The Future is Flexible

It’s been well over a year since Covid-19 single-handedly robbed the world of all semblance of normality. (It’s doing a pretty darn good job keeping it up in 2021). Without much warning, we were forced to trade in our office-appropriate work attire, for our favourite pair of sweatpants, slippers, and a t-shirt. The once well-defined line separating work and life quickly vanished, and we have been trying to get it back ever since.

Being confined to the ‘comfort’ of our home office has left us all speculating what the working world will look like post-pandemic. While it will undoubtedly have a deep structural and systemic impact on the global economy and society as we know it, one cannot help but have a sense of optimism lurking in the back of our minds. Perhaps companies will be more open to flexible or remote working? Perhaps they’ll monitor cash flow more conservatively and ringfence reserves to withstand another ‘rainy day’? Or maybe they’ll be willing to re-allocate office expenses to company culture, more attractive benefits, or new employee development opportunities? No matter the outcome, companies are going to have to adapt and fast.

Is the office dead?

The ‘future of the office’ debate has picked up a lot of momentum, stirring up a multitude of strong opinions. There is no clear-cut answer, however, many companies are making bold moves signalling their position. Looking at the data, it’s pretty easy to point to the likes of Twitter, Facebook, or better yet, a now fully remote Pinterest who paid $90M to terminate their 490,000sq. ft. lease in San Francisco.

We may expect remote working from the likes of Twitter and Facebook, but perhaps more surprising are the likes of Unilever, Dell, Coca-Cola (India), Deutsche Bank, Schroders, Linklaters, JP Morgan, BP, Ford, British Airways, and Novartis who have all adopted a hybrid model. This is a significant departure from what they had before, meaning that there was probably a lot of cost/benefit analysis that went into the decision. “Technology now allows people to connect anytime, anywhere, to anyone in the world, from almost any device. This is dramatically changing the way people work, facilitating 24/7 collaboration with colleagues who are dispersed across time zones, countries, and continents.” — Michael Dell, Chairman & CEO of Dell.

Going forwards, my money is on a hybrid model that allows employees to enjoy a home office for 2-3 days each week. I also expect that some teams within these companies will be given more liberty to work from home going forward depending on the nature of their role. Many companies have been pleasantly surprised about how effectively they’re able to work from home, and as a result are more open to adopting this new normal. Not only will this optimise productivity, but also serve as a prerequisite of attracting and retaining top talent. Fully distributed teams, automatically give themselves an edge in expanding the geography of their talent pool. 

The big question going forwards is, will teams be able to maintain or even increase productivity levels with the existing tech infrastructure and tools? Will they be able to perform well long-term in a distributed team setting? What are the steps required to make a remote work policy a competitive advantage? Will teams still be able to work well together and have close ties with their teams? These are some of the burning questions that need to be answered before this transition fully takes place.

At Shepherd, we are firm believers in flexible work and have taken the decision to maintain a remote-first team ourselves. Now, this doesn’t come without its challenges. Here are some of the main obstacles we’ve come up against so far:

  • Lack of human contact - We sometimes feel the pinch when it comes to only interacting virtually. We try to encourage our team to spend time away from the laptop and to get their ‘social fix’ by spending time with family and friends.
  • Zoom fatigue - This one’s a biggy. We quickly fell into a habit of having long and drawn-out consecutive video calls, leaving very little time to get into a good workflow. We’ve now learned to place our team meetings closer together, with short breaks in between. We also try to dedicate certain days to get through meetings, this way we reserve alternative days for solid work with few distractions.
  • Company culture - Given that water-cooler conversations are few and far between in remote teams, we sometimes forget to make time to just catch up. While we’re still figuring this one out, we do make an effort to have 1-2-1’s, online game sessions, and encourage all sorts of casual banter on our Slack channels.
  • Recruitment - Whilst remote-first companies automatically get access to a global talent pool, they also require a different approach to recruiting the right talent without the luxury of getting to know candidates face-to-face. Given Shepherd is still in the early stages, we don’t have much margin for error and need to be absolutely certain about any new members joining the herd. This means we put more energy and focus into our recruitment process. For every new person we onboard, we learn something new about how we should be attracting and onboarding talent.
  • Navigating local labour laws - Global talent brings about nuanced legal matters from an employment law perspective. It has been one of our biggest challenges trying to navigate these given each employee or contractor is governed by their local jurisdiction’s employment laws. A game-changer here has been outsourcing payroll and compliance to navigate these nuanced waters.
  • Communicating effectively - Communicating effectively is something we believe we’ve done incredibly well. We make a concerted effort in communicating quickly and succinctly, as well as encouraging working asynchronously. Listed in our productivity stack below, we highlight a handful of not-so-secret weapons that cater for our entire team to sing off the same hymn sheet.
What on earth is a ‘Productivity Stack’?
“A select choice of tools that regularly serve in maintaining or enhancing productivity levels of individuals or teams” — Jamie Gotz
Shepherd’s Productivity Stack

Of course, there are a plethora of tools out there that are doing a fantastic job in bridging the gap created by remote work. Some of the tools worth mentioning are Slack, Discord, Zoom, Trello, Loom, and Notion. However, there is a major question mark as to whether these tools will be enough to help companies adapt, and if there are any other tools out there that should be leveraged during this transition. Gone are the days when productivity tools were a nice-to-have. People have now learned that working from home isn’t just one big pyjama party with Friends reruns on in the background. We love testing and learning about new tools that we can add to our toolbox. Here’s a list of some of the tools we rely on day-to-day at Shepherd and what we consider to be our productivity stack:

  • Slack - instant communication, and a godsend for our naturally asynchronous working style
  • Google Drive - company-wide document filing/sharing
  • Yac & Loom - asynchronous screen casting and demo recordings
  • Notion & Confluence - document and notes storing
  • Google Meet - a super simple video conferencing option, far better than Zoom
  • Krisp - removes background noise during conference calls
  • Grammarly - this is a no-brainer. It’s such an easy (and free) way to ensure correct grammar and spelling in all Gmail communication
  • Trello - pretty helps to stay on top of to-do lists and action items
  • Jira - to maintain our product and design roadmap
  • Deel - global payroll and compliance platform
  • Speechify - a Chrome extension that allows us to listen to articles and long documents in the background
  • GameApart - a great way for remote teams to have a bit of fun together through getting their geek on through online gaming. Whilst we love to take our goals seriously, we also know how important it is to have fun along the way.
  • The Great Suspender- a lightweight Chrome extension to help make your computer run smoothly by suspending the tabs you aren't using
  • Podcasts - Some (not all) of us enjoy a good old podcast from time to time to get us in the zone. Some of our favourites on Spotify include:
    // 'Not Boring' by Packy McCormick // 'How I Built this' by Guy Raz // Indie Hackers

What seems like a pretty solid list of tools that do a lot of heavy lifting, a common frustration that still exists, at least for us, is shitty meetings. We still haven’t come across anything close to a silver bullet that would help us to be more effective and run efficient meetings. And it’s for this exact reason that we decided to create Shepherd in the first place. We envision Shepherd to be a foundational part of any company’s ‘productivity stack’ and one that many teams will rely on when setting, running, and organising their meetings.

We’d love to hear what your productivity stack consists of -