October 3, 2022
In January 2020, we introduced the remote-first approach to our organization as one of our Key Initiatives for that year. The shift seemed radical at a time - little did we know that soon enough it would become the operational mode for almost all businesses all over the world.
Back in 2020, we wanted to continue attracting and staffing the best talent here at Monterail, regardless of their preferred location or modus operandi—the approach prioritized choice, meaning everyone could work from home, the beach, or the office (or even from the Moon!). And that hasn’t changed since then: we still want to ensure that we attract the top talent, no matter where our potential team members are located.
As mentioned above, what we could not anticipate was that circumstances would soon force companies worldwide to embrace similar work-from-home approaches, not as a privilege, but as a must in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
As the situation developed, the world needed to adjust, and swiftly. Although Monterail had long been offering the possibility of partially remote work, in light of statewide preventive measures, we decided to close the office down temporarily, starting Monday, March 16 2020, which meant that the entire team moved to a 100% remote approach almost overnight.
Thanks to our prior experience, the right software, and an established company mindset that appreciated remote work, our 2020 switch to a fully remote setup went relatively painlessly and fairly quickly.
Read on to see what remote-first means to us in 2022 and what had changed (or hadn’t) in terms of cooperation with clients, meetings, and other organizational issues after we went full remote. And see the end of the post for a brief FAQ section that we’ll continue to update regularly as new questions arise, with the last update conducted in May 2023.
Embracing a “remote-first” approach means that we’ve opened our company even more and decided to use the situation as an opportunity to grow beyond Wrocław and Poland. Even though our head office is here and will stay here, we are now in the process of expanding our already great team by seeking talent from outside the city or even the country. As of May 2023, we employ 12 team members from different departments who work permanently outside of Poland - from locations such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Every one of our team members has the opportunity to choose a work style that suits them best—remote, on-site, or a mix of both, depending on their needs. If somebody’s living situation requires them to move cities, their status at Monterail will remain unchanged.
It also means having a more open approach to remote work in general. This includes identifying areas for improvement and implementing solutions that will make our cross-team cooperation better, easier, and more effective. Try to see remote-first as a method of working, collaborating, and sharing knowledge together, that encourages getting everyone on the team (rather than only office-based team members) involved.
Given the circumstances, any remote-first approach implemented back in 2020 and 2021 was a little more sweeping than usual. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The epidemiological situation has been evolving rapidly in the last 2.5 years, and governments around the world have been introducing broad measures to curtail the spread of the infection. In Poland, schools, universities, restaurants, and now even borders have been ordered closed for at least a few months, with multiple countries implementing similar or even far more strict measures.
The running list of how, and to what extent, tech companies were affected by COVID-19 grows longer every day. Global tech brands such as Airbnb, Netflix, Dropbox, and Facebook have issued statements either encouraging their employees to work from home or ordering them to do so. Domestic and international travel was severely restricted, public events were canceled—and similar precautionary measures can be expected to only broaden in scope before the pandemic begins. In mid-2021, we entered the era of the ‘new normal’ where business operations are back to their regular capacities, with preventive measures still in the back of everyone’s mind. The immediate threat of the pandemic seems to be a thing of the past for most of the European countries - even though time will tell how long it will take for the global pandemic to fully retreat.
In 2020, we decided to follow a proactive protocol—in order to contribute to “flattening the curve” and to relieve, however minutely, the stress the pandemic would put on the local healthcare system, we decided to close our office for the next two weeks, starting Monday, March 16, 2020. Our decision ultimately predated the introduction of anticipated statewide measures, which gave our team members time to make all necessary preparations. While in 2023, our team members can decide whether they want to work remotely or from our office in Wroclaw, our approach is responsive so we would be able to adjust quickly should any challenges arise.
For the time being, the entire Monterail team has moved to a flexible work arrangement.
In March 2020, the entire company had to shift to a remote-only mode in only a few days, so it should come as no surprise that the whole situation has brought up lots of questions and concerns—we’re going to address most of them in the FAQ section below.
Please note that the FAQ was updated in May 2023 to account for any changes to our approach to remote working.
So what has changed for our clients or team members since March 2020? Very little, actually. This situation did not affect either ongoing or new projects in any way. Monterail works remotely with its clients >98% of the time, so the shift hardly forced any major changes. Let’s dive into the details.
