The moment I am writing this article is when the COVID-19 pandemic spreading all over the world and forcing numerous corporates to transform their working space from office to online.
For many people, remote work is a pretty ideal work mode. For Giftpack, this is the culture that we have been yearning for since our establishment. Before diving into a complete framework of how Giftpack practices remote working, let’s talk about what were the factors that impact my decision to insist on having this kind of working mode and culture.
I have a strong background related to engineering, and I do product design, too. For a person who at the same time is an engineer and a designer, the biggest problem is:
“We cannot be interrupted very often, and our inspiration comes up at unexpected moments.”
According to a piece of interesting research conducted by Google, most of the professionals would need another 23 minutes on average to get concentrate to work after being interrupted by other things around them. This is true damage for all the teams. For positions such as engineers and designers, I think it might take even longer to get back to work, sometimes hours.
Additionally, I believe there is a big chance that most of the designers and engineers have the highest productivity after midnight. That is the time when we have undefeatable efficiency and unstoppable inspiration.
The biggest take away about this is that it might not be the midnight that everyone is the most active or productive, but there must be a sort of interval that the individual can utilize, which cannot be interrupted at all. Otherwise, we can’t really push ourselves to the extreme and have 120% performance. This is what I learnt after 9 years of remote working.
Having all this said, at the early establishment of Giftpack, we have been an extremely technical and operational-oriented company, which makes us decide to use the framework of remote working as our working environment. However, it is unavoidable that where there are upsides, there are downsides, too. In the following paragraphs, I will document our process of building the company’s remote working culture in detail, hoping to serve this article as a reference for whoever is reading now.
First of all, let’s talk about the benefits of remote working for our team members:
Flexible working time. You can work anywhere and anytime.
Cut down on expense. You can save extra expenses (i.e. transportation, etc.) and you don’t need to suffer from getting up early.
There is a change to dramatically increase productivity and working accuracy.
A big relief from the stress of being in the same room with your supervisors and colleagues.
Significantly improved life quality. You are provided with extreme freedom.
Current challenges I have observed:
Communication within teams may result in a decrease in efficiency.
It requires quality softwares and tools to assist in the completion of work.
Individuals need top-standard self-discipline to work remotely.
We need to care team member’s states of mind because a long period of time being alone can lead to a strong sense of loneliness.
There is no clear distinction between life and work. Obviously, not everyone can get used to this lifestyle.
The intervention between team members and the family/flatmates can become a huge obstacle for the completion of tasks.
Internet connection and charging are two factors to determine the success of the connection between teammates.
In order to solve the problems above, the first thing that Giftpack did was to introduce a series of softwares and created the Human Resource management system. Our team is made up by people who love to experience new things, the software list below is what we are using now for daily trifles after numerous trial-and-errors:
When determining the primary working space, we saw many companies let people create different groups for working on Line and WeChat. We think this is not a wise decision since you cannot differentiate between your personal life and work, which it has a huge impact on your mental states and work efficiency, and it decreases the efficiency of replying and managing messages, not to mention that it almost has no integration with other applications.
After trying using many other platforms, we decided to stay with Slack due to three concrete reasons:
Highly-customized Engineering Feature We integrate everything, from customer service, orders, errors in products, to statistics reports, all in one platform. We basically can know what is happening in our company as long as Slack is on.
High Integration with Third-party Applications Slack has powerful integration features with third-party applications. Within a few clicks, we can have good services provided by other platforms at our working area instead of switching between them.
User-friendly Design The most vital thing about remote working is actually the culture, and the components affecting this include whether the interaction between people is cute, friendly, and warm. Slack is not only good at the excellent design of efficiency, but user-friendly perspective as well. Just like Giftpack, we love heartwarming products.
Back in the year 2016, Giftpack used Google Drive and Dropbox Paper for document management platforms. Google Drive was basically a place for us to store document, and Dropbox Paper was the platform for co-editing document. We found out that once the document grew bigger, it became a total disaster for us. When we were trying to come up with solutions, Notion came into play. The product design of Notion completely changes the mindset of document management. This innovative and effective method caught our eyeballs. High flexibility for customizing and extremely useful templates management made us stay with Notion. There are plenty of article about the goods and bads of Notion, please google it if you are interested.
The next step for Giftpack is about task management. We are believers of kanban’s managing principles. Surviving in the fast-paced startup environment, Agile processing system lets everyone manage all the details of every task. This kind of platform combining a good management system can lead to results that are easy for tracking. We also tried Trello, but we still like the features on MeisterTask’s slightly better.
I want to add something that can happen easily during the process of implementation.
Team members at Giftpack are relatively younger. The benefits are high productivity and full of new ideas; drawbacks are lacks of management mindsets and experiences.
“I’m working with high efficiency, why should I spend time recording my tasks on the task board?”
This is a dangerous thought that will lead to problems in synchronizing information when working remotely. How do we know what others are doing as Giftpack recruit more employees? Due to the lacking experiences of management and communication, we couldn’t track the process of tasks and therefore the execution rate was pretty low. It took us five times to implement this kind of management system. Sometimes explanation does not work, it takes actual real pain for people to understand the importance of management mindset.
In terms of engineering, we use Github to manage every process of Issue and Todo. It is a great way to connect codes and every Commit, just for your reference.
