“As a software company, the transition to remote working was relatively easy. It was the human side that was more difficult,” says Matt Barker, co-founder of technology company Jetstack.
Running a remote working technology company
Like all businesses, Jetstack has adapted how it operates in light of coronavirus restrictions. “Pre-pandemic we had satellite offices with clusters of engineers in London, Birmingham and Bristol. We had a flexible working policy and people could use the office whenever they wanted to,” says Matt, 37. He co-founded Jetstack in 2010 with Matt Bates, and in the 10 years since have grown to a team of 40 people.
When COVID-19 hit the UK, the co-founders kept the team feeling motivated, included and secure by organising daily drop-in sessions where people could have a more casual catch up with colleagues either at lunchtime or the end of the day. They also arranged company games nights and virtual team-building challenges, organised by Jetstack’s parent company Venafi.
“The team-building challenge worked really well. Because we had something to focus on, we almost forgot it was virtual.” They also sent out goodie bags with hoodies and tee-shirts for the team while working from home.
Keeping up communication
“The more certainty and reassurance you can give people, the better,” he says. Communication has been Matt’s priority throughout the various lockdowns and the acquisition process with their parent company, which was carried out remotely.
“Internal communication was incredibly important," he says. "We needed our employees to feel included and excited at the prospect of becoming part of Venafi. Updating everyone with news, answering questions and tracking progress were essential in preventing anyone from feeling isolated."
Matt recognises that good communication is about both sharing and listening. “We are very good at getting input and advice from across the company. If we didn’t have that attitude, we wouldn’t be a place that open-source software engineers would want to work.”
An open-source product is usually built by one or a few developers with a common goal to build a codebase that serves a particular purpose. The product is then released with a free-to-use license to allow other like-minded developers to contribute and gradually improve its overall usefulness. Jetstack's open source tool helps enforce website security.
Digital tools, such as Timetastic, made the transition to remote working much simpler for Jetstack. The team started using it two years ago after one employee suggested it during a ‘Building Jetstack’ session.
Building Jetstack is a company retrospective. "Once we’ve finished a period of development, we sit down and look at what went well and what went badly and we tackle those issues through Building Jetstack. One issue was how to track and manage holiday.”
Timetastic lets managers at Jetstack to keep track of absences and see and approve holiday for their team members. “At first, I was worried that Timetastic might be too specific - I didn’t want to end up with 50 different tools for 50 different things. But Timetastic does what it does so well and integrates so nicely with other tools.” Jetstack has set up integrations between Timetastic and Slack so that an employee status is automatically updated if they’re on holiday.
“It’s a simple tool, it’s not super expensive and when we rolled it out for people to test, everyone came back to say how fantastic it was,” says Matt. “We’re an engineering company that appreciates good software and design - Timetastic is a tool that has a huge amount of respect and love from the team.”
Passing on lessons learned
Matt’s advice for fellow business owners is to put operations and tools in place, like Timetastic, before you think you need them. “Always think bigger than where you are,” he says.
“It’s not easy as you don’t know if and when you’ll get bigger but my advice would be to invest more than you think you need in operational tools. When you’re growing a company, you hit places along the road where operations break down. It’s easy to know what five people are doing because you’re talking to each other all day. When it gets to 10 people, that communication can break down. The same can happen when you reach 20 people or 30 people. If we had implemented operational processes for 30 people when we were at 10 people, we wouldn’t have had the same growing pains. For example, it would have been much better if we had signed up for Timetastic a year earlier.”
He also feels it's important to look critically at your business and find tools that can help smooth out certain processes, especially when it comes to remote working. “Being able to hire new staff remotely and have them up and running and quickly integrated to the wider team is a good test of how well your operations are set up to support remote working," he says.
"Offering positions to people you've not met face to face would seem crazy to so many companies a year ago but this is the world we live in right now. Ideally you want all new employees joining remotely to feel immediately supported and part of the team within a few days of them starting. Think through the tools needed to help new staff be productive and feel valued.”