As of early 2023, we still operate in a remote-first approach. We have all the tools, processes, software, and hardware that we needed and still need in place. Before going fully remote, we drafted a set of guidelines and best practices to facilitate the shift to a remote-first mindset. We did the research and spoke at length with some of our team members about their remote work experience. Every suggestion was taken seriously and contributed to making the whole experience, for both employees and clients, as pleasant and effective as it is when we’re working together in the office.
We can confidently say that the remote-first situation did not affect either ongoing or new projects in any way. We’ve continued to have regular meetings and calls and work on development stages as previously scheduled.
Back in 2020 and 2021 when national lockdowns were imposed in various countries, we treated quarantines as sick leaves, with our Project Managers handling the temporary handover process as required.
Fast forward to 2023 when we’re nearing the end of the global pandemic, we still handle sick leaves, as usual, meaning that the Project Manager will inform the client about the situation and, if required, we will try to replace the absentee. Each client received the following information, along with additional details about Monterail's strategy when it comes to unplanned absences:
"In case an unplanned absence puts any business-critical priority in danger, Monterail will be searching for substitutions, recommending changes in scope or strategy or taking any other actions to support your business."
We decided that in this case Zoom and Google Meet would suit our needs best, mostly due to their “dual monitor mode” and simultaneous screen sharing. Using these capabilities, a designer could show an artboard straight from their design software, and a PM or BA could present the list of tasks with relevant descriptions to a client sharing their business ideas and concepts that they wanted to discuss—all at the same time. Additional details will be provided to the clients before every workshop.
We're also ready to conduct on-site workshops at our Wroclaw office, with participants joining both in person and remotely. We now treat our HQ as a meeting place where our team members and customers can come together at any time.
In 2020, all client meetings, whether held in our office or in the client’s office, were moved online. In 2023, we now host regular meetings in both our headquarters in Wroclaw and in the client’s facilities as required, including our trips to the US, UK, and Denmark. Our project managers are monitoring the current situation and taking the necessary steps to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Yes, we did back in 2020 - 2021 when Poland as well as other countries faced a series of lockdowns. Business travel—domestic and international—had been suspended. We were rescheduling or canceling any events that were to be held in the office, e.g our monthly Friday chill out, International Women’s Day, etc. Monterail’s tenth birthday party, planned for May 2020, has also been postponed.
Since then, we have slowly gotten back to organizing live in-person events both at our office and at different venues in Poland. Our team members also started hosting regular integrations in several cities, including Warsaw and Krakow. On June, 11th 2022, we also celebrated our 12th birthday and had a blast at the celebration party.
To help our team members get to our headquarters more regularly, we also introduced a quarterly ‘Get on your way to Monterail’ budget that Monterailians can use to travel to/from our facility.
Communication is the ultimate foundation of remote work. Without effective communication, little gets actually done, so we make every effort to ensure that the exchange of information remains unimpeded and conducted properly. All of the tools specified below have been in use at Monterail for quite some time now.
Onboarding, recruitment, and peer reviews are now held in a remote/hybrid capacity. Contracts with team members and freelancers are signed via e-platforms, and onboarding is conducted both remotely and on-site. Recruitment is hybrid, but most of the interviews are still conducted online.
Not everyone has the opportunity to switch as promptly to a fully remote work arrangement, and we really appreciate our arrangement back in 2020. We’re also really lucky that the organization we’ve built is robust enough to contribute—at least to some extent—to curtail the further spread of coronavirus without significant losses in productivity.
Although the situation somewhat forced us to introduce these extraordinary solutions, we’ve seen it as an opportunity rather than a risk. For the past 3 years, we were able to try out a remote-first approach and put the necessary tools and processes into practice.
At Monterail, we’re usually led by realism with a touch of optimism. Instead of using it as a default mode in the emergency of the global pandemic, we decided instead to harness it to forecast all possible scenarios.
In 2023, we can clearly see that we will remain operating using this flexible and hybrid model - it has become a part of our DNA at Monterail. What we’ve become more and more aware of is that human connection is definitely important to us as a team. That’s why events and company integrations will be always held mostly in person, with occasional tech meetups conducted remotely.
The situation we found ourselves in back when the Covid-10 pandemic started in 2020 was far from business as usual, but we all made it through.
Our motto was and still is: Stay calm, stay safe, wash your hands, and keep delivering innovative software.