91social’s Remote Work Culture
An anecdote of a young and small IT services company, and how it has transitioned to productively working-from-home amidst the pandemic.
Disclaimer: This is not an informational post on work from home tips or such, but it is about an enjoyable experience I had working from home, for 91social.
91social is an IT services company, based out of Bengaluru, India, with a vision of helping small and medium businesses leverage technology to grow. The team is young and lean, comprising technical and data architects; full-stack, front-end, and back-end developers; professionals in the areas of business intelligence, HR, marketing, business development, etc. I’d joined this young startup in early May this year, and I am writing after almost 45 days, to share how different the onboarding and work experience has been, in comparison to my prior work experience.
Remote onboarding experience:
Firstly, the onboarding process was smooth and fun, without any fuss and thrills. All the documentation was shared back and forth online, and the team was introduced on Slack, and through a weekly hands-on meet. I did not require an orientation or training regarding the processes or work, but the other new joiners and fresh graduates had online sessions with mentors, to help them understand the work, developer workflows, technical best practices, and so on.
To me, this is in stark contrast to my previous onboarding experiences with multi-national companies, which have happened for a day or two, in an office setting, where a lot of time gets wasted in the process of documentation and verification. However, actual onboarding sessions make it easy for the new joiners to network with fellow newbies, which is a little difficult in a virtual setting, as we’ll have to wait for the others to introduce themselves, or someone to introduce them.
Remote work experience:
Now to the actual part of remote work, I’d done occasional work-from-home earlier too, with my previous employers. But this is the first time that I’m working remotely for so long. It’s been almost 45 days now, and I must agree, I am as productive as I was, working from the office. This has been possible for three reasons.
- Motivation — 91social truly believes in a flat hierarchy, and gives the employees flexibility to work in their style, definitely with some accountability. This work environment and the team kept me motivated about our vision, and how we are to achieve it. This not only acted as an intrinsic motivation to get things done but also gives me the opportunity of learning by working. There are fortnightly one-to-one meetings with the mentors, to discuss any areas of concern, and this also allows the mentors to motivate any low employees.
- Communication — Most of the work that we do at 91social requires a high level of interaction between individuals, and communicating remotely has never been a problem for us. As a young team, using tools for communication was never a problem for us, and the way we communicate almost emulates the in-person communication style.
- Collaboration — To be focused on a goal, and to make remote work more efficient requires collaboration between all individuals in a team. For this, we’ve relied on a plethora of online tools and one such tool in our kitty is Slack. Internally, the long email chains are replaced by short messages on Slack. The channels on Slack also help us keep ourselves up-to-date on the latest happenings within the organization, and I believe this has strong implications on our positive work engagement.
However, what fascinated me the most in this journey, is learning about the work mantra and principles at 91social. I thought for a company with 43 employees, the transition from office-based work to remote work would have been easy, but, boy, was I wrong. When I’d thought of the transition, the only thing that came to my mind was the availability of systems and the internet for the employees. Little did I know about all of the processes that had been put in place, to make that transition seamless.
Pitfalls and Recovery:
The ride wasn’t easy for 91social initially, as most employees were working in silos, and there were a lot of communication challenges with internal and external(clients) stakeholders. It took the leadership team a couple of weeks to identify the issues and start working on them. The first issue they tried addressing was the communication aspect, by creating more channels such as WhatsApp, Slack, etc. for the teams to have a free flow of information.
Next, to improve the engagement and collaboration within the organization, the all-hands meeting that used to happen quarterly before the lockdown, is now organized weekly, and all the employees are asked to actively participate in it. This activity has also improved the synergy between the technology teams and the business teams within the company, leading to improved transparency and engagement. The other activity that improved the relationships within the team is the fortnightly one-to-one that presented an opportunity for employees to express their concerns and problems with senior team members or mentors, and get them resolved immediately. Not only did the issues get resolved, but importantly, the individuals know each other better, both personally and professionally.
The final activity that I’d like to talk about, which is rarely spoken in an organizational context, is the overall wellbeing of the employees. This is particularly important, given that personal and social interactions have become lesser ever since the lockdown has been implemented. To deal with this issue, 91social has engaged with a life coach, who talks to the individuals periodically about their personal and professional wellbeing and guides them to have better work-life integration.
All of these activities have had two-fold effects on our work — they keep the employees motivated towards the vision of the company, and also help set a positive and fun culture at work. I can say this without an iota of doubt that we shall continue to keep improving our culture, and that we've practically been an “Agile organization”.
I’d like to end by asking you what your highs and lows have been, in this remote work transition? If you’d like to know more about our work culture at 91social, or if you have any suggestions on how we could improve, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, here’s the link to our “About Us” page.
P.S. — We're actively looking for front-end and back-end developers to join our team. If you love to code, and are looking for full-time or internship opportunities, drop us a note on the above-mentioned email, and we'll get back to you.