The competition among meeting application has always been heated. Originally, we were the believers of Zoom, and we believed Zoom has the best performance (perhaps the algorithm is well-written so it does not burn the computer when running the program) and really nice interaction features. While because of the security issue, Giftpack left Zoom behind and chose to embrace UberConference. It hasn’t been long since we decided to change, right now there aren’t too many difficulties in using (and it has Japanese sound system); meanwhile, it creates integration with Google Calendar. UberConference has many similarities with Zoom, it shouldn’t take too long to transfer completely.
For tasks which require creative thinking, the lack of face-to-face interaction or brainstorming often leaves us a bland conversation or just a screen-sharing session. For people who have studied thinking process design, they have a certain logic and workflow to generate ideas efficiently and the process needs many graphs and think models to complete. Pure conversation without action hardly present the idea so we introduce Miro to our team as the main creative thinking platform. It helps us to output solutions without seeing each other.
For a company which has its own website, having an online customer service system is a must. After comparing similar products, we chose Crisp eventually. It wasn’t the online co-working feature that every product has that won our heart but the integration of all the channels:
Crisp can integrate all the messaging channels into one platform, including Line, Facebook Messenger and Twitter. We don’t really have time switching between platforms. Efficiency is everything.
Besides, by integrating Twillio, we can let customers send messages and Emails to us, which hugely improves the return rate.
The last thing I want to talk about is “phone”. Most of the companies have a switchboard to respond to all kinds of needs. It more or less influences in some way for a company either has an office or not. In Giftpack, we use OpenPhone as company’s switchboard. Any team member can log into the App and answer the phone. This is a good remotely virtual switchboard. By arranging everyone’s schedule, we can always have someone answer the phone calls from all over the world.
Giftpack provides 24/7 customer service. Our service is already in many different time zones. This form of cooperation is a friendly and efficient solution.
Additionally, there are design-and media-related platforms like Frame.io and Zeplin which can provide effective feedback and improve productivity for remote working.
Aside from software system integration, management and human resource systems should be built together. The main problem we are trying to solve is:
Everyone is remote working and even has never met others in person, how to create strong bonds, sense of belongings, and friendships?
In order to align with all the information, Giftpack has daily Standup meetings like other startups do. We use 15–30 minutes to scan through everyone’s working process, segmented by different departments, to ensure:
What has been done yesterday? Have the goals reached or extra help needed?
Plan for the day and any expected difficulties.
Possible plan for the next day, depending on the day’s plan.
As time goes by, except the weird feeling that we don’t see each very often, it surely improves efficiency for remote working. Standup meeting is also a point where we can report yesterday’s milestones. There was a short period of time we tried to have a standup meeting every two days, and it turned out it is still better to put a little bit pressure in order to have better working performance. It is a nice thing to meet each other inline during working time.
Before getting into a real business in the company’s weekly reunion, every single of our team member needs to spend 3 minutes to talk about their personal life in the past week. Everything about work is forbidden, and you cannot make people bored.
By this approach, we can actually know each other even we are working remotely. It’s even worthier to listen to everyone’s stories around the world. It is worth noting that since we are all in different time zones, some may come to the meeting late because of various reasons. Starting the meeting through this way can avoid members from missing the important issues we discuss in the latter part of the meeting.
Actually, we shorten the original 5 minutes to 3 minutes because our company has grown bigger. There were times when our team members complain that “is a waste of time”. We cannot avoid this kind of thoughts coming up from a personal perspective instead of a teamwork spirit. I still believe this is the most effective way to connect people after practicing this tradition for almost 4 years. For the against opinion, try to ask a reverse question, “Isn’t it worth it to use the time that you were originally going to work to chat with your team members instead?”
This is a third-party application we found within Slack. It can randomly create a meeting and provide interesting activities based on team members’ time zones.
At Giftpack, we use Donuts as ice-breakers for new onboarding members. It can drastically reduce the time need to know each other. We also see it as a chance to continue pairing up weekly and arranging the schedule for psychological counselling. This can make sure team members know people who are both on and outside their teams.
I emphasized how important this is in the article, Giftpack HR — Gifterns, FYI.
In the final part of the article, I have to mention what are the things we can improve and the problems we have been trying to solve.
Ignoring the fact that I have written such long paragraphs, the answer is still “yes”. Giftpack values co-working spaces. We use The Hive and WeWork around the globe as our working spaces. While we don’t require employees to go to the office to work; instead, we create a notion that “office is comfortable for working, you can choose on your own” for team members to find out the most suitable working mode. Some never appear at the office, and that does not matter. One trend we notice is that those who go to office have stronger relationships.
Until now, all the team members are very responsible for their work and have great self-discipline. They’ll always tell us the reason when they need a day-off. However, it did happen when someone tries to escape from messages which made us reach them via phone. This feeling sucks. While we don’t have a clear rule for reward and punishment, the only thing we can do is to ensure they can respond to messages in specific time periods. We are now in the process of establishing this rule. Meanwhile, the workflow of Slack allows everybody can integrate their calendars and notifications, just with one click. I’ll definitely share with you after we come up with the best cultural system.
Thank you for reading this long article. Giftpack is a startup with diverse people and culture. I hope documenting record every step can let the company have a chance to reflect and move on. This is also an opportunity to share with people, either entrepreneur or not, as a reference, and make sure we are always on the right track (hopefully lol).
Archer - CEO & Founder @Giftpack Inc. Made with ❤️ at Giftpack in New York City