfortable at home. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel a great sense of peace at home, which definitely results in higher productivity.

MS: I love the sense of independence and being fully mobile—I can work from home one day and take a trip to the seaside the next. It’s amazing. I’m really particular about my sense of comfort, so I have a separate room set up as my home office—it helps me feel “at work” and when I leave the room, I leave the work mindset behind as well. My previous job had me sitting in an open space with other people and sometimes it was overwhelming and really noisy.

GK: I have very peaceful conditions at home that allow me to focus deeply on my tasks. I appreciate the flexibility and the sense of freedom—when I feel under the weather I can work from the couch all day and it’s OK. What would I improve about our remote work setup? Honestly, not a thing. It seems a solution already tailored to my needs.

The Downsides of Remote Work

TW: Since I started working from home, I’m more sensitive to noise and it started bothering me more. I’m not used to traffic jams and happy about that. I’m not feeling any difficulties in communicating with my team.

MS: Sometimes I really miss contact with people—face to face conversations, having a cup of coffee in the kitchen, talking over lunch about everything and anything. Working from home, you sometimes feel like an outsider and the FOMO (fear of missing out) might start bothering you. Working remotely is definitely different, but I wouldn’t say it’s worse than any other arrangement.

PS: This might seem trivial, but I miss the good coffee, fresh fruit, and other perks that come with the office—the playroom with the foosball table, the PlayStation, or the billiard table. Amenities like these work wonders for in-office camaraderie. I also noticed it’s easier for some people to ping you when you’re in the office than write to you on Slack; I, however, never found it especially difficult.

Maintaining Work-Life Balance

TW: For my first three years at Monterail, I didn’t have a dedicated room for remote work. That made it very difficult for me to separate myself from work—I lived and worked in the same space, used the same laptop for work and for leisure. Now, however, I have a separate work room and when I’m finished with my schedule for the day, I leave the computer there. That helped me a lot with keeping my work-life balance.

MS: The first rule of remote work: always put on some pants! One other key piece of advice I’d give every remote worker is: be self-organized, responsible, and have a separate workspace or room dedicated solely to work. Also, consider getting yourself a comfortable, ergonomic chair. The most important thing, however, is not to worry whether working remotely is for you—your location has no actual bearing on how good you are at your job.

PS: When I first started working remotely I was still a student and I wanted to avoid having a commute. I happened to find a remote job and didn’t mind working from home. It didn’t matter to me then and still doesn’t.

TW: The most important thing is to make clear to your housemates that you are actually working. You won’t be unloading the dishwasher or doing other chores in between tasks or calls. You have to change the mindset of the people you’re living with.

The other thing is you have to be diligent and find solutions to many problems yourself. You also have to get used to actively reaching out to others, asking questions, and clarifying issues that aren’t fully understood.

The thing I first found challenging was putting the computer away after putting in my eight hours, but having a separate “office” space at home helped me with that.

MS: That’s hard to say. Motivated enough, people will work equally well at the office and at home.

Both places are full of distractions. In the office it’s the fun room or a busy kitchen, at home it’s the chores. The bottom line is that you need to commit to good work organization, otherwise the distractions will quickly prove too much.

GK: Self-discipline and motivation—if you lack either, remote work probably isn’t for you. Having regular work hours and breaks is definitely a good idea, and I think you should also inform your team about them. Depends on the person, I guess—I personally don’t have any problems with self-discipline, but I understand it might be difficult for some people to concentrate on work at home. I also practice yoga and meditation regularly, I find both extremely helpful in maintaining a good work-life balance.

Kamil Nogala: I think it’s vital not to be scared of asking questions, have regular calls with your team and the clients, and keep each other updated. Speaking of the calls: I think it’s important to have your camera on during calls—that way you can capture the emotions of the speaker and feel more connected. Another thing is to focus on inclusivity and keep the team members who work remotely in the communication loop.

GK: For me calls are very important. As are giving regular updates, frequent communication, and always letting your team know if you have to be away from the computer for a while. All in all, it’s helpful to know what the working hours of your teammates are.

Improving the Quality of Remote Work

It was great talking to our remote Monterailians. As most of them expressed similar sentiments about remote work, we will definitely be taking them into consideration in our next remote-first Key Initiative. The main takeaway from those conversations is that our current approach to remote work is solid, and only smaller tweaks and adjustments are needed to make it work even more smoothly.

But that’s not the end of it. Here’s what we already did and what we’re planning to do to improve the situation.

Up until now, we implemented some changes and adjustments to further accommodate our remote workers. We started using Zoom and Zoom Rooms for all meetings, including our weekly company roundups, and we’re constantly looking for better ways and tools to communicate.

Our Focus for the Future

Our main focus for the future is drafting guidelines and internal communication rules for remote-first teams and clarifying what that term really means to us based on the received feedback. We're also working on improving the ease of joining and jumping on calls (both in terms of technology and mindset) and introducing rules for joining weekly company roundup calls.

As you can see, the experience of working 100% remotely varies from person to person. While it definitely suits some of our team members, who report better focus and appreciate the time such an arrangement saves them, others find it difficult to separate their work life from their private life or miss the energy of a busy office. Regardless of the place we’re starting from, we can all keep learning how to get better at working remotely and staying connected with one another.

Let us know what sort of advantages and drawbacks of working remotely do you experience in your daily life!

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Monterail Team