Alexander Dyatlov, General Manager Ukraine at Very Good Security, in a column for AIN.UA tells how the company has moved to a completely remote mode and what tools are used for effective work.

Very Good Security is a U.S. sensitive information security company that has attracted over $45 million in investment from Visa, Goldman Sachs, Andreessen Horowitz and others.

Coronavirus did what it would have taken years to do: put everyone on a fully remote mode simultaneously. For some people, this transition is quite simple. But for most companies, this mode of operation is unfamiliar.

In the case of Very Good Security the transition to work from home was quite simple: we have a distributed team with offices in Kiev, Lviv, San Francisco and Phoenix, the company now employs over 120 people. Most of the teams are in different locations.

Moreover, the company was quite loyal to remote work before quarantine, the employee could work 1-2 days a week from home. This attitude greatly simplified the transition to a fully remote work.

At the same time, when you work in a distributed team, there are many interpersonal contacts that are significantly reduced in a fully remote team.

Working in a remote team and working in a coronavirus situation is fundamentally different. When you work in a fully remote mode, you usually create an appropriate workplace at home, or you can work from a cafe to change the context, or from coworking if you want more socialization. In quarantine you have to work all the time at home, being 24/7 with your family and friends.

We at Very Good Security have adopted a number of changes to make the transition smoother and the work more productive. At the same time, the company moved to work from home on March 3. What has changed at VGS with the transition to remote work:

Meetings for work synchronization

For teams that synchronized every day, nothing changed, they kept seeing each other online every day. Teams that had such synchronization meetings on a weekly basis moved to more frequent meetings: 2-3 times a week.

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Meetings 1:1

All team leaders do 1:1 meetings with their team members. The purpose of these meetings is to understand what is going on with each other and what help may be needed. With the switch to remote mode, we switched to holding 1:1 meetings on a weekly basis.

Knowledge-sharing

Regular knowledge-sharing sessions are held within and between teams. There are two approaches: when someone wants to share knowledge and when someone is interested in getting knowledge. In the second case, we find someone who can share this knowledge.

Office hours with top management

Funders and top managers have allocated time slots every week so that each employee can communicate with them. For example, the cofounder and CTO, Marshall Jones, made what is known as COVID-19 Chat Radio. This is a Google Meet that lasts all day and where Marshall is, if not in meetings. That way, you can always talk to Marshall and work with him.

Cross-team meetings

Many teams (e.g. Product and Sales teams) hold monthly meetings in order to coordinate. These meetings help the Sales team to share feedback from customers and the Product team to share product development plans. With the move to remote work, the number of such sessions has increased.

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Team meetings

We used to have a monthly All Hands and knowledge-sharing sessions that took place when it was necessary. Due to the fact that the number of interpersonal contacts has decreased significantly, we have increased the number of team-wide meetings to compensate for this and so that teams are not in an information vacuum:

  • All Hands. Monthly meetings of the whole team, where the CEO talks about the results of the month and plans for the next month.
  • Remote coffee. It is an informal event where you can communicate on any topics with colleagues, we hold it once a week. However, sometimes these events are thematic. We had a remote coffee, where everyone came in Hawaiian clothes, and there was one where you had to come wearing glasses.
  • Chat&Learn. At these events, some of the guys talk about their hobbies, share their knowledge, talk about their project. We spend every two weeks. For example, one of our employees plays 5 instruments and he told us about them on Chat&Learn.
  • Happy Hour. It is an informal event that we hold on Friday night to just hang out with colleagues and discuss interesting events for the week. They can be thematic. For example, one day, Dotty, Chief of Staff, invited all the guys to her house for a virtual party…
  • Remote Fun. Once a week we hold games or interesting discussions online. We play board games, we discuss books.
  • Sessions with guest speakers. We invite interesting speakers to share their knowledge. For example, recently Ulyana Suprun told our team about coronavirus and how to fight it. And soon Lubomir Ostapiv will talk about the finances during the crisis. Also, John Kim will talk about how important it is to develop software skills to succeed.
  • Surprises for birthdays. We used to say happy birthday at the office, but we can’t do it now. So on our birthday, we send a courier with a little sweet surprise.

