Author: Pia de Marcillac, People Development Expert at Qonto
“And how do you make remote working work for you?”
Remote work has been a reality at Qonto since the very beginning. That is, like in most scale-ups, a given. It’s also true that Covid restrictions have played an important part in accelerating this trend, as has been the case for the majority of companies, large and small. The pandemic opened the way for total and unprecedented flexibility. A more flexible working arrangement has been one of the most common expectations for staff in recent years but now it is right at the very top of the list: a recent LinkedIn study suggests that 60% of workers in France would even prioritize remote work and flexibility above their own career advancement.
That’s why in July 2021, the prospect of the much anticipated “return to normal” meant that we at Qonto were confronted with some serious questions regarding the kind of remote policy we wanted to implement. We had to respond to needs that had changed drastically in a short period of time.
We decided it was time for a clear, new framework and some concrete answers for our staff. On one hand, we had to assess our vision of work and our company culture in a “post-Covid” world. On the other, we needed a modus operandi: what precisely would we do and how exactly would we do it? By addressing these issues, we could lay solid foundations that would support Qonto’s development in the coming months and years, while also fulfilling the responsibility we have towards all of our Qontoers.
We began by focussing on our vision and our ambition in the medium term. What really matters to us? What kind of company are we and what do we want to become? What role do we want our ‘place of work’ to play in future? And how can we make different interests converge and rebuild cohesion after such a strange stretch of time?
One of the key criteria in defining our remote policy was our continued ability to support the hyper-growth that Qonto has known ever since its creation. We needed a simple, sustainable and robust model that would satisfy our legal, economic and operational needs.
🌟 Our vision
We want to create the best possible working environment for our teams. One that reconciles the individual’s need for flexibility with the collective need for top-level team performance. We want a working environment that promotes the company’s ability to prosper.
To make this vision a reality, we defined the fundamental principles that would become the pillars of our remote policy.
🙋♂️🙋♀️ The importance of physical interaction in our company culture | We understand and champion the role that physical meetings and exchanges — both planned and spontaneous — play in forming a common culture and creating value for the company.
🏓 Flexible work schedules that promote and reinforce teamwork | Working from home has proven useful in sharpening focus on tasks that demand it. It has shown its virtues in terms of individual productivity. However, when it comes to collaboration and innovation, it has its limitations. We see value in flexibility. But we also recognize the value in meeting up in person and working together. So we chose to take the best of both of these approaches.
🎯 A robust model that will remain viable over time | By promoting individual autonomy whilst also preserving group performance, it allows us to both achieve our short-term objectives and maintain the company’s sustained growth in the long term.
🔍 The “symmetry of responsibilities” | Today, when it comes to the customer experience, we are well accustomed to the concept of “symmetry of attention”: if staff are treated with kindness and consideration, they will be able to address customers in the same manner, creating a virtuous circle of value creation. At Qonto, we believe in the “symmetry of responsibilities”: we take responsibility as a company for providing employees with an optimal working environment and conditions that enhance performance; in return, we give our Qontoers the responsibility of making a reasoned choice of the working model that suits them best and that will allow them to perform at their highest level.
🚀 Our model
Our deep thinking about our vision helped us in building our model. Finally, the idea that drove the crafting of our model was that we want to be a “remote-friendly” company, rather than a “remote-first company”.
Each Qontoer can choose between two working ‘modes’:
The Standard mode;
or the Custom mode.
The Standard mode allows for up to two days of remote work per week as well as up to four ‘bonus’ weeks of remote work per year.
Remote work is allowed anywhere within a +/- 3 hour time difference from the usual office.
This principle creates a rhythm whereby employees are present in the office for the majority of the week, which increases synergies and social interaction whilst still offering a certain degree of flexibility to satisfy personal needs. We put a limit on the geographical distance (or more specifically, on the time zone difference) from which staff can work in order to guarantee balanced days (and not nights) and to protect the quality of teamwork.
The Custom mode allows Qontoers to work remotely 100% of the time, as long as they stay within the country in which they signed their contract. They can work remotely outside of that country for up to four weeks per year, within a +/- 3 hour time difference.
This method allows those Qontoers who are willing and who demonstrate enough autonomy to work from distance. In parallel, we have defined a travel policy that encourages Qontoers following the Custom mode to come to the office once a month (for two working days with travel, accommodation and meal costs covered). This enables them to stay in regular physical touch with their respective teams.
Finally, for high-responsibility positions, and those in which managing and organizing teams plays a key role (i.e. from Director level up), the Custom method differs slightly in that we believe these roles require a minimum presence of 8 days per month in the office.
🏗 Steps we’ve put in place
In concrete terms, we’ve adhered to the following steps in defining and implementing our new working model:
co-building the policy;
presenting the policy to our teams and providing precise, updated information over time;
giving Qontoers (in particular, managers) responsibility for communicating the new policy.
1. Co-building our new model
We began, as anyone would, by carrying out market research to understand the general trend and to remain in tune with the reality of both the market and the lives of Qontoers. But to go even further in identifying needs and making sure they converge, we decided to seek the feedback of employees and managers at a very early stage in the process. We set up a panel of staff (from different levels in the hierarchy and different departments) and we discussed together what our future remote policy might look like.
Agreeing on a definitive policy, which was applied on October 1, 2021, proved to be a swift process thanks to the fact it was co-built by employees who were involved from an early stage.
Each individual who took part in the process became an ambassador for the policy internally, which proved very helpful in communicating and rolling out the new way of working.
2. Presenting the policy to teams and updating information
Naturally, the whole issue of remote work generated high expectations as well as certain fears, especially since the model we were promoting was not as simple and disengaged as the “work where you want, when you want” school of thought.
To remedy this, we took particular care when it came to communicating the new policy. We made sure there was a clear, detailed and illustrated Notion page that included an exhaustive list of FAQs and which was updated regularly. We also organized two physical presentations and Q&A sessions dedicated to the topic. Equally, we created open channels for managers so they could question us freely and debate amongst themselves on real-life scenarios within the framework of co-development.
Throughout the entire process, the HR team was fully mobilized — and even now continues to be so — to inform and advise managers on cases where the Custom method might be suitable for members of their teams. As such, HR remains a constant presence in the project dynamic.
3. Responsibility for all
Twice a year, each Qontoer can ask to transfer from Standard to Custom mode, or vice versa. All employees are responsible for formalizing their requests and following the various steps in the approval process: manager then N+2 then HR. This is no simple formality: the request must be subject to serious thought guided by questions about individual and team performance, the employee’s career path within Qonto and the installation of a work space in their personal environment. The aim is to make sure that each Qontoer and his or her manager take on board the full implication of such a change.
Persuading with open ears
We do, of course, come across certain limitations and the occasional need for adjustment in how we implement and pursue our remote policy. We may have to bypass the framework to respond to a specific request; our communication is not always as fluid as we might wish and the way in which we use organizational tools sometimes needs tweaking.
Yet, we remain committed to explaining our choices and convincing people of the merits of our policy. At the same time, we continue to listen to the feedback from within our ecosystem; we believe that listening is the key to maintaining the well-being of our Qontoers as well as the performance of the company.
We strive to remain humble and attentive to the opinions of all concerned. That is what gives us faith in being able to preserve a healthy and productive balance at Qonto, a balance that can make all interests converge in a way that is sustainable.