Distributed Teams and Home Offices. Work in a New Reality

Since 2020, the world has been in turmoil. And these days, the usual workflow is no longer what it used to be: no commute, no coffee queue, no one dropping by your desk to say ‎hi. The events of 2022 have made even more of us work from different places and time zones. PandaDoc has adapted to this new reality of remote working environments — here’s how we’ve done it effectively.

First of all, why remote?

PandaDoc is building a global team. And to accomplish this, we need talent from around the globe. We started with two offices in very different time zones with the aim of creating a productive remote environment early on. Since the pandemic outbreak, we’ve switched entirely to remote work, as our mindset and processes were prepared for this transition. Also, our remote work culture was ready to move forward after both the 2020 Belarus crisis and the shocking war in Ukraine in 2022.

59% of respondents said they would be more likely to choose an employer who offered remote work compared to those who didn’t.

How to build strong interpersonal connections

Working remotely, people are prone to becoming less connected to each other. PandaDoc has more than 700 people — we call them Pandas — in over 10 countries. There are different time zones, mentalities, and cultures — but our company culture unites all of us. Every other week we have an all-hands meeting that begins with a reminder about our core cultural values: Learning, Impact, Fun, and Empathy. These values help us connect, no matter where we live or our nationality.

Team offsite meetings also play an important role in fostering connections. Twice a year, we encourage teams to meet for 3-5 days in the same location. Working with people online can make it difficult to understand whether they’re calm, angry, nervous, or happy during Zoom calls and in chats. Our Pandas say that offsite meetings make communication with their colleagues clearer and richer. This also drives engagement, fun, and productivity within the team.

We’ve budgeted teams and leaders responsible for organizing offsites and preparing an agenda. Our amazing facilitators from the Scrum Masters team help with preparations and events. Key goals for team gatherings include building trust among team members, aligning on key priorities, and making decisions about how to approach the most complex challenges.

Water cooler talks: How to compensate while working remotely

While it may be true that chats around the water cooler (or coffee machine) are known for spreading rumors and gossip within a company, these spontaneous conversations are also capable of generating fantastic creative ideas. For example, a designer and a marketing manager with no joint projects can conceive great ideas and bring them to life during an unplanned chat.

To make up for the loss of these random chats, we recommended that our teams have a regularly scheduled one-hour talk to discuss everything unrelated to ongoing work projects. It’s a great team ritual that helps improve people relations and create new ideas. For example, our Product Design team gathers for “Wine and Tell” calls to share their non-working stories every other Friday.

A survey report conducted by Owl labs suggests that remote workers are happier and stay in their jobs longer. The same survey also found that employees who worked from home reported being 22% happier than workers in an onsite environment. These remote workers reported having less stress, more focus, and better work-life balance.

How to improve balancing work and personal life

To understand whether work-life balance problems are present within the company, measurement is key — so we need to check the figures. We collect statistics on work-life balance through Lattice surveys. When the problem is identified, we can fix it with the help of managers and specific guidelines. Usually, it doesn’t concern the whole company, but rather, specific teams. Working with managers of these teams helps us reach our work-life balance goal and supports employee mental health.

Using different questionnaires, we can also track other metrics, such as well-being and work relationships. For example, in the figures below, the well-being score of one team is 50 (with a maximum of 100). We dive into the data to identify specific issues that need to be fixed. At the same time, our HR business partners communicate with managers to develop steps to improve the situation.

Supporting mental health: What can a company do?

When it comes to promoting strong mental health, PandaDoc supports its Pandas in different ways:

  • Financial allowance to support well-being. We have a unique budget that allows employees to spend on mental health needs, whether these are therapy sessions, meditation classes, or anything else. We also work with service platforms providing coaching help so Pandas can address specific needs, from nutrition to personal finance education.
  • Trainings. We organize theoretical and practical mental health trainings with experts.
  • Human resources business partnership. We’ve hired strong HR BP specialists, and we’re continually growing our HR team.

How we approach meetings

A common problem with remote work is having too many meetings. How does PandaDoc deal with this?

Although this can be an issue within a traditional office environment, with remote work, the need to control all processes increases, as management doesn’t know whether a person works or not. PandaDoc has developed a strong culture of trust, and our meetings aren’t focused on building an environment of control. Nevertheless, we realize we’re a business and we must have meetings and timelines, which is why we established and keep improving their efficiency rates.

What are our meeting and timeline principles?

We’ve established certain guidelines that help us approach meetings smartly and strategically:

  • Shorter meetings. For starters, it saves time. Having an efficient 30-minute meeting instead of a 60-minute gathering for six people saves a total of 3 hours of deep work. Also, Google Calendar has a helpful feature called “Speedy meetings,” which automatically reserves less time in your calendar when you book a call. For example, a 30-minute meeting will be reserved for a total of 25 minutes — which in turn frees up five minutes to write a follow-up.
  • Block your focus time. Everyone can easily book free slots in your calendar, so to ensure focus time, we suggest booking 2-4 hours of deep work. For US-based Pandas, the second half of the day works best for this; for Europe-based Pandas, the morning is most appropriate.
  • Decline meetings that are useless for you. If you don’t actively participate during a meeting, consider skipping it and, instead, asking for a summary or recording. Also, regroup meetings with 7 or more people. Always ask for a meeting agenda and purpose; otherwise, decline it. All in all, reconsider your schedule, as you may be spending too much time in meetings that hold no clear value for you.
  • Reserve key calendar blocks in the company. For example, Thursday is a designated no-meetings day for us.
  • Keep a strict agenda and facilitation of meetings. We provide information for key team meetings and pursue rigorous facilitation.
According to a survey by ConnectSolutions, 77% of people who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time.

How remote work can highlight efficiency (or inefficiency)

In an office environment, inefficiency can hide behind lengthy chats to create an illusion of control. When such companies start working remotely, it doesn’t take long for inefficiency to become obvious: decisions are vague, data is missing, reporting is unclear, and you can’t discuss work with your manager during lunch.

In a remote environment, efficiency is born out of precise updates and transparent outcomes. PandaDoc uses an OKR (Objective and Key Results) framework to organize our work so all Pandas can check updates on company and team OKRs. This clarity in business metrics is also crucial for increasing efficiency, as well as for creating better outcomes and customer-driven decisions.

What’s next?

Remote work is here to stay. Even if the world becomes a more stable and peaceful place and many of us return to a traditional office environment, it’s clear that remote work brings exceptional value in the form of global talent, faster communication, improved efficiency, and more.

Nevertheless, we still need in-person interaction. We want to shake hands, hug each other, and feel the energy of a team gathered at a whiteboard. The right balance of remote and on-site work is a goal for us and many other companies in the near future.

written by
Ilya Tregubov
proofreading by
Katerina Stepanouskaya
illustrated by
Elina Tsylke
© 2022 by PandaDoc
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