We spoke with Toggl CEO and Founder Alari Aho and PeopleG2’s CEO Chris Dyer to find out how these companies adopted flexible work and how it has made such a big difference in the way their employees work and how they do business.
Toggl lived up to its name by “toggling” from being a brick and mortar business to a virtual one. Toggl, an online time tracking tool for teams and individual users, has a staff of 37 team members and is based in Tallinn, Estonia. Alari Aho, CEO and Founder, says that half of Toggl’s employees are located in Tallinn, while the rest work remotely in countries such as Poland, Scotland, Germany, Brazil, Spain, USA, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Norway, Belarus, and France. The reason: “Everyone works from where they’re most comfortable because we think awesome people do epic stuff anywhere,” says Aho.
The biggest motivating factor for fostering a remote work environment was lack of diversity. “We became too mono-cultural,” says Aho. “Our users are the world, but our hiring-radius was 10 km.” And with a lack of strong developers in Estonia, the company had no choice but to look beyond its borders and adopt a flexible work program in order to attract top tier talent from around the globe.
But in order for working remotely to work for the company, Aho realized that everyone had to be on board with the idea of working from home—even those who still chose to come into the office every day. “Everybody in the team had to become ‘remote’ workers and adopt the new mindset,” says Aho.
Toggl realized that a company can’t grow without a happy, productive workforce. So Toggl created its workplace flexibility program with its employees’ needs in mind—and with their direct input. That’s why Toggl had its team involved in creating and implementing its work flex program since the very beginning.
One year later, Toggl is a strong virtual company with an even stronger remote workforce. Of course, there was an initial learning curve about how to keep the team’s productivity level up, maintain the company’s culture, and learn how to manage a distributed team well. Aho and his team found that the best way to overcome any issues was to discuss them openly. “In remote teams it’s really important to even overshare information,” says Aho. Many misunderstandings are caused by mistaken assumptions, lack of information, and insufficient communication.
The Toggl team enjoys many of the benefits of working remotely, including not having a commute (which saves time), no interruptions (“The office environment often has too many distractions for focused tasks,” says Aho), and attracting the best talent available for the position. The team is trusted to do its work, which keeps them from having a “Kindergarten Syndrome” work environment. And with a results-oriented culture, productivity is measured based on results, not hours worked. Says Aho: “It works perfectly as we put in a lot of trust into our coworkers.”
PeopleG2 is one of the leading background check and employment screening companies in the world. Headquartered in Brea, CA, PeopleG2 has 16 staffers who work from 13 different locations. “Remote work is the backbone of our company, as we are almost entirely virtual,” says Chris Dyer, CEO.
The impetus for going remote was at first a financial one, designed as a way to reduce overhead but still maintain their staff. Eliminating an office space (and all the expenses that go along with it) helped PeopleG2 to focus on retaining the employees they had.
With no prior remote experience, PeopleG2 initially set up formal guidelines on how they envisioned their company would work remotely. As time passed (and as the staff adapted to telecommuting), its policies have become more practical in nature, allowing for work-life balance. To ensure their staff’s success (and a smooth transition to a remote worklife), PeopleG2 made sure that every worker had a proper home office, provided a state-of-the-art Internet-based system for them to work, and offered tips and follow-up for all employees. And if an employee has an old computer, PeopleG2 will purchase one for them, along with other items needed to get the job done.
Culture is established through leadership through clearly-defined expectations, not water cooler chatter. Their remote team communicates through conference calls for solving urgent issues as well as regular meetings. “Cockroach Meetings” are designed for problems that require an immediate answer from a group of workers. An additional intranet chat platform is established so colleagues can communicate about non-work matters, as well as individual chat rooms for various teams within the company. Productivity is measured by platform-provided metrics that show how well each worker did that day.
By far, Dyer believes that the biggest benefit of having a remote workforce is that all team members know what is expected of them, and actively contribute. By enforcing strong communication among his team, each staffer knows what his job responsibilities are, and so, says Dyer, “providing flexibility coupled with expectation has enabled employees to feel more responsible for their role in the company’s success.”
Having a plan prior to working remotely is one of the best ways for a company to transition from a brick and mortar business to a virtual one, says Dyer. “Whether it is one or two people or an entire company, having a plan in place as to how exactly work will be performed and the expectations of employees working remotely is key to success.”
Companies are quickly realizing the importance of implementing flexible work policies for the staff. Not only does work flexibility benefit their workers, creating a happier and loyal workforce, but employers also reap many benefits such as significant cost savings, and a staff that is more productive than many in-office workers. It seems that it’s time to ditch the traditional office and embrace work flexibility—and all of its many advantages.
By Jennifer Parris | July 27, 2015