Day in the Life of a Remote Company: Rocket.Chat

Day in the Life of a Remote Company

Leaders in the open-source space, Rocket.Chat is a neat app that allows you to control your communication, manage your data, and personalize your own collaboration platform to improve team productivity. Equally passionate about remote work as they are about communication, the folks at Rocket.Chat have been remote right from the get-go. Its HQ exists in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, but according to Founder and CEO, Gabriel Engel, their office "is more like a meeting point than actually an office space." Their 46 team members are distributed across 10 countries: Brazil, USA, Canada, Spain, Ecuador, Uruguay, Ukraine, Germany, China, and Portugal. And, when they do meet in person, the office space actually does feel like home.

"We wanted to provide a space to connect our employees with the rest of the company, even those who live outside of Brazil. So we decided to offer a place inside our own office for those who don't live in Brazil, we call it our own 'Airbnb.' Basically, it counts on a few rooms where coworkers traveling can come spend time with us, visiting the workspace, and meeting colleagues in person."

Keep reading below for our conversation with Gabriel -- see what unites their team as a remote-first company, why he thinks remote work is here to stay, and much more. 

Day in the Life of Rocket.Chat:

As our global team is distributed across 4 different continents, teams tend to agree on a convenient time and organize a routine to be online, meet and get things done during those hours. Here is an overview of a usual Tuesday, being GMT +0 time zone our guide:

  • 4 am - 2pm | Our support team, mostly located in Ukraine, starts their daily routines, checking tickets and helping out customers with questions. 
  • 11 am | Sales, Marketing and HR, located in Europe and Brazil usually start at this time. Our USA colleagues should join soon.
  • 2 pm - 4pm | Back-end, Front-end, Cloud, Mobile, Design and Product Teams hold a few individual meetings to share updates, discuss the roadmap and improve our platform and features like Omnichannel.
  • 4 pm - 6pm | Although everyone has a particular schedule to take a break, we could say this is usually time for lunch in Brazil, coffee in Europe and breakfast for our colleagues from the USA and Canada. 
  • 6 -7 pm | The entire team joins Rocket.Chat Weekly, a meeting where leaders from each area present a brief update on projects, goals and news.
  • 7pm - 4 am | New agents join Support to keep the sights going, making sure we provide a 24x7 support.

Why and how did you decide to go remote? 

Let's start by mentioning that before Rocket.Chat, our first project, a CRM called Konecty, was totally managed remotely. We didn't have an office space, because I lived in Londres, while our CTO lived in Brazil, and other employees were abroad as well. Whenever we had a chance to meet in person, my house would be the office space. 

Later, in 2015, we founded Rocket.Chat. We knew agile communication was one of the most valuable resources to help a company adapt to challenges and be truly productive. We wanted to build an open-source communication platform that would be the future of communication. And open-source projects have remote work in their very DNA: people collaborate regardless of their locations. Their sense of purpose surpasses geographical obstacles. 

That's why we say Rocket.Chat was born as a remote company. In fact, our first hires after the funding were from Canada and the USA, which means being remote was essential to thrive on successfully managing our teams and running our operation.

How does your company advocate for remote work?

We advocate for remote work in numerous ways. Starting with our own product: as a communication hub, we want to allow teams to collaborate remotely and be productive. That means working from anywhere in the world, with the help of technology in the form of your desktop, cellphone, etc.

In addition, our company is directly advocating for open-source projects and the philosophy behind open source. We encourage people to work on a project with an open codebase because that means getting involved with the product, supporting codebase improvement, bringing new ideas, and helping features to be launched. 

Open-source also means having a supportive worldwide community contributing to online projects. Our project, for instance, counts on more than +1k developer-contributors and over 20k stars on Github, the largest and most active community of chat developers in the open source communication sector. 

We won multiple awards since being founded in 2015, such as a 2016 Bossie Award for Best Open Source Application and first prize in the 2017 edition of All Things Open’s Startup Competition. And we can definitely say that our open-source community, which works remotely, was behind every single achievement.

Gabriel (Founder and CEO), Rodrigo (CTO), Aaron (Lead Cloud Architect),  and Sing.Li (Chief Opportunities Office) at Google Cloud Next 2017

How has being remote influenced your company’s organizational structure?

