Remote working during COVID: a successful social experiment
By: Trisha Manda
As I’m writing this article, sitting in my living-room-turned-study, I wonder how different our work culture would have been today had the pandemic never happened. WhenCOVID cases started rising in March 2020 and it was evident that this presented severe health risks, Mobius Labs pivoted to a completely remote working culture. In fact, we were one of the first companies in Berlin to become a fully virtual organisation as cases rose dramatically.
Our head of marketing said that we had to figure out how to build relationships with potential customers and our audience in a purely digital way. That can be quite challenging, especially for a startup, because the digital environment that we had at that point was not necessarily mature enough for this approach. . The newly formed marketing team that was just two weeks old at the time took up the challenge and ensured that the company matured in terms of its visual identity, language of the brand and overall online brand awareness. This meant building on the company values in a way that the audience could trust, differentiating ourselves from the competition with respect to the way we communicate and choosing to not delve into controversial use cases of our technology that could potentially put human rights in danger. Trying to reflect our innovation, reputation and leadership through our visual identity was key – all aspects that people look at when working with a technology partner.
The key to making this work was to have efficient communication and trust between the team members, no matter where each of us were working . Allowing more freedom to colleagues, and empowering every team member to not only own their area of expertise but also to evolve in this area by ensuring that we give each of them the right tools and enough flexibility was imperative. That also came with building in regular meetings and catch-ups so that we had a feedback mechanism and can work in sync.
Establishing these robust online processes helped the company grow both in terms of the team structure and annual revenue, even during a time when in-person events, conferences and interviews were all cancelled. By the end of 2020, our headcount grew from 18 to 28. We also reached the target of €1 million ARR. Productivity was not affected during the pandemic evident from the increasingly complex products that we developed during this period.
The only aspect of work culture that really suffered was the social relationships between colleagues which obviously develops when you see each other in-person, on a daily basis. Social online activities did take place, and sometimes personal meetings between colleagues were also held when the situation permitted it. What has been missed the most is the coffee-machine-conversations when you bump into people you work with daily, and also into members from other teams, and have quick but consistent contact with peers you wouldn’t always talk to on a day to day basis otherwise.
In hindsight, the pandemic made it clear that the very corporate, 9-5 work culture that existed pre-COVID is not necessarily the only healthy and productive one. Moving forward, we want to go to the office to simply interact with our colleagues, and at the same time bring remote working to the forefront of our HR values. This means finding a way to become global citizens, accessing the best talents in the world and bringing in different perspectives to challenge the norm. We believe in giving everyone the chance to prove that we can work together and innovate even from different locations, proven by how effective this was over the pandemic.
Digital solutions have made social life easier in a post-COVID scenario. If we didn’t have video conferencing, for instance, we would be worse off today. What became apparent is that people were forced to adopt digital technology faster during the pandemic. Industries and societies that were not used to leveraging digital tools had to implement them very quickly. In light of this, discussing technology’s social impact in an open conversation becomes even more relevant. We believe in the positive influence that technology and innovation can have on society, and our aim is to reflect the same through our company values and working culture.
Trisha Mandal manages all things related to content and communications at Mobius Labs. She recently completed a Master’s degree from Humboldt Universität, Berlin and now spends all her time writing, reading, film photography-ing and taking care of her very moody Westie named Fubi.