How can remote teams communicate fast and innovate quickly across borders and timezones?
Monika Holod, founder & CEO at mental health platform Wangie on growing an early-stage startup with a globally dispersed team.
In 2020, deep in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and in a year where the world faced a shopping list of catastrophic and seemingly insurmountable problems, Monika Holod decided to do something about at least one of them. In England and Wales, just one in eight adults with a mental health problem are currently receiving any kind of treatment, according to the latest figures from the charity, Mind. This data is pre-pandemic, and it’s not hard to imagine how a variety of difficult life events triggered by Covid-19 may have contributed to the already urgent situation.
Troubled by this pervasive issue, Holod, whose background is in branding and marketing and who has always been passionate about mental health, founded Wangie, an anonymous chatroom app where conversations are moderated by psychology professionals and mindfulness experts. Users discuss topics from loneliness to relationships to anxiety, self-doubt and depression, supporting each other or just using the safe space as an outlet for feelings without a home. The app is designed to fill the gap between expensive private therapy, and the limited support that untrained friends, family, or social media networks can provide.
Remote work drives diversity and creativity at Wangie
The Wangie team are fully remote, currently collaborating between the UK, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and South Africa. Monika says it’s her preferred way of working, having more than a decade’s worth of experience leading global remote teams at BlaBlaCar and hospitality chain, OYO, “you can build a much better team, and get much better talent, if you are not restricted to a physical location…it gives great opportunity for diversity, for different ways of thinking”.
Combined with the freedom to travel and work from anywhere, she believes it’s the best way to harness the creative energy of her team. Of course, Holod is not alone in her thinking. Since March 2020, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Dropbox are among hundreds of major companies that moved to adopt a permanent, remote-first policy, with Pinterest even shelling out $89.5 million to terminate its San Francisco office lease.
Without the right tools, teams spread across locations and time zones can struggle to collaborate. For Wangie, Riff is one of the tools that helped the team start-up remotely from the get-go. Riff is an audio workplace that recreates presence within teams, allowing them to instantly speak to anyone with just one click and breaking down the barriers to communication.
Riff helps us move fast and troubleshoot in real-time
Before landing on Riff, Holod was looking for a way to make her team’s communication more efficient. “We were researching virtual office tools that involve animation, but those are so complex. When I learned about Riff, I was like ‘wow, it’s so simple, this is all you need!’”
“With other tools, there was always too much effort…Riff is like you’re just turning to speak to the person.”
Riff runs in the background, she explains, so you can instantly speak to anyone on your team. Like a digital version of the office, there’s no need to make calls, type messages, or open apps — you just talk. “We use Riff big time for saving time on calls and meetings. One thing which I hated in remote work is when you have to go there, send the link, do this, do that, just to talk for ten minutes. Or you pick up your phone but then you’re always on your phone. It’s just never worked. With Riff, at any point during the day you can just go and talk to people — it can be a five or ten-minute conversation, and nobody thinks it’s overkill, because it’s not a meeting, it’s just a chat. So this connection that you get with your team is just absolutely amazing…we can resolve issues on a regular basis, throughout the day. It helps productivity a lot”.
A natural fit in the communications stack
Like every modern business, Wangie were using a variety of different tools to keep them connected remotely. But rather than adding further notifications to an already busy working environment, Holod explains how Riff is different, naturally filling a void in the way the team communicates. “Riff is really complementary to the tools which we’re using… Slack, Slack Calls, email WhatsApp — none of those tools would give me the possibility to just recreate the same situation we would have in the office when somebody’s sitting at the desk and they would just turn to this person and ask a question. With other tools, there was always too much effort…Riff is like you’re just turning to speak to the person.”
The best bits of the office at home
Holod explains how Riff restores the causal, spontaneous conversation found in a shared workspace that can brighten up your day, but is often missing from remote work. “When you work remote, you don’t have this whole office life. One great experience I had through Riff was during a morning stand-up meeting. I joined early whilst having my breakfast and when someone else joined, we had such a nice conversation, over coffee — it was just like an office kitchen type conversation …you really feel the vibe of those other people but in your home office.”
Support and connection to my team
As a startup on a mission to normalize mental health issues, it’s integral that Wangie practice what they preach. “Companies need to pay more attention to people’s mental health”, says Holod “How can they better support the soft skills like self-awareness and self-confidence? Those things have a massive impact on your success at work”. As a shared audio workspace, Riff can play a role here, recognising that certain personality types might perform better without the pressure of a camera. “You can really see a difference in confidence with some people when they’re on a voice call versus on a video call…I think that’s why connecting over voice is so powerful.”
As well as giving teams a more relaxed way to communicate, Riff quite simply helps remote workers to feel less alone — because for all the flexibility and freedoms of remote work, there are times when chatting to your cat over lunch just doesn’t cut it anymore. As Holod recounts, “I’ve said to my team, ‘please come on Riff because I just feel a bit lonely!’. It’s amazing for this kind of feeling”.