Vestd was set up at the end of 2014 to help employers deliver tax efficient employee share schemes. The business doesn’t have an office anymore, all employees work remotely. Ifty believes that remote working is the most effective way of running the business. He recognises that there are some challenges, but the advantages easily outweigh them.
The business is growing steadily with fourteen core team members plus contractors (nine men and five women), augmented by specialist support from consultants and freelancers.
Vestd employs people of varying ages. Many of its team have careers spanning more than two decades, and in the past year it has hired three graduates, all with some limited commercial experience, although there is no-one yet straight out of college.
The team is diverse. It includes senior people who come from non-digital backgrounds, so the remote, digital-focused setup has been a novelty for some.
Initially the business was based out of coworking offices in London and Brighton, but now it only uses them for monthly team meetings.
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Ifty says “there is no remote watercooler!” and there can be a lack of opportunity for serendipity, which can happen more regularly when people get together.
There is also a need to work harder at communicating what’s going on in the company. “In an office you can benefit from background noise osmosis. You pick up all kinds of things just by hearing and watching other people… although that can be incredibly distracting too.”
On a personal level, the team are all empowered to manage their own time, output, wellness and exercise. There's no walking to work, though everyone is encouraged to go for walks and take regular breaks.
Vestd hasn’t experienced any issues with investors and clients as a consequence of its remote setup.
“There are many remote companies now that have hundreds of employees and valuations north of £1bn, so it has become much more acceptable and investors understand that it is possible - and sometimes easier - to scale remote teams.”
This distributed way of working may not appeal to people who don’t want to work remotely, but most of the time, Vestd has found that it attracts people that might otherwise go elsewhere.
The challenge of training new recruits isn’t so different from working in an office, though face to face time is encouraged. Vestd has designed processes for getting new hires up to speed, and getting together in a physical location is something that can help fast-track learning.
Managing the team
Vestd has to work harder on its and on their culture, including how they communicate and collaborate. The teams ‘overshares’ on Slack in an attempt to get the sort of chatter you would experience in an office. That means open access channels, and public messaging preferred over private DMs.
The company runs regular team sprints, has a daily video stand-up (which is “sacrosanct”), and fortnightly retro and review sessions, on top of one-on-one meetings, team-level and company-wide group training. They’re big on documentation and guides. These internal departmental bibles and process maps help everyone quickly understand how best to do things. The hierarchy is flat, and everyone is approachable, and wants to help.
The core team is based in the South East, which gives them the opportunity to meet up relatively easily when they choose to do so. Typically, Vestd meets as a whole company once a month. Some teams also like to work together in the same physical location from time to time.
The wider team is based in Europe and Asia, and while the South East catchment area may continue to be a hiring ground, it anticipates bringing in full time employees from across the world.
Work / life balance is excellent at Vestd, with the onus on employees to manage their time effectively.
Being able to work in a location and physical environment of your choice is described as “liberating”, although no one is sat on a beach, yet, but Ifty said if they were, that’s entirely up to them, as long as the contribution is delivered.
The lack of a dull routine is a major benefit too. “Avoiding the drudgery of a daily commute is very good for the soul, not to mention the back pocket.”
“Working remotely gives back more than 60 hours of time to the individual to do with what they wish, which beats sitting in a tube, train or traffic jam.”
Ifty has worked out that most of Vestd’s employees save more than £6k a year by working remotely (factoring in travel costs, lunches, etc.).
In a world that is facing an environmental crisis, Vestd’s remote working policy also makes the company more environmentally friendly. Commuting is one of the major contributors to air pollution and greenhouse gases. It also clogs up the transport infrastructure.
Vestd’s costs are much lower than a comparable business. It doesn’t have to pay rents, rates and all the other costs that go with maintaining an office.
The saving is considerable. In a business like Vestd’s, this would commonly be the largest cost (after salaries). It means that its fees can be dropped to a more competitive level. Companies that don’t work remotely may soon struggle to compete against those that do.
How can you trust people to work remotely?
Trust is one of Vestd’s core values. Ifty explains; “An office isn't going to be a magic bullet for trust issues. If you don't trust your team then why are you working with them? Besides, warm seats do not correlate with delivery or progress.”
“Remote might not work for all companies, but we've found that it works brilliantly for us. The old fashioned, input-driven way of working has been replaced with outputs. You can normally see what people are doing / have done even if you cannot physically see them. What's the alternative? Micromanaging people? Clocking them in and out? No thanks!”
Trust also extends to flexibility about when people choose - or are able - to work.
“We encourage people to work at a time when they are most efficient. Not everyone is at their most productive between 09:00 and 17:00. We all have different biorhythms. You should be able to work at a time that suits you best.”
Ifty Nasir, Vestd