Work from home? Work from office? Work from anywhere? Covid 19 has wreaked havoc in the last two years. Companies the world over struggled to figure out how to bring people together in entirely new ways and still achieve their goals. As we head into 2022, a host of hybrid working models have emerged.
Tech giants such as Google and Microsoft have asked their employees to continue working from home into 2022. Twitter has extended their work from home policy indefinitely. And on the other end of the spectrum, Goldman Sachs recalled their staff to return to U.S. offices a few months ago.
At Voiro, our team has worked from home since March 2020.
This decision had obvious benefits: health and safety, but it also gave employees the flexibility to spend a little more time with families. We adapted to the situation, work carried on, and we hit several important milestones including our latest round of funding.
Months of working remotely and being in a state of lockdown led our leadership team to start talking about bringing people back to the office in August. While every day was business as usual, we felt a dire need to connect with our team and build relationships that went deeper than the work at hand.
Our team had doubled over the last year, but half of our hires had never met us or each other. Our relationships with our teams, and everyone else, had become completely transactional. And the rest of us were starting to behave the same way, even those who had the benefit of knowing each other on a more personal level before Covid changed our worlds.
We had a problem getting everyone to work together, the way we used to. Voiro builds a complex product, and we see incredible benefits from being around the experts who’ve been around for a length of time. In working remotely, we lost the ability to walk up to these experts, to have casual conversations, and to learn from them in the process.
Work had started slowing down. Our new hires were suffering from the inability to meet our experienced people. There were murmurs about the quality of output and a general feeling of dissatisfaction.
With a big product rollout on the horizon, we figured we had to try something different to infuse some much-needed energy into our group. Something we called The Bubble. The idea came from a particularly heated conversation that led to someone lamenting why we couldn’t just meet for a couple of days and “jam this out!”.
Why not indeed. Our staff was all vaccinated, and all we needed to do was make it easy for them to get into Bangalore and stay safe.
So we went ahead and did the unthinkable. We called our team back to the office. We flew them down from all over the country: engineers, product managers, everyone involved in the rollout. We hired a huge space for a month, and we let them loose with a single goal: to complete the product rollout, no matter what. And the results were more than satisfying.
We went from an expected trough of people being uncomfortable with each other to loud, back-slapping uproarious energy in the room. Every evening this set would grab a drink or a meal with each other and allow themselves to build bonds that went beyond day-to-day transactions.
For example, the team who decided to re-engineer a significant piece of our product and stayed up nights together to make it happen. They knew it was a steep slope to climb, but it made them feel better about how they approached the solution. Even if it meant starting again. The unexpected quiet voice of a product manager who pulled a room full of senior PMs back into line, committing all of them to finish what they’d started before moving on to newer ideas. The sales and marketing teams put together some of the biggest customer demos that we’ve ever done. And so many others who went above and beyond to get the job finished. Each day we saw new vigor, better ideas, and motivation to just be better.
We saw a couple of “microbubbles and nanobubbles within The Bubble”, but the madness definitely had a method to it.
As we reach the end of the month, we’ve seen remarkable progress. Work on our product is well on track. Our team has found its feet again, people are working better together, and are just happier in general.
Culture, at the end of the day, is how you feel about what you’ve done. Regardless of whether you win or lose. And in the middle of all of this, we’ve seen instances of exemplary attitude, behaviour, and cultural growth across Voiro.
The Bubble will go down in Voiro history as one of the most nerve-wracking exercises we’ve carried out. We flew down over 25 engineers from across the country. Did everything we could to keep them safe. Put them up in a hotel that was a stone’s throw away from the office so they could just stroll over to their workspace. The workspace itself was a self-contained unit that was organised for the whole month that they were going to be in the office.
We also made a massive effort to ensure that everyone was comfortable during their time in the office. We met every day, ate lunch together, spoke over each other, and didn’t say “sorry you first”, we didn’t lose steam in our arguments because we were on mute, and more than ever we were able to have a blast while getting work done.
None of this is to say that we couldn’t have achieved all of this working remotely. Companies all around the world have found innovative ways to keep up morale and productivity for employees working at home. But the lockdown, the pandemic, and a year of remote work required us to reach out and help our teammates out of “languish mode”.
We believe the future of work is not what it was earlier – punching in, making that insane commute, and dragging your tired self back home. Nor, in our opinion, will it be completely remote. Our guess is that it will be somewhere in between. Company gatherings will be far more frequent to allow their employees to get to know each other.
We won’t know the full extent of the success of our ‘Bubble’ for a while yet, but we are incredibly motivated by the way it was received by our colleagues.
“I’m Nikhil from Voiro’s marketing team. I was initially a little skeptical about traveling during Covid from Chandigarh to Bangalore for the bubble. I had started working remotely and hadn’t met most of my colleagues. I had moved from a pre-sales role to the marketing team and this was a great opportunity to connect with the entire Voiro team. I got to know not only the professional side but also the personal side of people – right from our CEO to the engineering, product, CSM, HR, and sales teams during the 14 days I spent at our amazing workspace at WeWork Galaxy. The Bubble has helped make my work easier and a human connect is definitely valued beyond business as usual. I also learnt that the Voiro team works and parties equally well!”