Around a year ago, in April 2020, we launched SpatialChat after switching to remote-only in March, when pandemic struck. In this interview, our CEO, Almas Abulkhairov, shares how the quality of his life and many of our team members changed while working remotely.
WFH == fewer distractions which lead to better productivity, therefore opens more opportunities and increases the quality of life!
Oli: So, Almas, if you were to highlight only one thing about working from home, what would it be?
I'm still around my family.
Almas: It's an easy one. Family life improvements. Before the pandemic, I was working late hours while my wife and kids were missing me at home. Now I'm with them almost the entire time! Quality of family life drastically improved in this WFH mode.
At first, I was concerned that my 7 and 2-year old kids would interfere while I'm on an important virtual meeting. However, the boys quickly adjusted and accepted that if I'm busy, they don't distract me.
The coolest thing is that I can help my wife with the kids throughout the day, for instance, by playing some chess with my 7-year old between the calls.
Another significant aspect is that even when I have to connect with customers from completely remote destinations at late hours, I'm still around my family.
Oli: I am glad that in the middle of so much uncertainty and grief, people get to spend more time with their families.
I saved around 500 hours per year for home-work-home commute time
Almas: Significantly more time! I saved around 500 hours per year for home-work-home commute time (around 50 weeks annually, 5 days a week, 1 hour each side). This is huge.
I can start my day early or (sometimes) wake up 30-60 min later than my alarm and have a better sleep.
I switched from attending the gym to remote fitness. I'm FaceTiming with my trainer 2 times a week to keep myself fit. After finishing 1-hour training, I just take a shower and go to my home office room to start working.
Oli: Time is money.
I saved thousands of dollars annually
Almas: On top of the time, I saved thousands of dollars annually by almost not going to restaurants. Instead, I am cooking at home, eating healthier food which is literally lifesaving for me, a Type I diabetes guy, because I have better control of glucose from the food I eat.
From this point of view, attending a conference is much more comfortable in the world that is switching to remote & hybrid events. I used to fly to a conference, arrive jet-lagged, and then immediately need to get on schedule for a 9am to 10pm day while having only unhealthy cheap croissants during conference coffee breaks... not anymore 😂
Oli: What challenges have you come across so far due to the remote work?
Almas: In the beginning, there were two challenges that I considered we need to address first. One of them was discipline. Well, nobody sees you, right? That could possibly result in a decrease in productivity: both individual and collective. Another challenge was to help everyone not feeling alone in a lack of in-person presence experience.
Then more challenges arose: we started working with customers from all around the globe, so we had to make timezone adjustments for American, European, and Asian customers.
There we a lot of questions that we needed to answer. How to deal with so-called "Zoom fatigue"? How to scale a team? To name a couple.
Oli: Ok, so tell us, Almas, what's it like to build a discipline of an organization like SpatialChat while in the depths of a pandemic?
I have to admit I screwed up a couple of times
Almas: This actually turned out not to be much of a problem to us: we love what we do at SpatialChat, and we are committed to delivering the result. Hence, a desire not to disappoint or fail my teammates always prevailed and helped us adjust and make this huge transition to a remote work lifestyle.
In remote work, it's critical to automate many repeatable and common tasks in order to make work easier and more productive. For example, we heavily adopted Calendly for scheduling customer demos and meetings. Not only it allowed us to balance the work week calendar, but it also helped to sync time zones with different customers.
I have to admit I screwed up a couple of times. I arrived an hour late to a meeting (or, basically, missed it) just because I incorrectly calculated the timezone difference between Los Angeles and Limassol in my mind.
We practice weekly meetings for each of the key topics as rituals across teams. Product meeting, sales meeting, marketing meeting, legal meeting, security & compliance meeting. And we use SpatialChat to make these meetings feel like in-person and to have more fun.
With fewer distractions, we find ourselves in the "high focus mode" more often, and we get more work done.
Oli: Productivity is good, but we don't get the random water cooler or coffee chats with colleagues in remote work. These are essential parts of the workday that have a positive impact on well-being. How does working from home affect your psychological health? You mentioned loneliness is one of the challenges that you wanted to address.
Almas: This is the interesting part. By default, remote teams use tools such as Slack or Teams for information sharing and tools like Zoom for meetings.
By lucky coincidence, we are developers of SpatialChat, so we adopted our own service to run most of our virtual meetings (which, as a bonus, makes us regular testers of new features and upgrades), including town hall meetings.
Now, our town hall meetings became the most anticipated weekly ritual for the entire team. We gather together to share news and weekly achievements across business and product teams. These events let everyone on board to see the results of work as a team. We introduce new team members during these meetings and do some spatial games to build chemistry between new & existing team members. Actually, these meetings are an opportunity for new team members to get used to the team much faster and get a sense of becoming a part of our family.
Recently 7 people from our team accidentally found themselves in the same city due to Euro 2020 cup. So they decided to "devirtualize" and meet together for the first time in real life. What they shared with me is that they didn't feel awkward. On the contrary, they felt like they've known and seen each other for quite a while, and there was a friendly atmosphere between them the minute they've met.
That's the ultimate goal we want to accomplish: recreate moments of true, genuine, human connection of in-person meetings online.
That's the ultimate goal we want to accomplish: recreate moments of true, genuine, human connection of in-person meetings online. Although it's still unclear and hard to say today whether it's achievable, but we want to make our virtual meeting experience as close to real-life social interactions as possible.
Oli: You took on the leadership of a remote company for the first time. How does it feel? Is it different from your previous experience?
Work together. Alone 🙂
Almas: Running a company with a remote team gives you access to a great diverse talent pool from all over the world. We now have 31 full-time remote team members from 8 countries. Each one of them is an amazing person! Before the pandemic, I was limited to a local office with a team located in one city where you compete with local companies. Remote work unlocks higher diversity for our team, which is instrumental in thinking truly globally. It transforms our lives for the better, unlocking access to new opportunities.
Throughout our first year, I've met hundreds of SpatialChat customers across the globe from cities like São Paulo, Tokyo, Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Haag, London, Taiwan and many more. While I was talking to them, I noticed that we are all not that very much different, after all. We all are people. We have the same problems. Our kids are running and screaming in the background. We all are staying in this global pandemic together and trying to keep ourselves sane. We are just living in different countries.
Working from home actually brings people together - all over the world.
Work together. Alone 🙂
Instead of conclusion
Let me share with you an interesting study that was conducted with 1.7M respondents by Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite.
- Around 70% of people are open to working from home permanently
- The majority of people feel more productive
- 91% save 30 to 120+ minutes per day by not having to commute to work
- 42% of people still miss socializing
- 74% of people feel more entrepreneurial
- People mostly need software for productivity as well as onboarding and culture tools (which BTW SpatialChat helps to solve)
- More than 60% feel that they are good at managing their own time
- Most people still feel the need to go to the office once or twice per week or month