We have an unusual scenario at Rocket.Chat: we work on the very product we sell. It's almost like a feedback loop: our product influenced our structure as a remote company. Being remote, on the other hand, enabled us to improve our own product quickly, since Rocket.Chat is our main tool to work remotely today. 

The fact that we are a remote company hugely impacted our product. Because whenever we found a blocker or obstacle holding us back to work on the platform, we would fastly try to overcome it by working on better features or improvements.

When it comes to cultural implications, our mindset as a remote company is focused on results rather than micromanaging or closely observing people's work. I would say we are united by a common purpose. We are always trying to give as much autonomy to our teams as possible. We want people to feel a sense of ownership, making decisions without having to ask their leaders permissions.

Moreover, we encourage people to work smartly. I'd say effective communication is the first step always to ensure that. That's why we use our own communication platform to manage our teams and chat on a daily basis. 

One of the main benefits of Rocket.Chat is allowing asynchronous communication (any type of communication that doesn't happen in real-time). This is exactly the opposite of synchronous communication: when your message requires a real-time answer. 

One of the secrets to being productive is balancing async and sync communication

We like to use our platform for that because even when you are chatting with someone, the person will be notified about your message, and you don't need to interrupt someone to communicate an idea. And people can mention if they are busy/out of the office in their own profiles:

People's status can help other team members to know about our availability and mood, and since they can’t see each other, this is a great way to express themselves and it makes everything funnier. We've described how Rocket.Chat uses Rocket.Chat to be productive here

As to our structure, we do have an office located in Porto Alegre - Brazil. However, 54% of our team is abroad and our office is more like a meeting point than actually an office space. We like to see that as "Rocket.Chat's house". But going to our space in Porto Alegre is not mandatory and many people work from their own places even living in Porto Alegre. 

See more home office setups from Rocket.Chat's team members here.

We wanted to provide a space to connect our employees with the rest of the company, even those who live outside of Brazil. So we decided to offer a place inside our own office for those who don't live in Brazil, we call it our own "Airbnb". Basically, it counts on a few rooms where coworkers traveling can come spend time with us, visiting the workspace, and meeting colleagues in person.

What cultural practices set you apart as a company?

Our annual summit (check out the video) is a cultural practice that makes us extremely proud of:

We try to get our teams together at least once a year because we know it is very important for people who work closely to meet in person and connect with each other. So every single year, we host a summit where we play, engage in fun activities, learn about each other and the company while doing amazing team building activities. Because drinking a beer together, chatting, and creating rapport are important aspects even for remote teams. We try to boost personal connections during these moments.

We also have many practices to "embrace" a new person regardless of her location, such as weekly meetings; frequent 1-1s; automated anonymous surveys to check the office vibes, that show us the engagement level of our team.

Weekly meeting with Gabriel (CEO and founder) sharing some updates.

It's important to be aware that 1-1s are not supposed to be about projects, it's a moment to talk about feelings, issues, personal blockers, and to connect with your leader. In addition, we created a whole new automated process to onboard new people, which makes it easy for new employees to understand how the company works, the culture, among other important aspects. 

We care about our team and since the pandemic changed the way the world is functioning, we found it important to pause, for now, the performance review of our teams. We didn't want to increase the stress level to the team, so we came up with temporary extra support for these complicated times until we understand everyone is ok with the new normal we are observing in the world nowadays.

What kind of benefits do you offer your employees to ensure they are comfortable in their role and working remotely?

Benefits are a way to turn working at Rocket.Chat enjoyable, exciting and comfortable for everyone. Being a remote team and an international company comes with many things that are non-traditional, things like getting people on remote all-team meetings. It also brings along several aspects that are quite unique to the business side, such as different ways of paying employees, perks, benefits and when to give people holidays. 

To help our team do their best work, we provide a laptop from day one. Remote employees have a monthly allowance for extra costs. Our goal is to make it exciting to work at Rocket.Chat while being remote. Here are a few benefits accessed by our team abroad:

  • Internet: people can use your budgeted amount to reimburse their home internet. 
  • Other computer accessories: TheOffice team has access to the accessories available at the office, while the remote team may use their budget on computer accessories to help them work better. Examples of uses for this benefit: Wireless Keyboard, Mouse/Trackpad, Laptop stands, e.g. Roost, Rain mStand, Headphones.

