In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about daring to WFH without losing your mind during the COVID-19 crisis.

With the Coronavirus epidemic going on, a lot of companies are being making their teams to work from home. This will inevitably lead to some challenges especially if a company culture and the way it has been set up is not designed for remote work.

In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how there’s been an increase in remote working since the virus broke out, the biggest issues about working from home, why your company culture and how your team is set up matters now more than ever and much more. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:21 why this topic was chosen.

01:12 How there’s been an increase in remote working.

02:15 One of the biggest issues about working from home.

02:52 The biggest concern companies have about WFH.

04:08 Hiten big tip for companies dealing with the current situation.

05:10 How Hiten’s team is handling the current situation.

06:19 Why your company culture and how your team is set up matters a lot.

08:35 How the current situation is not normal.

10:21 How the current situation will reveal what’s broken rather that breaking it.

3 Key Points:

  • I don’t think there has ever been more companies going remote in the history of the world
  • Being distracted is a big issue when you work from home.
  • All it takes is for someone you know to get the virus and everything changes.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about how to work from home without losing your mind as the world is melting down right now. So it’s been an interesting decade. Over the last week or two, Hiten, a lot is happening-


Hiten Shah: Pretty much.


Steli Efti: … Has happened and will probably continue to happen. But one relevant thing for people that are listening to us is that you and I have been championing working remotely for many years. We’ve been teaching anything we learned as we’ve been running remote teams and companies for many years, but I don’t think there’s ever, in the history of the world, been more businesses going remote than in the past three, four weeks. And so now there’s this surge of demand for all these companies, and we’re going to focus on startups, that were used to going into an office and working, collaborating, and communicating with each other in person, that are now forced to do that from home. Which is also a slight different flavor than working remotely, since many people who work remotely might go to a coworking space or a coffee shop, now you’re full-fledged, you’re working from home, all your colleagues work from home. How the hell do you do this? How do you coordinate this? How do you kind of manage this transition? I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen with our customers last week, the number one worry was, “How the hell do we work from home?” This week it’s 50%, “How do we work from home?” And 50%, “Oh my God, how do we deal with the financial crisis?” And I assume in a week all people are going to care about is, “Do I have to let people go? Customers are not buying anymore.” They’re going to be moved on from the working from home problem. But right now it’s still really, really large. So what is the advice that you give to people that are like, “Shit, Hiten, we had to send everybody home, we have to work from home now and what the fuck? How do we do this?”


Hiten Shah: It’s interesting. One of the biggest issues right now working from home is the amount of distraction you can have if you’re just reading and looking into this stuff.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: Look, this is not a normal work from home situation.


Steli Efti: Yep.


Hiten Shah: I think that’s the first thing to call out and understand. People are just so… Right now what you’re more concerned about when people work from home is their ability to actually work. And it’s going to vary based on personality, and life situation, and things like that. Let’s put it this way, all it takes, and I hope this doesn’t happen, but this will happen, all it takes is somebody you know getting that virus.


Steli Efti: Yep.


Hiten Shah: And then just think about what happens to you, your family, anyone around you. Like I said, God forbid, but that’s the real problem, Steli. I think there’s a lot of tips for working from home. We put a bunch together at FYI last year. We did a report, we wrote a bunch of best practices. And there’s, Oh my God, there’s so much content right now around remote work. It’s crazy. We’ve seen our content really take off in terms of traffic recently, and we haven’t produced any new content on this topic yet. We have some content coming that we were planning already. But my tip is find whatever you can find for yourself that helps you honestly not think about the stuff that’s going on in the world for as long as you can, so you can work if work is what you want to be doing. Otherwise, when it comes to like employers and people employing people, my advice there is give people as much slack as you can. It’s really interesting, right? I’ve been working remotely, we’ve been working remotely. I don’t know what you folks have done, but I’m really curious to hear this. We haven’t really in any public channel in Slack mentioned it. Our team is really small right now. It’s about a dozen people at FYI, and we didn’t mention it. Instead it comes up every time there’s a community meeting or a talk. So we have these emoji decks, which I think I’ve mentioned in some call recently or one of our podcasts.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. The one I did last week had that green germ bug virus thing, emoji in it. And we talked for about 20 minutes about the virus. That took place, sorry, a couple of days ago. So this was this week, the second week. It had a lock icon with a writing pen because everyone was locked down by then basically, whether it’s self-imposed or imposed by the government, some kind of lock down. I just call it a lockout. I mean, whatever you want to call it, quarantine, shelter, this, that, whatever it is. I’m in my house, you’re in your house, you can’t go anywhere, you’re not allowed to. Right? Then we talked about it for another 10, 15, 20 minutes, and moved on. And I’m not trying to brush it off and I’m not saying that, you know, the way we did it is the right way to do it, but it comes up, one-on-ones, it comes up in meetings. We talk about it, then we move on from it. And our team is set up that way. Our team has a certain culture that that works. So I think this has a lot to do also with your culture and how the people are, and whatever’s going on for them. So this is just a time we’re working from home. All the issues of working from home, they kind of don’t matter. Productivity, those kinds of things. The reason I say they don’t matter is everyone’s family is going to come first before anything else.


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: And so it’s just a different situation. And that means that all these tips and all these things, unless they’re related to policies, not policies, but ways to manage. Ways to help people manage this situation that we’re in. I’m not sure if they’re actually like as relevant and I’m talking about day-to-day. Right now. Because it might change if we’re in this for like 30 days, but I don’t see that part changing, because like I said, all it takes is for someone you know to have it and then you’re thinking, and then your mind’s on it for a bit, if not more than that, depending on your personal impact by that person having it.


Steli Efti: Yeah. My oldest son four days ago developed a high fever. He’s had fevers many times before in his life, but I never paid as much attention.


