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Lessons on remote work from a digital native company

Dexter Jagula, the co-founder and COO at SkyWatch, on his company's decision to embrace remote work, how it helps with recruitment and more.

Is the world about to become a bit more remote?

One of the predicted outcomes of COVID-19 self-isolation is that remote work could become a much more common occurrence. After all, talented people all around the world are getting an on-the-fly education in making work-from-home work for them, and business usually follows talent. As expectations change, companies need to change, too.

That’s where SkyWatch comes in.

They’re a Waterloo-based tech company that makes satellite data cheaper and easier to access. Just a few months ago they announced a $10 million raise that will keep the company growing – it currently has around 25 employees.

Despite having a physical office in the Communitech Data Hub, SkyWatch also made remote work part of its daily routine before it was cool (read: required by COVID-19).

Yes, they’re a tech company, but SkyWatch also has all the pieces that most small to mid-size companies have: marketing, HR, sales and a C-Suite. They build and sell a product and, much of the time, they’re doing it from home.

We spoke with Dexter Jagula, the co-founder and COO at SkyWatch, about his company’s decision to embrace remote work, key lessons for businesses looking to go down the same path and his thoughts on remote work’s impact on productivity and culture.

This is the first edition in a new Waterloo EDC series on remote work. Stay tuned for posts featuring a variety of perspectives on the subject, including thoughts from a multinational company, an experienced recruiter and a Future of Work expert.

Q: We’ve already covered who you are, what you do and how much money you’ve raised, so we can jump right to the point – remote work. Why did you originally start offering remote work as an option?

JAGULA: We trust our employees. One of our core mantras for how we work is “autonomy.” This is something we instill in people from day one, and it carries on with them throughout their time at SkyWatch. We provide all employees with the autonomy to solve the problems in front of them. And we firmly believe that our employees work at their best when they’re comfortable and empowered. So we give our employees the flexibility to work remotely whenever they choose, which everyone truly values. In return, we get consistently good work from everyone. The results speak for themselves.

Q: Our sources tell us that earlier in the year SkyWatch was trying to decide whether to stay in a smaller office and hotdesk/stay remote or find a bigger space where everyone could fit on a daily basis. The company made its decision via employee vote. How important was it to engage employees in the decision? Are you surprised at all with the option they picked?

JAGULA: Employee engagement is key. We try and provide our employees with as many opportunities to be heard, and this level of engagement keeps productivity high. I’m not really surprised by how the vote turned out. Our employees really value the flexibility we provide, and besides we aren’t exactly overcrowded either, so that helps.

Q: As a company with some experience in remote work, could you give us a bit of a rundown of the main challenges associated with making remote work an option?

JAGULA: One of the most important things is ensuring your internal processes (e.g. meetings, etc.) can accommodate for at least one person being remote. If you can tailor your processes to handle that scenario, then you’re well-positioned for most, if not the entire team being remote.

Having the right tools in place to support your processes is extremely important, especially while allowing for the appropriate communications to take place. There’s no silver bullet here, and this may require some trial and error to land on the tools and processes that make the most sense to your company and tie to your culture.

Q: Do you think offering remote work as an option gives SkyWatch (or any company) a recruitment advantage?

JAGULA: Definitely! It allows us to cast a much wider net for recruitment and bring on world-class talent, wherever they may reside. Flexibility around remote-work also helps us bring in a more diverse workforce, which has been proven to lead to higher quality work time over time.

Q: As SkyWatch grows, do you think remote work will remain part of the mix?

JAGULA: 100%! It’s become such an engrained part of our culture and we wouldn’t be the same without it.

Q: Do you think remote work applies to specific types of jobs? What about types of companies?

JAGULA: I definitely think that’s true. Software companies are much more suited to remote-only work in comparison to hardware companies, for obvious reasons. Software companies whose business fully resides in “the cloud” are even more at an advantage, which is where we are.

We also have marketing, sales and HR, though. We have to manage people and projects, just like most office-based teams, so our experience can translate to other types of companies.

The ties that bind are jobs that can be done remotely – something where you primarily work at a desk – and a commitment to making it work.

Q: The technical ability to telecommute has existed for at least a decade, but it’s still pretty uncommon outside of tech. What would you say to business leaders who are interested in making remote work an option, but worry about its affect on things like productivity and culture?

JAGULA: It’s certainly not a trivial decision to make, but I would urge business leaders to try it out. COVID-19 has provided a golden opportunity to really give this a go, so I would encourage experimenting and learning as much as you can on what works and what doesn’t work. Culture is made to evolve and a company’s culture is no different.

As long as the changes being implemented are positive ones, they will reflect positively on your culture and productivity will be a derivative of that. There are countless tools out there that sit on the backbone of the Internet and you’ll be surprised by what you’ll uncover to support your endeavours in remote work.

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