These are the standard benefits, however, we always try to listen to our teams in order to make these benefits reflect their reality. For instance, if one has to suddenly move remote due to the pandemic and needs an ergonomic chair, we make sure to provide this as a benefit because it helps his daily work to become comfortable.

Another good point about our benefits is regarding paid time off. We don't set a specific date or period when people should take vacations, for instance. We leave it up to the person to decide whenever she wants/needs to do that. Of course, she will need to be responsible and organize tasks and align previously with her team. We really trust that, for mental wellness, it is a good thing to leave people free to take a break when they need to.

How do you address common remote challenges for your employees?

Employee engagement is one of our keys to addressing remote challenges. As mentioned before, we try to turn our own communication platform into a tool to fight loneliness and give people visibility and a sense of belonging. 

Since our platform has numerous channels that allow people to discuss different topics, we encourage them to connect to each other and not only approach work topics, but also random subjects (we even have a channel called "random"). 

Also, Koko, a motivational tool used in our own platform is one of the best examples of how we boost employee engagement. 

Koko is a bot created through our DevOps feature to help increase people's wellness. Through random questions, such as What is a waste of money for you? Or How do you make yourself sleep when you can't seem to get to sleep? We try to stimulate people to interact with each other and possibly find out funny or interesting things about their teammates.

Another great thing about Koko is when the bot asks people to praise someone for their work:

When you praise someone, the testimonial goes straight to a public channel in our platform called "Rocket.Chat - Thanks" and everyone can see it. It is a nice and important way to recognize people's efforts and motivate each other as a group:

Moreover, we try to make sure people know how their work impacts society daily. That is extremely rewarding when people know their work contributes to making a better world.
We try to speak passionately about cases and stories of how our company makes a difference for good in society, people's lives, and communities. 

For instance, how our platform improves patient diagnoses inside hospitals. Or how the product our team works daily is helping important entities such as the Brazilian Space Agency or the US Homeland Security. 

In the times of COVID-19, Rocket.Chat integrated with Amazon to build a digital assistance platform aiming to unburden the Brazilian health system and expected to help around 30M people. We like to highlight such examples so our team knows they are building something meaningful.
We also hold an online happy hour every two weeks, our Rocket.HappyHour. We found that would be a way to socialize remotely with everyone. People really like that.

What’s your tool stack? 

Our first and main tool used daily is Rocket.Chat. Not only because it is your product, but because we trust people should be able to organize information in channels and balance their work having both sync and async communication. 

Besides that, we also use GitHub, Asana, Zoho Suite, G Suite, Google Data Studio, OfficeVibe, and Figma.

How do your employees measure the impact of their work?

Mostly through KPIs, related to the company's main metrics of success. We define and measure each team's performance by KPIs and individuals also define their own goals with their leads. All of them should be linked to company growth, and company objectives such as the number of new users, revenues, sales, community engagement, among others. 

What advice do you have for companies who want to go either fully remote or hybrid? 

Going fully remote or hybrid requires reviewing your mindset when it comes to management. Because people shouldn't work hard because someone is watching them; instead, they must feel empowered and connected to their work, regardless of their location. Making sure your company's mindset is based on ownership and autonomy instead of micromanagement is crucial.

This shift of mindset will guarantee dedicated people, avoiding the fear your team is distracted or being absent when working from a place where you cannot see them daily. Micromanaging never leads companies and people to happiness at work. Lead by example, make sure people are aware of their responsibilities and have autonomy and confidence to deliver. 

Why do you believe remote work is here to stay?

Because of all its benefits, for the employee and the company too. We all think about the time saving for the employee, but maintaining a complete office for the whole team is much more expensive than just maintaining a meeting point for parts of the team for when they need or want to collaborate or interact in person.

Remote work allows companies to invest in team-building events (such as summits, as we do), save time, resources and hugely improve people's productivity. Now, with the arrival of the pandemic, I would say many companies are facing its own prejudice against remote work, and they will understand how it works and overcome this prejudice soon. 

Because they have to invest in technology, as soon as they implement the necessary tools, they will become addicted to how quicker and better their process can be done remotely. I don't see companies ever going back to the "normal" office space routine we had in the past. The barriers were broken and companies will see how remote work is here to stay once and for all. 

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