Remote work is here to stay (at least some version of it), and while some love it, others aren’t so sure. The imbalance isn't a surprise. Many companies went remote during the pandemic. Some got it right, and others, not so much.
But it's not their fault. Turning an in-office workplace into a fully remote workforce at the drop of a hat is a challenge. Yet it's still an attractive work style that's increasing in demand. In fact, some workers are fighting against being herded back into the office.
This sentiment is prevalent globally as well, in places like Australia, the UK, Germany, Japan, and France. Because of this, more employers are searching for options to create a better remote or hybrid workplace that appeals to current employees and new talent.
Hotjar is a remote-first company and always has been. And as a fellow Hotjarian and five-year vet of remote work, I think we're on a promising path.
No, we're not perfect. We have improvements to make. But our learnings can be gold nuggets for startups and companies new to the remote work journey.
6 Things Hotjar does to make remote work successful
Picture this: You work with team members living in different countries, yet everyone meets deadlines, maintains communication, and ensures a healthy work-life balance.
How is this possible?
Hotjar's foundation, culture, and operating system are built around remote work and supporting our global teams. It's a work in progress that we're committed to continuously improving.
You can do the same.
Here are six things we do to make remote work work.
1. Give employees a stipend to improve remote work (and hang out)
We offer employees three budgets to make working from home more pleasant. One is for designing a comfortable home office.
A complaint of many first-time remote workers is not having a place in the home to work peacefully from. Maybe there's no dedicated office. Or they lack a desk and comfortable chair to sit in for hours.
I took advantage of this budget by purchasing an ergonomic chair, plants, and a movable standing desk, so I can change the scenery at any time.
Then, since we're not in the office and can't enjoy perks like coffee, tea, and snacks, we can use our work-from-home budget to purchase tasty treats to enjoy at home. Or we can venture out to a cafe to indulge ourselves as we work.
But what’s appealing to most is the budget to combat loneliness. We provide employees with €2,500 per year, pro-rata, for this purpose. Because let's admit it—working from home can get pretty dull. So many of us, including myself, use our funds to meet up.
Sometimes we travel to meet for dinner or other social activities. Or we assemble locally for a co-working session. I have about 10 Hotjar teammates in Berlin, where I live, whom I occasionally connect with (albeit more so before the pandemic).
When COVID hit, we didn't allow fear to drive our teams apart. Instead, Hotjar repurposed the budget for virtual events like online cooking classes, escape rooms, and other fun activities we could do together from afar.
Overall, we find that teams that gel along well in the real (or virtual) world work better together. Which leads us to thing two.
2. Communicate and collaborate within boundaries (but without barriers)
Imagine you're working remotely in your living room or on your patio. There's no looking across an office to see who's there or tapping a co-worker on the shoulder to ask a quick question.
But this doesn't mean walls have to exist between remote workers. At Hotjar, we're adamant about lowering barriers to communication and collaboration without overstepping boundaries.
Tricky, but not impossible.
Asynchronous (async) communication and collaboration are at the heart of Hotjar's remote philosophy. And the way we pull it off is by empowering our teams to set boundaries everyone must abide by. For example, I add personal appointments to my schedule so my team knows if I have to go to the doctor or attend a family gathering. This way, the team knows not to schedule meetings or deadlines then.
And this works incredibly well with the right tools.
Slack is our favorite platform for everyday communication and checking in with one another. When one of us gets sick or is in a meeting, we update our Slack status to inform everyone.
We also use async collaboration tools like Miro and Figma, and platforms like Trello and Jira to make prioritizing work, brainstorming sessions, workshops, and document sharing easier.
Using the right tools and processes has helped us discover the importance of transparency.
3. Build trust with transparency
Transparency in the workplace doesn't get the love and attention it deserves. Not only does being transparent help teams prevail in their roles—it also builds trust.
Take, for example, a manager who hoards information. She has all the important documents, data, and intel about a project kept neatly in a desktop folder. One day, she takes leave for a few weeks, taking the precious folder of information her team needs to continue working without disruption.
This scenario leads to one of two things:
The manager is left scrambling at the last minute to organize and share everything before parting
She leaves anyway, and her team is left trying to plug in the missing pieces
Hotjar avoids both by doing (almost) everything publicly. Here are some ways we accomplish that:
Discussing everything on public Slack channels for all team members to see (and join in when it makes sense for them to do so)
Uploading documents to share and refer to when needed
Sharing calendars so everyone knows who's busy or free and when
Posting company financials (e.g. salary ranges, revenue, etc.)
Our process eliminates the barriers that would block teams from accessing critical information—and one another. Of course, we do it while respecting one another's boundaries.
4. Be intentional (and empathetic) to prevent burnout
We urge everyone at Hotjar to set transparent boundaries to make remote work less stressful. For example, we encourage setting specific workdays and times or stating communication preferences.
