The first time I walked into OhmConnect’s San Francisco headquarters last year was haunting. Instead of a hum of activity and the buzz of engaged employees, there were just empty desks and chairs. It was eerily quiet and entirely unnerving.
Fed up with hour-long commutes which wasted time and spewed carbon into the atmosphere, OhmConnect had changed to a “work from anywhere” approach. I found myself wondering, would it be possible to be productive and engaged if we mostly saw each other on Zoom calls? A couple months after my first visit to the office, I joined the Company as the new CEO. I was (and am!) incredibly excited about the team, our mission, and our prospects. But as for this remote workforce thing… well, I still had my doubts.
I don’t have doubts anymore. Remote work works. Switching to “ROhm” -- get it? Remote Ohm? -- has made us stronger, more resilient, more productive, and better able to attract top talent. But I’ve also had to learn some important lessons -- such as you can’t spend all day in your pajamas.
As thousands of organizations suddenly transition to remote work during the pandemic, I wanted to share the top five things I have learned about leading a remote company.
Work from home tips
- Physically distant, not socially distant. We were physically distancing but socially connecting before it was cool! How many of us have recently had our first Zoom happy hour? Not me, I’m an old pro. Social connections between teammates don’t just happen in the hallway when there is no hallway. Instead, they require intentionality -- and lots of it. We hold lots of regular stand ups, happy hours, show-and-tells, and even video “hallway chats” that take place for small groups for 10 minutes after the end of larger staff meetings. At first, I was casual about participation, but I’ve learned that they are incredibly important -- both for me and for the team to see that I’ve made it a priority.
- Overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate. Something important to announce? New program or policy? Unfortunately, you’ll need to say it a few times and in a few different ways. People gravitate to different communication tools so remember to use them all. When it is critical, I send an email and a Slack message. And I’ll announce it at a Zoom team meeting. Every time I think it is unnecessary and skip a step, I’m sure to hear about it the next day. There is less organic communication, so this is critical.
- Put your damn pants on. It seems like everyone’s favorite Zoom activity is to wear PJs (or shorts, or…) since no one can see your pants. I was running late one morning and wore my PJ bottoms on a Zoom call. I did this exactly once. It was incredibly distracting and I found it hard to take myself seriously even if no one else could see. More importantly, it turns out there is something really important about shifting gears from home to work, even if you aren’t leaving your house. Now I am sure to give myself enough time to “get ready” for work.
- Live your mission. We are a mission-driven company with a laser beam like focus on transitioning to 100% clean energy. Reducing vehicle miles is a really important way we can live our mission by reducing our carbon footprint -- the Ohm team pumped 138 fewer tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere because we stopped commuting.
- Family first. It’s not just climate change, we are also helping our families and communities by eliminating commutes. We have employees that were spending three hours a day commuting to the office. By eliminating those commutes, we are giving that time back to everyone. This time is being used helping kids with homework, volunteering at church, or getting a little exercise. The planet wins, our communities win, and our employees win. It’s worth a lot.
Statistics show that before COVID-19, about 3-4% of people worked remotely. By the end of this crisis, I would wager that many people will have learned what I have learned. Once you ROhm, you won’t want to go back to the office.