How we successfully transitioned the entire company to working remote in 3 months

April 25, 2024

We have been working in an office ever since Symph was founded. We are allowed to work remotely every now and then or on regular intervals, but working in the office is the default. This is why transitioning to an entirely work-from-home set up all of a sudden was unusual to most of us.

COVID-19 arrived in the Philippines in January and we had our first positive case, while more cases followed in the succeeding months. The Cebu City government (where most of us live) had not instituted quarantine at the time.

March 14: We felt the urgent need to implement a rotational work remote scheme, so we sent that announcement to everyone together with a form that would allow us to assess how we should arrange this work scheme.

We realized from the survey responses that a lot of us were exposed to the dangers of this virus so we decided that everyone will have to work from home starting March 16.

March 16: Day 1 of work from home. The Cebu City government placed the city under community quarantine on this same day.

We set up accounts on Discord, a communication tool, which most of us were new to since we’ve been using Slack for the longest time. We moved to Discord mainly because of its voice channels feature.

Important policies we have agreed on are:

  • Everyone should join morning syncs (via Discord video call) and evening retrospectives (via Parabol- more info about this in the next section of this article).
  • All of us should be in a voice channel throughout the entire time we are working. This allows us to get in sync with the rest of the team much faster than chatting and waiting for replies.
So it feels like home.
We now have meeting rooms we didn’t have before.

Our awesome developers programmed a bot (named “Symph-chan”, who doesn’t sound very much like a bot) to our Discord server that automated a lot of things for us. Now it’s easier for us to:

  • Update our attendance in our database by just typing “wfh” in our #attendance channel

  • Let the others know we’re away from keyboard or taking a break by typing “brb” + estimated time we’ll be away in our #checkin-updates channel. We should also type “back” when we are back.

  • Let the others know we’ve checked out for the day by typing “checking out” in our #checkin-updates channel.

The Key

Our daily retrospectives were the key to our success in this transition.

We get on a call with everyone at the end of every day and we use Parabol to collect everyone’s feedback on what things went well, what went wrong, and how we can improve.

These “things” range from non-work related stories to feedback on company-wide implementations— we welcome, and in fact, encourage all of these. We ask everyone to be honest about these no matter how “bad” they seem, because they are all valid. It also helps that these agenda which come as cards in Parabol are added anonymously.

These daily retros might be excessive but these are what allowed us to make sure we spot issues early and fix them early so they don't become big issues. By April we were already in full productivity, and we are really happy these retros worked.

April: Working from home posed the challenge of maintaining connectedness, promoting meaningful work, and fun— all of which are ingrained in our culture.

Everyone shared their ideas on what we can do to uplift team morale in the current situation and with their feedback, we were able to experiment with different things including the following:

  • Doing a Game Tournament

  • Doing morning check-ins with #jwu selfies.
together with the baby Symphers

Some activities worked for us and some didn’t, so we continued to iterate and ask more ideas from our daily retrospectives.

May 22: Positive cases increased by the day and are reaching our local communities. We forecasted that this will take longer than just a few months and we don’t want the team going back to the office until it is completely safe. Thus, we decided that we will be keeping the remote work setting for the rest of 2020 until indefinitely.

For this reason, we closed down our current office for good (as we were already on the lookout for a new one for quite some time). We used the budget that was once allocated for our office’s rent and utilities to help the Symphers increase individual productivity by making home workspaces more conducive. We sent out one-time workspace grants and we are regularly sending monthly subsidies for home internet and electricity bills.

June-July: We are proud of the team for being able to perform excellently with this huge adjustment. We’re continuing to iterate our working agreements with everyone’s feedback and we have been trying more fun activities like:

  • Virtual team dinners
We might try a virtual team dishwashing activity next.

  • Trivia nights
For prizes of food delivery vouchers!

  • Life Stories/ TED Circles/ iamRemarkable
The deep stuff.

(You can see more remote activities we recommend and links to the tools in this Facebook post. Symphers also shared their personal hacks on staying productive while working from home here.)

Because of everyone’s quick adjustment and teamwork, we were able to help the Symphers and even their families cope with this difficult situation, and we will continue to do so in every way we can.

Nothing still beats seeing each other and doing all these activities in person but until then, we will continue to adapt and learn from what these times are teaching us.

We are doing a live webinar this August 7, 2020 (Friday) at 1 PM with our CTO Albert Padin and other business owners to talk about how they led their company’s transitions to working remotely. If you are interested to listen and ask questions, register here and we’ll send you a link to the call!