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How We Handle the Remote-First Approach at Monterail

Earlier this year, we introduced the remote-first approach to our organization as one of our Key Initiatives for 2020. Why such a radical shift? 

That’s simple, we want 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!).

Back then, however, we couldn’t have anticipated 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 develops, the world needs to adjust, and swiftly. Although Monterail has long been offering the possibility of working remotely, in light of statewide preventive measures, we decided to close the office down temporarily, starting Monday, March 16, which meant that the entire team would be moving to a 100% remote approach.

Thanks to our prior experience, the right software, and an established company mindset that appreciated remote work, the switch to a fully remote setup went relatively painlessly and fairly quickly.

Read on to see what remote-first means to us and what has changed (or hasn’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.

What does “remote-first” entail?

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 can now expand our already great team by seeking talent from outside the city or even the country.

From now on, every one of our team members will have the opportunity to choose a work style that suits them best—remote, on site, or a mix of both, depending on the need (that, obviously, doesn’t apply to our current quarantine conditions). 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.

Necessary adjustments

Given the circumstances, any remote-first approach implemented right now would necessarily be a little more sweeping than usual. On March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The epidemiological situation is evolving rapidly, 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 two weeks.

The running list of how, and to what extent, tech companies have been affected by COVID-19 grows longer every day. Global tech brands such as Airbnb, Netflix, Dropbox, or Facebook have issued statements either encouraging their employees to work from home or ordering them to do so. Domestic and international travel has been severely restricted, public events have been cancelled—and similar precautionary measures can be expected to only broaden in scope before the pandemic begins.

We decided to follow a similarly 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. Our decision ultimately predated the introduction of anticipated statewide measures, which gave our team members time to make all necessary preparations.

For the time being, the entire Monterail team has moved to a fully remote work arrangement, to stay safe and reduce the risk of spreading the infection. We also introduced a number of other safety precautions as well.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

So what will change for our clients or team members? Very little, actually. This situation won’t affect either ongoing or new projects in any way. Monterail works remotely with its clients >98% of the time, so the shift will hardly force any major changes. Let’s dive into the details.

1. How ready is Monterail to work 100% remotely?

We are more than ready. We have tools, processes, software, and hardware all in place. Before going fully remote, we drafted a set of guidelines and best practices to facilitate the shift to a remote-first mindset (which we’re going to share soon!) 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.

2. How will the change affect my project?

We can confidently say that this situation won’t affect either ongoing or new projects in any way. We’ll continue to have regular meetings and calls, and continue to work on development stages as previously scheduled.

3. What if any of the developers will be forced to stay in quarantine or take sick leave?

We will 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 has already received the following information, along with additional details about Monterail's strategy for the upcoming months:

"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."

4. How will you conduct the workshops?

We decided that in this case would suit our needs best, mostly due to its “dual monitor mode” and simultaneous screen sharing. Using these capabilities, a designer could be showing an artboard straight from their design software and a PM or BA could be presenting 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.

5. What about meetings with clients?

All client meetings, whether held in our office or in the client’s office, will be moved online. Our project managers and the Customer Success team have already informed our clients about the current situation and the steps we’re taking to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

6. Did you restrict travel/events/company gatherings?

Yes, yes, and yes. Business travel—domestic and international—has been suspended. We are rescheduling or canceling any events that were to be held in the office, e.g our monthly Friday chill out, International Women’s Day. Monterail’s tenth birthday party, planned for May, has also been postponed.

7. How do you keep communication flowing?

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.

  • For project meetings and calls that require the presence of the entire Monterail staff or one of the company’s specialist teams (Growth, Development, Project Management, Business Support etc), we use
  • For the development team, Github remains the daily driver used for hosting source code projects in a variety of different programming languages and keeping track of the various changes made to every iteration.
  • For matters not requiring instant reaction, communicating strategic decisions, and discussing important issues, etc., we use Basecamp—a knowledge-sharing platform created to be the calm, organized way to manage projects.
  • For real-time communication, quick and urgent questions, and project discussions, we use Slack. It’s also the main touchpoint between marketing and sales teams because our Slack is integrated with Pipedrive and Hubspot, which allows everyone on the Growth team to see new contact form submissions, lead updates, and project details as real-time notifications.

8. What will recruitment and onboarding look like now?

Onboarding, recruitment, and peer reviews will continue but in a remote capacity. We’re still figuring out how to handle signing contracts and necessary paperwork, how to deal remotely with HSE workshops, distribute the necessary hardware to new hires, etc.

Let’s do this!

Not everyone has the opportunity to switch to a fully remote work arrangement, and we really appreciate ours. We’re also really lucky that the organization we’ve built is robust enough to contribute—at least to some extent—to curtailing the further spread of the new coronavirus without significant losses in productivity. Although the situation somewhat forced us to introduce these extraordinary solutions, we see it as an opportunity rather than a risk. We’re more than ready 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 succumbing to paranoia and using it as a default mode in an emergency, we decided instead to harness it to forecast all possible scenarios. And so we’re keeping our fingers crossed to the wave to crest in the following weeks.

The situation we found ourselves in is far business as usual, but we’ll all make it through. Stay calm, stay safe, wash your hands, and keep delivering meaningful software.

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