Collaboration

Remote work diary: How Spanish startup Jeff came together while working apart

4 min read
Abby Sinnott
  •  Jul 7, 2020
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An epicenter of Covid-19, Spain was one of the first countries to suffer the pandemic’s devastation. Thousands of businesses had to immediately vacate their offices and transition to working from home when the Spanish government mandated a lockdown.

One of the impacted businesses was Jeff, a “super app” founded in 2015 that aims to help people achieve “the good good life” by providing laundry and dry-cleaning home delivery, as well as fitness, beauty and relaxation services, such as massage. In a matter of days, more than 600 of the fast growing start-up’s employees across Spain became a remote workforce.

In particular, the tight-knit product team saw their home base—sun-drenched Valencia, famous for paella, beautiful beaches, and vibrant culture—quickly fade into a ghost town as they began to work from home. Previously, the team telecommuted occasionally, but never on a full-time basis.

For them the question not only became, “How do we continue to scale, innovate, and expand in a time of global crisis?” but also, “How do our teams, now separated by physical distance, stay connected, aligned, and motivated?”

And while the opportunity was sudden, it presented an interesting experiment for Jeff:

“Being based in Valencia, our talent pool is limited a bit, so working remotely would have many recruiting advantages for the future,” said Juan Pablo Costanzo, who leads the product team’s designers. “Now that we’ve had time to work remotely on a full-time basis, we can test whether it’s possible to stay productive and connected as a team, which will help us decide if WFH on a more full-time basis is something the product team could adopt permanently.”

Inside Design partnered with Jeff to document this journey in a four-part series. Each member of the team kept a weekly diary for a month, capturing their personal and professional challenges, such as loneliness, team restructuring and misalignment, and the often unexpected solutions (and silver linings) discovered along the way. You’ll hear from Juan Pablo; Andres Rodrigues Perez, who leads the engineering team; Diego Pertusa Irles, an engineering team lead and senior front-end developer; and product designer, Elisa Babiano. At the end of each week, we’ll provide some analysis and clear takeaways for readers also making the transition to WFH.

Here’s our first installment of Jeff’s Remote Work Diary from week one, where the team makes the initial shift to working from home, being separated from their squad, and adjusting to life under lockdown:


WEEK 1

Juan Pablo – Head of product design

My week has been all over the place. I’m still figuring out my rhythm and feel that sometimes I’m not working effectively—I feel busy without being productive.

This week it’s been really challenging in terms of the team, because the company is thinking about restructuring to adapt to the current situation. Andres and I have a lot of meetings because we’re leads, and we’re trying to figure everything out.

I feel really disconnected to the team. I’ve had to cancel my regular 1:1 meetings, which is my time to focus on every person for 30 minutes each week. That’s been a big challenge. But I understand it’s not just because we’re remote, it’s also because of what the company is going through.

Juan Pablo Costanzo, head of product design at Jeff

Andres – Head of engineering

I’m trying to “go with the flow,” but it’s very hard. I’m sure that everyone will be a better professional and even a better person after Covid-19. Living a pandemic from the inside is hard, scary, but also very interesting.

This week was challenging in many ways. So much is happening at the same time that even working many hours every day and on weekends, I’m not able to react as fast as the situation needs. I have hundreds of unread emails in my inbox.

The company is going through a restructure, so we are working with a tremendous amount of uncertainty. The situation is changing daily, it’s tough to predict what’s going to happen and create plans to be prepared as much as possible for the coming months.

On the other hand, in some ways we have a clearer idea about how our product culture should be, our processes, and our product mindset, though we haven’t reached any final conclusions yet. This is a challenge that we had before the situation, but the remote scenario makes it even harder.

With this level of uncertainty, it’s necessary to keep very close to the team, so I’m spending a lot of time in 1:1 conversations to take care of the group.

Andres Rodrigues Perez, head of engineering at Jeff

Diego – Engineering team lead and senior frontend developer

With so many things to do, I have realized that I lock myself in and forget to pay attention to the rest of the squad. I tend to disconnect. It’s important to find a better way to communicate and stay aligned.

We are beginning to use Jira more efficiently, we try to talk more in each task about the problems referred to it. In our squad, we used to work with a physical kanban in our office, with a lot of post-its. Jira is great because we can discuss each task in its scope. In addition, we keep track of tasks to keep in mind for future sprints.

Diego Pertusa Irles, engineering team lead and senior front-end developer at Jeff

Elisa – Product designer

I miss the coffee with colleagues on my squads. I feel that this time connects us and helps us to clear our minds—we share our problems and give feedback to each other. As a solution to not being together, our squad created a chat to drink an online coffee. Also, on the weekend, we play video games together and drink beer on a Hangouts call. We are geeks 🙂

It’s also very interesting to see how now for the first 10 or 15 minutes of our meetings, people tell each other things about their personal lives, which they didn’t do before. I think people miss each other.

Just before the pandemic hit and we started working remotely, a new guy joined the product team. I’m his mentor, so helping him onboard virtually. It’s difficult for him because not being in the office, he doesn’t feel the warmth and culture of the rest of the squad. Also, I didn’t have an onboarding document for the product team to share with him, so I created one myself. I started by asking people who have recently started in the company what they liked about our in-person onboarding, and what they would have liked to know. The document describes the most interesting and useful information for his day-to-day responsibilities, like links to documents and passwords for his daily work tools. It includes the names of people who he can ask various questions to, as well as who grants access to platforms and tools. It’s a good document to have going forward for any future onboardings.

To make our new teammate feel more connected to the rest of the team, I try to keep in contact with him throughout the day. I tell him, “Hey, if you have any questions, don’t worry, just contact me whenever you want.”

On a personal note, I work more hours from home and stay focused for longer since there are fewer distractions. It’s a little harder to disconnect completely, so I’m trying to be more strict with myself. I work until suddenly I realize I’m exhausted. When I feel blocked, I move around the house to change spaces. Today I used an IKEA piece of furniture to work standing up 🙂

Elisa Babiano, product designer at Jeff

Week 1 Recap

Like many of us who have made the initial shift to working from home, Jeff’s team experienced some growing pains. Especially as they are accustomed to working side by side and grabbing a beer after work, the sudden lack of human interaction was particularly jarring. This was also true for its leaders, who were challenged with balancing immediate business needs with the emotional needs of the team.

Culture and people are particularly important to distributed teams because they’re at a higher risk of becoming disengaged and disconnected. However, this week is a powerful example of how it takes some time for culture in a remote setting to develop. Finding the right processes and tools are usually the things teams moving to remote try to solve first. We predict that once Jeff’s team settles more into WFH over the next few weeks, culture, relationships and communication will become front-and-center priorities as a way to keep connected, even when separated by physical distance.

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