Then we take it a step further by checking up on workers to ensure they're okay. For instance, we may see a teammate answering emails or Slack messages at unusual hours for their time zone. So we'll reach out to see if they're overworked or if it's just a one-time thing. Maybe they spent the day hiking with their kids and are just now logging in for the first time.
Once, I had to switch my hours of availability after moving to a different time zone for a few months. My schedule no longer suited me and would've placed me in the position of conducting late-night or pre-dawn calls with colleagues, so I brought this up with my team, and we agreed on a schedule shift that works well for everyone, including myself.
One thing Hotjar does to help with this is being critical about when and why we host meetings.
5. Reduce unnecessary meetings to create work-life harmony
If there's one thing most people like about remote work, it's the ability to create work-life harmony. Unfortunately, some companies flub it up by having too many meetings or meetings that could've been an email (or Slack message).
The best way around this, we've found, is to do the following:
Default to async communication
Record messages or presentations on Loom so everyone can consume those at their own pace when it best suits their schedule
Invite attendees who must be at the meeting
Make it optional for others to attend
Record large meetings and share them on Slack (example below)
It's difficult to align schedules when working with a team outside your city, state, or country. Plus, it eats into your sleep, life, and work—not a solid foundation for building a happy, healthy, and productive team.
So, our primary focus is creating work-life harmony for our teams. To get here, though, we need a lot of input from our current and new employees.
6. Use feedback to improve the hiring and onboarding experience
You don't make it as far as we have without making mistakes along the way. How can you be successful at remote work? Make improvements diligently. Becoming a remote company is an ever-evolving journey—or at least, it should be.
And the only way to grow in the right direction is to include feedback from the people using your remote strategy—your colleagues.
This is what we did at Hotjar. The two areas we learned needed improvement were hiring and onboarding.
It makes sense. After all, learning about a candidate through video is tougher than in an in-person interview. And sending new hires log-ins to your online collaboration tools and expecting them to hit the ground running just won't cut it—especially for those new to remote work.
So we developed a simple onboarding process for newcomers that's clear, informative, and structured. Everyone gets a link to a Trello board outlining what to do weekly during their first month.
Plus, they get access to well-structured documentation that makes it easy to find what they need without help. Tie in our public Slack conversations, meeting announcements, and shared files, and it's easy for new members to stay in the loop.
Slack also makes it easy to go back in time to play catch-up on a current project.
We also find it important to connect outside of work, so we do two things:
Host regular meetups so newcomers can meet the team
Have newcomers post 10 facts about themselves (e.g. photos or tidbits about their hobbies, interests, etc.)
Whenever I have a call with a new team member, I look into their 10 facts to find ways to connect with them during our chat. It makes breaking the ice a heck of a lot easier.
The future of remote work
I was on a panel discussing the future of work and one topic was, ‘What happens now that the COVID restrictions that forced companies to go remote are being lifted?’
We witnessed some companies forcing workers back into the office (to their dismay) and others attempting to keep the remote model after seeing success (also to some employees’ dismay).
For a remote work model to succeed long-term, employers need to ensure everyone can work in the way they prefer and makes them most productive while also contributing to the company’s goals. Some employees may find working from home three days a week better suits their lifestyle, while others desire to be in the office four days a week to grow relationships.
I actually believe that as restrictions are lifted, defaulting to using a hybrid model or returning back to the office is not the right move. However, that seems to be the approach that many companies take.
My point is that instead of reverting their new remote-friendly or remote-first culture they built during the pandemic because some of their workforce is asking to go back to an office, they should instead:
Dig deeper and understand why they want to do that (eg. their home office is not ideal)
Commit fully to making remote work, work (eg. introduce better budgets, more async communication, etc) before backtracking on that
Then, if that doesn't work, consider hybrid and/or returning to an office-based model
There's a whole spectrum of remote work, and many employees only saw one end of it—working from their homes, during a lockdown, with limited budgets and employers that are still struggling to figure out remote work.
So I think employees could benefit from discovering more of the remote work spectrum, and employers should enable them to do that before acting on their feedback to want to return to the office.
The type of industry also plays a role in whether remote work will flourish. For instance, I believe that for tech companies, remote is likely here to stay. The CEO of Facebook (or Meta) even stated that he anticipates having a 50% remote workforce by 2030.
But this will also take off in other sectors that don't rely on physical labor or face-to-face engagement. An Upwork survey shows nearly 71% of hiring managers plan to sustain or increase freelancers and that 28% of American professionals will be fully remote by 2026.
However, for remote work to work, companies must proactively:
Involve workers by using surveys
Actively apply feedback received
Dig in to understand the challenges of remote teams
Find out how to tackle those challenges
Set aside a budget to address problems
For us, that means investing in co-working spaces, fun meetups, and async tools. And we ensure we're communicating boundaries, reducing meetings, and being intentional about preventing burnout.
But what works for us may not resonate with your company. So listen to your team. Experiment with ideas. Learn from your mistakes. And each day, you'll be one step closer to making remote work work in your organization.
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