Reporting back: our work-from-home experiment

October 14th, 2020 7 min |

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“ I was convinced that I would hate working from home. I’m a social butterfly and I needed that constant interaction, whether in the office café, around the boardroom table, or collaborating with my team. But six months of this pandemic has taught me a lot about myself, and you know what? Working from home has been good for me. I never would have believed a calm, quiet environment would suit me!”

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Kevin Borduas

Director of Engineering at ShareGate, GSoft

Turns out, Kevin isn’t alone: a lot of our GSoft colleagues seem to be feeling the same way. As a business, we’ve long prided ourselves on our work culture, and on our shared values of connection and collaboration. In fact, before the pandemic hit, we’d been investing significant time in expanding our office spaces. Needless to say, the following months forced us to fold on that particular hand of cards, leaving us to find new ways of keeping our connections strong while moving all 272 of our staff back into their homes. It hasn’t been easy for anyone, but as we move forward we’re discovering just how much this new remote reality has to offer.

Uncertain transitions

In many ways, we were luckier than most. Conscious that the 9-to-5 standard workday doesn’t work for everyone, we’ve always given our teams the option to work from home. Everyone already has a laptop, and as long as their schedule is approved by their team, the flexibility is theirs. But that had always been the alternative. So when lockdown turned remote working into the natural order of things, we had to adapt fast.

Our first priority: making sure everyone could make the best of their new home office. Many of our colleagues had no dedicated space, so funds were made available to ensure everyone was properly equipped.

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Employee insights

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If you’re uncomfortable in your work environment, you’ll never be happy. The first thing I went out and bought was a proper office chair, and it has made all the difference for those long days at the computer.

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Kevin Borduas

Director of Engineering at ShareGate, GSoft

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Next: connecting those 272 satellite offices and turning them into GSoft’s new Cloud-based home. We won’t lie, in the immediate aftermath we were all scrambling. Our team-based structure meant that every unit was set up to keep going autonomously, but that independence also meant they chose their own tools for remote work. From Slack channels to Discord servers, GSoft now lived on countless different platforms. Granted, we wrangled everyone onto Microsoft Teams quickly enough, but that period proved to us that we needed some long-term stability and a plan that went beyond the health ministry’s bi-weekly update.

Digital-first

“ Effective immediately, GSoft is a digital-first business. The office will always be there, but whether you walk in or sign in, we’ll be ready to support you with the creativity, care and pinch of madness that’s always made GSoft exceed expectations.”

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Simon de Baene

CEO and Co-founder, GSoft

With no end to the pandemic in sight, the decision was made. What made GSoft special was never its office, the half-pipe or espresso machine – it was the people. To us, committing to remote work means committing to our people, to supporting them in their lived experience instead of in some corporate ideal that no longer fits the mould.

It means GSoft can build a foundation for remote working that wouldn’t exist if we were just treading water, waiting for the office to re-open. We started with a business-wide look at the effects of remote work on our teams: when they were succeeding, where they felt like they were faltering, and the effectiveness of our policies in supporting them. Luckily, we’ve got a team that’s pretty good at that sort of thing over at Officevibe.

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Our new reality

The takeaways from this process have been twofold: people have loved the extra time and flexibility of working from home, but struggle with the lack of human contact and socializing. Working from home does mean dealing with rush-hour traffic in front of the bathroom, but for Kevin, that’s a small price to pay for getting time with his kids he’d never dreamed of: “I’ve been able to reschedule my days so the boys can come home for lunch together, and I no longer need to pay for after-school programs.” Some of his colleagues are even questioning living in Montreal, eyeing up moves off-island to better suit their lifestyles and families.

Knowing that remote work is part of GSoft’s long-term future allows our teams to make plans of their own that would have been unthinkable a year ago.

Unfortunately, like so many companies navigating the chaos of 2020, GSoft has not been immune to the feelings of social isolation and difficulty finding human moments in a digital workplace. While Kevin and the management teams have been hard at work making sure that the remote transition is a positive one, several challenges remain.

Kevin’s Three Handy Tips

1
Regular, scheduled check-ins are crucial for team cohesion, taking the place of those impromptu hallway conversations


2
Text-based communication is great for keeping in touch, but make time for a face-to-face when there’s a more difficult conversation to be had


3
Get your teams involved in organizing meaningful connections: group coffee breaks, party games over lunch, or whatever they need to feel connected and engaged

It has affected both our formal and informal team-building: we can’t in good conscience ask our teams to meet up for planned activities during a pandemic, and as one might imagine, the Magic: The Gathering league that once dominated lunch hour has lain dormant since March.

On the recruitment front, we’ve realized that the onboarding process – that for years has quickly integrated new hires into the GSoft family – needs a digital makeover if it is to live up to the standard we set for ourselves. And even among long-time colleagues, we’re noticing a tendency to look to Google instead of a teammate for answers and help; gone are the days when you could just roll your chair over to their desk or bump into a new team member at the café and introduce yourself.

These are all serious concerns, and we have no intention of papering over them with easy, unsatisfactory answers. So, while we work towards long-term solutions to these issues, in the interim we’re providing as many tools as possible to our staff, whether it’s by re-examining our insurance coverage or making physical health subsidies more easily available, so that they can choose what’s right for them. A weekend chalet rental up north can do as much for the mind as a gym membership can for the body!

We feel confident moving into GSoft’s digital-first era because of the balance we’ve maintained between present stability and future planning. It’s no coincidence that our teams embrace that same ethos, working hard in the short term while keeping an eye out for the future. As we wrap up our conversation, Kevin shares a realization with me:

“Our transition to remote work went so well because we’d had the conversations long before it became a pressing issue. I hope it inspires us again in the future, to explore all kinds of options we might otherwise write off.”

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