Co-Founder of NextPay

I have had several years of experience working remotely for different companies in Vancouver and San Francisco, and I have tried many different arrangements and tools in this regard. Now that I have my own company (NextPay), I finally get to implement a lot of my learnings and experiences. I absolutely believe it is even more relevant here in Manila due to the fact that our team is located everywhere, and traffic in Metro Manila is quite unbearable. We’re fortunate to not have been affected much by lockdown/quarantine thanks to our already-established remote working setup.

Let me preface my tips with the following disclaimer: work from home (WFH) is not for everyone. It requires self-discipline, self-motivation, it can get lonely (if done wrong), and not everyone has the ability to be as productive at home. But in times like this, during a lockdown that leaves us no other choice, there are certain things that can be done to mitigate those drawbacks.

Set boundaries and expectations

It’s important to be clear with the team that even when working from home, as much as possible they are to behave as if they’re in the office: maintain professionalism. For example, don’t work from your bed. Ideally, use a desk. Even better is a home-office with a door that separates you from the rest of your home. Wear appropriate clothing (for video meetings). Try to adhere to agreed-upon working hours, or at least communicate when you are having to step out for errands or other things. Which leads to the next point.

Overcommunication and transparency

WFH requires communication to be turned up to 11. We never use email to communicate internally. We instead use chat software that allows for topical communication such as Slack. Our team uses Mattermost. Other chat apps like WhatsApp and Messenger work, but are less ideal since a lot of things tend to get lost. Avoid direct-messaging as much as possible, and instead post to public chat-rooms/channels for transparency and for everyone to be aligned. Default to public over private comms.

When it comes to the work we do, transparency is everything. Everything is treated as a draft. This means that the moment you start a new document or spreadsheet, it should already be accessible to everyone. This allows for a much quicker feedback loop from teammates. For instance, we use Google Drive for docs/spreadsheets, Figma for our designs, TeamViewer for pair-programming, and other real-time collaboration tools.

Video conferences are king. We have daily 10-min sync up meetings (standups) every morning. Furthermore, each of our team members meet via video conferencing (using Google Meet) several times a day. If you can’t do real-time videos, consider using tools like Loom where you can quickly record and send video messages. And on that note, show your face! It can be tempting to keep your webcam off during video meetings, but showing your face helps tremendously with getting messages across (they say 97% of communication is non-verbal). Furthermore, it helps with establishing and maintaining culture.

Culture and sense of belonging

It’s very easy to feel isolated and alone when working remotely, but there are things that can be done to alleviate this. Currently, we use a virtual office service called Sococo. Beyond looking cute, it allows us to simulate being in a real office, where we can spontaneously enter virtual office rooms, start audio/video conversations with colleagues (no need to schedule meetings), thus improving communication. There’s also a big psychological benefit: you never feel like you’re alone. And this matters a lot with motivation and productivity.

Organize online “events” for everyone to participate in. Just the other day, our team capped the day off with a game of Scribblio (multiplayer drawing & guessing game). For larger companies, consider assigning someone to organize remote team events.

Lastly, we still meet in-person a few times a month (prior to the COVID lockdown). In-person meetings are still great for building and maintaining company culture.

The costs of remote work

If you can really optimize your company’s remote-working setup, I believe that it can completely erase the need for a physical office and thus save your company a lot of money. Running the numbers, if we were to get a dedicated physical space for our team, we are looking at a monthly cost of Php 5,000 to Php 9,000 /person/month. This doesn’t include other costs and pitfalls of having an office such as maintenance, minimum lease agreements, etc.

With remote work however, we’re looking at around PHP 3,500 /person/month. This includes the costs of remote work tools, an internet allowance, and in-person gatherings twice a month with catered food.

Final words

Admittedly, not all companies can do remote work just yet. But as companies evolve to become more digital, there are several tools out there that can help. In fact, our company NextPay is building one such tool: a way for small businesses and entrepreneurs to easily pay their employees, contractors, and suppliers, in any bank or e-wallet. In light of the COVID situation, several businesses have recently sought out our disbursement service as an alternative to their go-to methods of cash/cheque deposits, or the severely-limited individual bank-transfers.