Going remote first

Prop-tech company HomeHero talks to workingmums.co.uk about its new remote first working policy.


Prop-tech start-up HomeHero has become a remote first employer during the pandemic with the focus on working wherever gives team members the best work life balance. workingmums.co.uk spoke to HomeHero’s Head of People Louise Matthews [pictured].

workingmums.co.uk: How long has HomeHero been going?

Louise Matthews: HomeHero was created by Founder and CEO Kenny Alegbe in 2018.

wms: How did it work before Covid?

LM: Flexible working has always been a part of the culture at HomeHero, but prior to the pandemic, most of our team were based at the HomeHero HQ in Shoreditch.

wms: How did the company respond to Covid in terms of ways of working?

LM: At the start of the pandemic, we asked our team if they wanted to remain flexible or make the jump to being a remote first organisation. The overwhelming response was a preference to work remotely. For some of our team, this means working from their kitchen table, whilst for others it means using a local workspace. Wherever they choose to work, we make sure they are set up to work effectively with the right equipment and tools to support asynchronous work like Slack and Google workplace. Trust is very much the golden thread that weaves through our culture and this means that our team feels comfortable to default to action when there isn’t someone a couple of desks away to ask. It keeps us moving forward at the pace a start-up requires.

Communication has become key to our success as a remote organisation. What worked in an office, just doesn’t cut the mustard on a remote team. The elements of how we communicate show that most of our communication is done through body language – and in an office environment, that’s easy to see! So applying the same communication methods to a remote team just isn’t going to work. The answer? Over-communication. A continuous cycle of checking in, asking questions and updating our team on all that is going on, from birthdays and anniversaries to big decisions that have been made across the business. Employee newsletters are just one way of doing this. In our newsletter ‘House Notes’, we communicate the highlight reel of the week just gone – it summarises the content of things like our All Hands meeting, leadership Q&A sessions as well as informal shout-outs to drive peer to peer recognition that might naturally happen in an office.  In the spirit of over communicating, we then lean on tools like Slack to direct our team to their inboxes, ensuring everyone is kept up to date.

We use our newsletter as an additional opportunity to ensure everyone has the information they need, but generally speaking, we prefer the (virtual) human touch. We get together as a team in the All hands and Q&A sessions, as well as a weekly company-wide update from our Founder and CEO, Kenny Alegbe, where he talks through business objectives and what is coming up, setting the team up for success for the week ahead. The approach of having different forums, with different purposes has meant that engagement levels in these sessions are really high – there is real transparency across the business and everyone has an opportunity to ask the questions that are front of mind.

wms: What has this shown?

LM: It wasn’t always easy, or clear what to do, at the start – we were figuring out ‘new’ remote working problems as they appeared, but what is clear is that  more effort is required in communication to achieve the same level of engagement as we had when we were in an office. Communication forms part of every conversation now – who needs to know this information? How will we make them aware? What forums should we use? When you are the one sending the communications it might feel like a lot, but it’s received as just the right level.

Additionally, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from our employees about the benefits of remote working. Work-life integration has become part of our culture over the last year and, as a mother of two small children, I couldn’t be more excited! The shift to remote working has highlighted that trying to find the ‘holy grail’ that is work-life balance isn’t always achievable. The reality is that life means the scales can weigh heavily on one side at times – if there is a family emergency or you have a big project deadline coming up – and then the other side has to suffer an ‘imbalance’. Integrating work and life means that nothing has to fall apart when life happens! There is a flow between work and life, in both directions, which means no hard stops at 5pm, which can often be stress-inducing.

What does work-life integration look like? A five year old making faces behind me on a call, a trip to the vet with my sick dog in the middle of my work day, an employee who feels empowered to say they can’t be on a call. Ultimately, it means bringing your whole self to work and the shift to remote working has shown us that by focusing on the outcomes and seeing challenges as opportunities, our team can give 100% at work and 100% at home.

wms: What does remote first mean? Will everyone work remotely?

LM: Remote first means that remote working is our default setting. However, we also go a step further by allowing employees to decide where they work most effectively. For example, we have some employees who work from home permanently, our ‘homies’, whilst we have others who opt into local workspaces and hubs, our ‘deskies’. We have a ‘bunker’ in Central London, that everyone can use for workshops, team days and brainstorms. As restrictions are lifting, the team is really enjoying some face to face time and have found it not only productive, but really morale boosting, to meet in person from time to time. The Bunker brings us together and adds another layer to our connectedness.

wms: How will this be supported?

LM: We support our ‘Homies’ in kitting out their home office with everything they might need, and we support our ‘deskies’ through membership to co-working spaces, like SPACES and Soho Works.

Our progressive policies around flexible working and unlimited annual leave also give employees the assurances they may need that they are trusted to deliver their work and decide what is the  best way for them to go about that.

wms: Are there any other challenges? 

LM: Aside from the areas I’ve covered around communication, engagement and work-life integration, getting together socially can be hard when you are remote.

We’ve explored ways to socialise virtually, and we’ve found that having a really clear purpose for each social event helps drive attendance and, therefore, connection. For example, we will all participate in Iftar on one night during Ramadan to both support our colleagues who observe Ramadan and also fund raise for our supported charities. Later in the month we are having a virtual cooking class to celebrate our key milestones this year – we also invite family and friends at home to participate as a way of thanking them for supporting our employees. We’ve also tried things like wine tasting, cocktail making and movie nights.

Anyone arranging virtual socials will know that driving engagement is hard, but I’ve found that, with a combination of purpose, high energy hosts and variety you are guaranteed to create a moment of much-needed connection for your remote team.

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