For the last five years, my business, Grownetics — a vertical farm software, crop analytics and smart farm design company — has been operating entirely remotely.

We love it.  

As I watch CEOs forced by the coronavirus, practically overnight, to fundamentally alter their companies workflow, I feel compelled to share the lessons I learned and the strategies we now implement at Grownetics.

I hope our experience can make your transition smoother and more successful in a stressful time.

The Good News — Remote Work Offers Many Advantages

The first thing to keep in mind is that remote work actually offers many fundamental advantages to businesses. Grownetics certainly benefited from them. It also happens to align perfectly with one of the core values in our business, to reduce the environmental impact of indoor ag while increasing quality, automation, and efficiency.

We quickly discovered that working remotely —

  • Dramatically lowered our overhead for rent and travel needs.
  • Gave us access to worldwide talent.
  • Encouraged us to outsource the things we didn’t need to do (and somebody else could do better).
  • Inherently focused us on better documentation, which ended up streamlining our operations and communications.
  • Cultivated a happier, more diverse workforce that led to better productivity and loyalty.
  • Decreased our carbon footprint, an imperative any conscionable business should consider.

But those advantages won’t be realized if you don’t implement the core strategies for remote work. Or you might fumble around a bit before you figure them out, like we did. 

That’s why I wanted to share the following fundamentals for remote work strategies. They should be scalable for any size of company and if you’d like to chat about these topics feel free to join our grownetics community chat here.

The Company Handbook is the First Step  

For remote work to be successful, it must have a baseline of transparency and open communications. Because Grownetics is an open-source software company, this concept was already ingrained in our company culture and allowed for easier adoption of a remote work system.

Our company handbook is published online for easy access for any remote employee and is heavily inspired by Gitlab, a multi-billion dollar open source company with over 1,000 employees in 56 countries. I highly recommend checking out Gitlab’s handbook here.

A good company handbook allows any new employee to transition smoothly and quickly into your culture and operations from anywhere with an internet connection. The basics of ‘how we work’ typically covered in those first ‘on the job’ weeks are laid-out for any new employee, where-ever they might be working from, to review and refer too. 

The added benefit of a really useful handbook was it forced us to document our systems. The process helps our whole business become more efficient and the handbook is the only ‘source of truth’ for our continuous real time improvements.

Different Modes of Communication for Different Needs

At Grownetics, we quickly learned that different mediums of communication were better suited for different exchanges. This is the key to leveraging the benefits of asynchronous work without losing all the benefits of a working in sync. i.e. A good team collaborating on a complex problem in one room together.

It’s essential to use the appropriate type of communication medium rather than just a one-size-fits-all approach. You need to give this some consideration depending on the type of work you do.

Remote comms fall into the below mediums.

  • Text — Most precise, best for sharing links and documentation, async. Terrible for context and challenging decisions or problem solving (think breakup over text).
  • Audio — Best for low bandwidth collaboration, quick check ins, ideal with clear agenda before hand. But you can’t see facial expressions which makes reaching consensus in sync less than ideal.
  • Audio & Video — Best replacement for in person face to face meetings and collaboration.

We constantly try to minimize our collaborative work channels and have reduced them to these tools.

  • Email —Ideally only for discussing and sharing external comms.
  • Chat — Default method of communication, async, and best for quick clarifications.
  • Audio call — When an issue is more nuanced, needs collaboration, a voice call is best.
  • Video call — Important for group discussions, especially for collective decision-making. Video calls allow the ability to pay attention to visual clues indicating concern or lack of consensus.

Hybrid comms are terrible

The one type of group communication we’ve found that just never seems to work remotely is a hybrid situation with some people joining in remotely, while others are physically located together on a conference call. The ability to understand each other breaks down in that situation, plus there are too many diverse dynamics between the remote workers versus those that are physically together.

Asynchronous Versus Synchronous Working and Combating Isolation

Depending on the scope of work being done, consider the way your team works together. What action they are doing may benefit from different types of flow between the remote team members.

Asynchronous working allows different members to work on their specific part of a project, complete what they need to do, and then pass it off to the next team member who then adds in their part of the project. 

Think of it like house building. First, the construction crew might come in and frame out the building. Then the electrician puts in the wiring. Then the plumber does the plumbing. And so on.

This can be advantageous because it allows team members to complete their work whenever it makes sense for them – within the timelines of getting the project finished, of course. This encourages flexibility and allows employees to work within their peak performance time (even if that happens to be in the middle of the night!).

Synchronous working, or ‘pairing,’ is advantageous when you’re in a situation of ‘two eyes are better than one.’ Rather than house building, you’re ‘rowing a canoe’ together.

In a traditional work-place, these types of projects are typically completed with one person working on it to near completion, then passing the work to another person for their input, and back and forth the work goes. This is a time suck and requires each employee to separately get into the mind-frame of the project at diverse times.

When working remotely, however, two employees can work on the same project together in real-time. This is a great time-saver as it allows one person to be thinking within the context of the work, right at the same time their co-worker is doing work and making changes. It creates real-time collaboration and oftentimes the benefit of two employees bouncing ideas off of each other are far greater than if they worked separately.

Synchronous working, or pairing is also especially useful for combating isolation and team-building between employees, especially for employees new to remote working.

Just the Right Tools, No More, No Less

The final key to successful remote working is incorporating the right remote tools. There are a lot of different apps on the market to choose from. Experiment for what works for your team.

Here at Grownetics, we rely on the following tools:

  • Wrike – Project management hub for all work.
  • Gitlab – For our version management of our handbook, all software and hardware projects. It allows us to “rollback” to previous work if needed.
  • G-Suite – For collaborative documents, calendars, slide creation, etc.
  • Zulip Chat – For real-time team chat (like slack but with better threads)
  • Tandem/ — Quick and easy voice and video conferencing

While the coronavirus is not a good reason to be forced to implement a new way of working, I hope that with the help of our experiences at Grownetics, these tips can help make the transition smoother and more successful.

And hopefully, in the long-run, bring added benefits and value you hadn’t anticipated.

The Grownetics team looks forward to working collaboratively with our global community as we embrace the challenges of Covid-19 and move past them!

Sincerely and the Best of Luck!

Vincent Harkiewicz,
Co-founder and CEO of Grownetics