How Dozens Of Entrepreneurs Are Navigating Uncertain Waters – Part I: Working Remotely

What we are experiencing today is unprecedented and offers us the opportunity to rethink our lives and the way we operate. Talking about our stories individually does not seem appropriate. What does seem appropriate is expressing our collective fears, anxieties, ideas and stories as we ride through this pandemic together.
by: Charles-Louis Machuron
illustration: Studio Polenta

How do we – the entrepreneurs, freelancers and startup founders – deal with the situation on a daily basis? How do we organize ourselves to work remotely? What technological tools do we use? What are the risks and opportunities for us? Are we ready to telework? Are all sectors at a standstill or does digital technology allow for the continuity of work? These are questions we’ve decided to collectively explore in this special issue.

We are all at the starting line but we may not all reach the finish line. This is precisely why we have to stick together, support each other, and ask for help (if needed) to get through this crisis.

I. Working Remotely

“As a company manager, working from different desks, offices, trains, waiting rooms, and parks has been the norm from the beginning in order to keep my company growing without disrupting communication.

I founded SUMY (Sustainable Urban Logistics & Mobility) in Brussels six years ago and just a year ago I launched its services in Luxembourg to support the reduction of CO2 emissions during urban deliveries of fresh products. Since then I’ve had to showcase the company in different places more than a 100 times. I’ve had to travel to meet customers and suppliers more than 654 times and I’ve constantly been dealing with uncertainty in some form.

I’ve learned resilience to help me create enough space for work under any condition. I carry my office (charger, files, pens, headphones and computer) in my backpack since day one to make myself unconditionally operational before and after I’m back at the office. Today, I don’t feel any difference except that I cannot meet my customers and teams physically.”
– Hinde Boulbayem, SUMY Luxembourg

“Work from home has always been a part of our DNA but all of us working from home at the same time? Probably not. 🙂 It has honestly been working well for us, so far. The most difficult part has been to reinvent our video content without being together.”
– eLfy Pins, Supermiro + Helloboss

“Like most entrepreneurs and companies working in the digital industry, moving to a remote setup was relatively easy. I consider myself grateful to have had a rather smooth transition. However, I have to admit that I like being at the office with my team and co-founders. It allows me to easily separate work time and personal time. Even though we have been running and using digital businesses, I believe in the power and dynamics of sharing one common space.

I am confident we will adapt to this new normal: new habits will develop and I’m sure we’ll be able to cope with it; there are many others out there who are facing existential challenges. We must support them in any way we can.”
– Raoul Mulheims, Finologee

“Klin is a hybrid startup (digital front-end/industrial back-end). Working remotely has almost never been an option. Our production facility is key to our business, and even if our on-site presence is not an obligation, we cannot let our employees completely telework either.

That is also why it is quite complicated to handle. Laundry activities are considered as “sensitive” and can still operate. It may look unfair to let our production workforce come to work without ensuring an on-site presence to deal with urgent requests. Our primary focus right now is to ensure the safest working conditions for everyone.”
– Antoine Hron, Klin

“Switching from a usual organization to a fully remote one is very easy for a startup like Tokeny: Our team is already split across different locations and offices in Luxembourg, Barcelona, Paris, London and Singapore. The team is used to working online.

We are a paperless company as much as possible and we all use laptops. It goes without saying that we are also building our company culture and want people to interact physically as much as possible. Regular face-to-face meetings are important and we regularly organize visits between the different teams. In these times of lockdown, we see more discussions in our internal messaging tool and it is exciting to see more people speaking up.

When we saw the COVID-19 situation getting worse, we communicated early on to our teams that it was not advised for them to come to the office. We explained how the pandemic could affect our business, but it was surprisingly easy to transition into working from home.”
– Luc Falempin, Tokeny Solutions

“We have all woken up to a new world, literally overnight. Coworking, by definition, is about being together but also about working from anywhere, any time. We can work from home while still being part of the larger coworking community, locally and globally. For me, this has been a quick revelation of what the future of work could look like. For a while, I have been an ambassador for using digital solutions to gain more time for ourselves. Now that this has been imposed on us, I take it as an opportunity to redefine our companies, operations, and delve deeper into our ‘whys’.”
– Gosia Kramer, The Office

“We are feeling a certain loss of a “sense of belonging” when working from home. We are a company about music: we got used to working with (somehow) loud music in the office, with playlists curated each day by a different person. Now, the silence is eerily evident.”
– Marzio Schena, ANote Music

“As an avid believer in the power of a strong company culture, I have always believed in the importance of people being in the office together. After all, for us at Tada, there is nothing like walking into the office and feeling the buzz of a busy team, whether they are writing lines of code, eating at the communal dining tables or playing a game of mini foot.

However, over the years, a varied set of situations have come up (such as parental leave, offices in Paris and London, multicultural teams needing to return to their home countries temporarily, etc.) that have challenged my notion of a “physically present” workplace. Although our culture is entrenched in being together as a team, we have found that having multiple offices with international customers has significantly changed how I view “culture.”

Our focus has shifted from the making sure everyone is “physically present” to everyone “feeling included.” The London office was the perfect example of our changing approach. Our main challenge was to ensure our team members felt that they were part of our team and culture, even if they could not be physically present all the time. We researched and tested many strategies on how best to achieve this, from live streams during office hours across offices, to communal Friday beer o clocks and social events via Slack or video.

I’ve come to realise, despite years of me strongly believing that a strong culture and high productivity could only be achieved by people being physically present, that what is more important is that we as founders ensure our teams feel present, valued and included, irrespective of location.”
– Genna Elvin, Tadaweb

“The ability to work from anywhere and not being tied to a “9-5” job was important for me as I started my own business. I realized over time that every employee might have a different rhythm in which he/she is most productive. While making sure that there is a high flexibility when working as a team, we allow everyone to work according to his/her schedules as long as the work is done. From a logistical point of view, transitioning to working from home for everyone has been rather seamless.

What is more difficult is to keep everybody focused and motivated through this crisis when they are confined at home, alone or with small children (don’t ask me what is worse). To keep everybody focused and happy, we have organized short morning coffee meetings every day at 9 AM where we exchange feelings and struggles. Sometimes the children pop by to see what is happening and that is fine, too! This allows us to connect on a personal level and support each other during any mental issues this situation can bring.”
– Gaëlle Haag, StarTalers

Read Part II: Tech Tools Used
Read Part III: Fears
Read Part IV: Issues
Read Part V: Opportunities
Read Part VI: 24 Hours In A Life Of An Entrepreneur
Read Part VII: How To Face The Crisis Personally
Read Part VIII: How To Face The Crisis Professionally
Read Part IX: How To Keep The Entrepreneurial Spirit Alive

This article was first published in Silicon Luxembourg magazine (special Covid edition “Hope”). Download now.

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