Very: Going Fully Remote (Pre-Pandemic)

Very

Background

Very is a fully-distributed IoT engineering firm, partnering with clients to build systems for smart manufacturing, smart energy & utilities, consumer electronics, and connected wellness. They have always had a remote-first work environment but not always a remote-only workforce. From Day 1 in 2011, they had 70% of employees working remotely, but it was finally at the end of 2018 that they made the call to go 100% remote. When they had a physical location, their employees were just not utilizing it. Because their work (IoT engineering) is very cerebral, it is best done in a heads-down, distraction-free environment, and so they found that engineers weren’t using their physical space because they wanted to be able to control their surroundings and minimize cognitive distractions. They also noticed that their 70% remote workforce intrinsically created a two-tiered work culture. This is where some people have access to the office to have face time with their manager, water cooler conversations, holiday parties, etc., while others experience the company culture only remotely. Having a two-tiered work culture can become corrosive, and they knew they could be more equitable if they went entirely remote. And thus, Very became an entirely “remote-only” work environment.

Approach

Creating a Remote Work Commission
When Very’s leadership team made the final call to go remote, the 70% of employees who were already remote were either not impacted or happy to now have the opportunity to help their teammates’ transition and place more effort on building an even stronger remote work culture. For members of the team having more difficulty transitioning, Very created the Remote Work Commission. It consists of 7 people to represent the company’s roughly 70-employee workforce, all coming from different workplace culture sentiments.

The goal of the commission was to identify persistent issues, come up with creative solutions, and separate idle complaints from true trends that should be addressed. They meet once or twice monthly and have a Slack channel to share anecdotes and data points that are brought to the attention of management and, occasionally, the company as a whole.

Helping Employees Craft Their Work Stations
They began offering remote workers a $1,000 home office stipend as soon as they joined the team, and they are given an additional $200 each following year. In order to get people really excited about what their work station could become, they implemented a competition to show off their home offices and gave out prizes such as “best use of space” and “best cord management solution.” Within a day, the publicly posted submissions started rolling in—not just generic pictures of their space, but full-blown mini-movies with amazing production value.

This helped Very to:

  • Get people to bond outside of their standard workgroups.
  • Allow employees to see into the lives of their fellow teammates.
  • Give inspiration to those struggling to create an ideal space for them to enjoy while working.

Chat Applications to Keep Connected
As a way to keep workers connected to their remote colleagues Slack is the preferred communication channel at Very. Slack can be a very effective communication tool in some respects, but problems can arise when so many people are following or expected to check a given channel, much like a Twitter stream. This makes it hard for their heads-down engineers to catch up on a conversation. To combat the problem, Very created a special bot. If anyone posts something that is important and that all of the team should not miss, someone can tag it with their ‘ICYMI emoji. This creates a digest email that is sent out each Monday and ranked by level of importance. It was a great fix for a very common complaint.

They also enabled additional insights, apps, and shortcuts that empower team members to solve their own problems and find answers easily within Slack. This includes using an app, Guru, that can call up answers to FAQs, company policies, and other processes that anyone could possibly need to do. Because of this integration, employees are able to spend less time searching for information and more time doing what they were actually hired to do.

Outcome

As evidence of the success of their remote work initiatives, Very was recently named on Inc. magazine’s annual list of the Best Workplaces for 2020. Each nominated company took part in an employee survey, conducted by Quantum Workplace, on topics including trust, management effectiveness, perks, and confidence in the future. Inc. gathered, analyzed, and audited the data. They then ranked all the employers using a composite score of survey results.

A few of the standout stats from Very’s custom report include:

  • 94.74% of Very employees are highly engaged (defined as advocates who view the company favorably and intend to stay).
  • 100% of both women and men at Very surveyed agreed with the statement, “I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization.”
  • “Transparent” was marked as the top word used by employees to describe Very’s work environment.

Additionally, here are a few of their favourite anonymous employee quotes pulled from the report:
“This is truly the best job I have ever had.”
“Very is a company that is self-analyzing, and continuously improving itself.”
“The company has a strong culture of collaboration and excellence that permeates all areas of the business.”

Very has learned a lot along the way on their remote work journey, and it’s helped them to give a lot of important advice to other companies and leaders making the transition to remote work amid the coronavirus pandemic. These insights have been featured by Business Insider, UC Today, HR Daily Advisor, and TLNT.

Snippets of their advice on transitioning to remote:
Spend some time now getting your nerve center up and running. This means making sure all of the resources, documents, processes, and other knowledge that are often stored in filing cabinets, bulletin boards, and your employees are accessible, organized, and easily retrievable. Even if this remote work ends up being a short-term status, this shift will still be a valuable resource for new employees and occasional remote workers and unburdening those who are often asked to support sporadic requests.

Accountability is key. And, most importantly, worry less about losing line of sight of your employees, but continue to hold them accountable to the standards you have always had. At its core, remote work is about providing the needed flexibility and trust for your staff to thrive in an environment that works best for them. There will be growing pains, and it will take time for some organizations to get into the right rhythm, but if you allow employees to take the flexibility needed to make the transition, you may find that the quality of the work improves because you are enabling your staff to customize their environment success.