Hiten Shah: That’s right.


Steli Efti: Definitely. It was not like afraid for him, but it would’ve been different if it was my mother who is more in the danger group, but still I was like, “All right, you need to keep an eye on this.” And for two days where he had a fever and didn’t feel good, had headaches, and all that, it did create a different kind of anxiety and energy at home. And even the third day where he was totally fine, I was like, “This was faster than his typical flus go. Did he have it or not? What does that mean now in terms of the risk exposure for other people and all that?” So I think one thing that you said that I’m going to add a few things on top of that I think is really relevant is that this is not a normal situation. And work from home when your entire family and children are at home is different than work from home because you set up an office, and it’s different if it’s going on during a global pandemic. Seriously different than normal. I tweeted a couple of days ago that all the people that are like celebrating that this is going to be something big, a great moment for remote work and will turn everybody on to remote work I think is insane. I think that people-


Hiten Shah: Yeah, and I retweeted that and I said what that means for software, which is, people might try your software if it’s a remote work focus, supposedly, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stick with it. This is not a normal time. I have lots of opinions on this, but I’m sure we’ll talk about it in other topics, but keep going.


Steli Efti: Yeah, when people are forced to stay at home and work in an environment that’s highly unusual, it is not a great way to introduce them to remote work. Right? I think what you said is really important, which is, number one, I think that if things become really difficult around work… For instance I had a bunch of people, this always breaks my heart, ask me, “How do you trust that people are really working when they’re now working from home?” And this always bums me out as like a, this is the type of problem this person has to manage in their life and I don’t think it’s a good one. To me, somebody wrote this about the nation, a crisis of this sort is not really breaking things. It reveals what’s broken, right? It reveals what systems and what foundations are not solid anymore because they crash and they’re not strong enough to support the crisis. I think the same thing is true in your business. Maybe this is a bummer of a statement, but if things… Independent from personal productivity, if now you have all this anxiety that your team members are not working aligned to you or other things, this is not due to a global pandemic. This is due to a poor culture, or you hiring the wrong people, or you are creating an environment that is absolutely dependent on micromanaging and breathing down people’s necks, and now it’s breaking, right? But it’s because it’s a bad culture. It’s a bad system to build a business and collaborate in teams and not due to the work from home necessarily or working remotely necessarily. I also think that the thing that you said that’s really important is cutting people some slack, but this is the thing, most importantly for yourself. People during this time need to be more kind to themselves than they usually are. And the type of people that listen to us and the type of people we are, we are workaholics, we are people who love to work, we love to be productive. I feel literally like if I’m having a day that I haven’t been productive, it’s like a day that I didn’t brush my teeth. I just can’t find comfort anywhere. If I didn’t feel productive today. And sometimes it happens, right? But this is the type of time where just mentally you need to shift and accept that you can only do as much as you can, and if your kids are going nuts at times because they’re way under-stimulated, because they’re at home all day, you have to cut them some slack. And then if you’re distracted because of that or annoyed or just not able to focus, then you need to cut yourself some slack and be like, “Well, these last two hours just haven’t been productive and this is just what it is right now.” There’s no way to try to bend reality to something that will resemble normal days because those aren’t not normal days. So all you can do is try to do good as you can with the circumstances that are presented to you. But I think that many times during the next couple of days and weeks, potentially there’s going to be things happening that are outside your control and all you will be able to do is deal with them as good as you can, and at times it means your productivity is going to go down to zero and that’s fine as well. Just making some level of peace with that I think is going to be absolutely crucial to psychologically survive this. Because, I think everybody’s worried about toilet paper and food, but I don’t think people realize the potential harm to the mental health that this could have if you approach it the wrong way. Right? And if you create all kinds of anger and resentment and all kinds of stress around things where you can avoid creating stress around. So I think that that’s important. Just realizing that maybe some days or some hours during the day things will pop up that are outside your control, and your productivity will not be at peak at all times and you’re just going to have to deal with it, right? And be okay with it at times. The other thing is the information diet, right? I mean, Jesus, this week I’m getting a little bit better. I’m mitigating this, but last week, my time on Twitter went up 600%. My consumption of Twitter information is just through the roof. And although that was useful, as it was still earlier emerging and I was collecting some information, trying to make decisions, at this point it’s not that useful anymore. Right?


Hiten Shah: Nope.


Steli Efti: At this point, getting an update on what happened in the world once a day is plenty. I don’t need it once every five minutes. I’m going down slowly. I’ve not gone cold turkey on this, but I’m trying to go down in the amount of time I spend on Twitter, reading articles, threads and shit, because it affects my productivity and my wellbeing and my comfort level. If I’m on Twitter all day reading this shit, it just doesn’t make me as calm, cool and comfortable of a human being as I want to be. So making sure that as you work from home you still practice some good things like taking a break from screens, reading maybe a physical book, listening to music, doing some things that are just good for your mental health and taking breaks from reading articles and having discussions about this current crisis is going to, I think, pay huge dividends over the next couple of weeks or potentially the next couple of months.


Hiten Shah: Now, that’s that.


Steli Efti: Before we wrap up this episode, for those that are like, “Yes, but I still want to learn so much more about remote work,” go to Google, type in and then type in remote and you’ll find a ton of stuff from us, but Episode 439, the Remote Work Report that he’d mentioned earlier, Episode 181, How To Manage Remote Teams, Episode 459, How To Build A Remote Sales Team, and Episode 482, Remote Work Worries, these are just some of them. We have more, but these are some episodes. If you want to check out more podcasts episodes about this, you’ll find more information there. And this is it from us for this time. Take care of yourselves, your loved ones. Stay healthy. And until next time.


Hiten Shah: See you.