The Semi-Remote Workforce: Setting Up A Collaborative Structure

At Piktochart, we knew were doing something new by working semi-remote.

The common refrain in the corporate world, especially in the tech space, is that you can only be either fully in-office, OR fully remote, with no middle ground.

Companies such as Automattic, GrooveHQ, Zapier, and Buffer have gone fully remote.

On the other hand, when Marissa Mayer came onboard at Yahoo!, one of the first things she did was to reinstate the fully in-office working environment.

It felt like we were taking a risk by doing a bit of both, but we took the plunge anyway.

Here’s what we did to ensure working semi-remote was right for our company.

Branch Out With a Remote Team

People from all around the world have come to work at Piktochart.

Our head of marketing, Marta Olszewska, is one of them.

When she suggested she wanted to start working remotely to be closer to home, I had faith in her.

That was the moment we got our first remote team member.

Soon we felt like it made sense to hire more remote workers, especially for our marketing team.

Our users are all around the world, and we want to be able to connect with them to build a community.

We’ve hired a few more remote employees since Marta moved back to Europe: Jacqueline, our community evangelist; Justin, our customer success guru; Romina, our Spanish community champion; and Will, our blog editor.

Our Customer Delight Team is also located in the U.S.

There are advantages to having a remote team, including having a diverse set of opinions because everyone comes from different backgrounds and countries.

Embrace Team Inclusion

Once we cleared the hurdle of going semi-remote, we had to face the challenge of inclusion.

We tried our hardest to include our remote teammates in everything we did, but in trying to find that balance, we didn’t realize the people in the office started to feel like they were getting fewer benefits!

We ended up putting all of our company perks and benefits on a table to compare them side-by-side, to ensure nothing was left unaddressed.

We started by putting rent, office snacks, utility bills, and office consumption in a spreadsheet, and we worked out a total amount spent per month.

Then we allocated the same amount for co-working spaces and a well-being allowance that our remote workers can choose to spend on things ranging from gym passes and snack subscriptions, to a meal they could enjoy with friends.

Finally, we found a balance.

Hiring plays a big role in making our setup work.

We strive to hire people who fit into our HOPEFUL culture.

Whether a teammate is remote or in-office, he or she has to consider the pros and cons to both sides of the arrangement.

We also look for past remote working experience because we think it’s a strong indicator of the ability to work independently.

Collaborate Globally through Technology

Our next step was tackling collaboration.

To handle this, we do three key things:

  • We use Slack and Google Drive for our inter-office communication and file sharing. It helps our team stay together when it comes to projects, and other team or company-wide activities and announcements.
  • Team leaders chat via Skype or Google Hangouts, with every member of their team at least once a month, to talk about progress. It keeps everyone accountable, and it bridges the gap between a person’s avatar and their real-life face and voice.
  • We record our weekly Monday meetings and our Wednesday presentations. It helps our remote team feel like they’re part of our family, even if they’re not in the office.

Keep the Semi-Remote Team Together

There are some roles (such as developers, UI designers, and project managers) that we prefer to keep in the office in Penang.

I believe product roles require face-to-face discussions, and the office is the best place for that.

If everyone at Piktochart was hired from the beginning with remote experience and a fully-remote setup, it might have worked out differently.

We’re far from perfect when it comes to our semi-remote structure.

I would love to have an all-hands meeting once a month with everyone present.

I’d also like our remote team to be more comfortable pitching new ideas during our grooming meetings, despite the time zone complications.

Right now, I’m working on improving the quality of feedback, because I believe timely, healthy criticism propels an individual forward, and in turn, helps the entire organization continue to grow.

We are still learning from this process, but my most important takeaway has been to over-communicate, regardless of whether it’s in the office or with the remote team members.

Has your organization been able to incorporate working semi-remote?

What has your experience been?

What feedback have you received from your employees both in-office and remote?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

image credit: shutterstock

Ai Ching Goh

Ching co-founded Piktochart, a web application offering users without intensive graphic design experience an easy way to create professional-grade infographics and communication materials. Ching believes in finding joy in everything you do. She is a firm believer that building great products is only possible with a team that is 100% motivated and inspired, which includes emotional happiness too.

View all posts by Ai Ching Goh