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  • Mental Health webinars. As I wrote above, working from home is very difficult for many. Statistics from China show that the number of divorces after quarantine has increased significantly. It is clear that couples spend 24/7 together in an enclosed space, which is difficult for a relationship. We have started conducting mental health webinars to help our employees better cope with quarantine sessions.

All these team meetings help stay connected.

Tools that are very helpful to our team in remote work.

Video calls Google Meet

For all calls, we use Google Meet. We have considered Zoom, but due to their security problems, we have refused to use them. Google Meet is great for both small calls and team calls that involve more than 100 people at a time. On group calls, we have two basic rules:

  • Turn the camera on. Since most people are at home, it is important to be able to see your colleagues, not just hear them.
  • Turn off the microphone if you don’t talk. Often even a low sound can prevent others from listening to the speaker. On Google Meet, you can force the microphone to mute if someone forgets to do so.

Internal Communication Slack

All of our internal correspondence takes place at Slack. With the move to quarantine, we have added several channels where employees can chat on informal topics, reset photos from their remote workstations and how they spend their time. For example, we have the channel #paws-up about pets, #books – book club, #kids – about children, #quarantini – about cocktails.

Mail Gmail

Each employee chooses exactly how to use this tool. Someone uses additional email clients, I like the web version of Gmail.

Knowledge-sharing Confluence

Originally, we stored knowledge on Google Drive and Github. But we realized that this wasn’t very convenient and are now actively moving to Confluence as the main resource for sharing knowledge. Confluence has a good search engine and the ability to structure information, which is critical for knowledge sharing.

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Project Management — Clubhouse

As task-manager, we use Clubhouse. Each team in the company has its own briefcase in Clubhouse, where they choose a convenient way to track tasks (Kanban, Scrum, and others). Clubhouse is easier to manage than Jira and does the tasks we need. Clubhouse can still be called Jira without steroids, everything is simple and nothing extra.

CRM — Salesforce

Salesforce – the most advanced CRM-system, in which you can customize all the necessary processes to the needs of the company and connect the various tools that the sales department needs. At the same time, Salesforce is quite a heavy tool and should be used for certain sales volumes and team sizes.

Marketing CRM — HubSpot

HubSpot helps automate the work with inbound leads and marketing campaigns to attract new leads.

Setting Goals and Performance Review — Lattice

We use Lattice to set goals and conduct Performance Review. Lattice allows you to automate many processes and increase the transparency of what your teams do. All teams set SMART goals, which in turn are linked to company goals. Also in Lattice employees can thank each other for important achievements and this feedback will be automatically published in Slack.

Tracking HR information and vacations/visits/hospitals — BambooHR

At BambooHR, you can conveniently set up processes for approving business trips, vacations and sick leaves. For example, if a business trip is requested and approved, the administration team will receive the information and data needed to organize the trip. BambooHR also has all the HR statistics and can be used to notify new employees and manage the data conveniently.

Organization of meetings between employees — Donut

The bot can be configured to periodically introduce employees to each other and offer to communicate. This increases the communication between employees within the team.

Brainstorming and Whiteboards — Miro

In Miro you can create online whiteboards with stickers, mindups and more. All participants can edit them in real time and add their ideas.

Conclusions

It is already possible to draw interesting conclusions after switching to a completely remote work:

  1. The efficiency of the team working completely remotely has not changed compared to work in the office, and the above activities helped to overcome the vacuum of isolation.
  2. It’s worth keeping an active balance. For example, we tried to spend remote coffee every working day and after a while attendance significantly decreased.
  3. Online activities with an adende or theme are much more interesting than free activities. In real life, you can get together and communicate on different topics. Online it is much more complicated and often happens that 2-3 people from a group of 10 people communicate, if the topic of the meeting is not set.

Source: AIN.UA


Volodymyr Kuzma

Volodymyr Kuzma

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” – Jim Rohn