Keeping CommerceBear running from my kitchen table

Sam Vlessing
March 31, 2020

Allow me to paint you a picture of my world on Monday March 30th 2020, 9:30AM: I’m sitting at home wearing joggers, an oversized hoodie, comfy tie-dye socks, and slippers. The two 24” monitors that adorned my desk at work are now on the kitchen table in my midtown condo. And I’ve never been more productive in my entire life.

COVID-19 has already fundamentally changed our behaviour forever. In a little under two weeks we’ve seen a shift in the way employers and employees think about remote work. Not only has it become the norm (albeit forced), we’ve embraced it and taken the sudden changes thrust upon us in stride.

A couple of weeks ago in early March, our VP of Engineering at CommerceBear, Ed Robinson, approached me about the possibility of mobilizing the team to work from home. With the help of our COO, Jeff Hendler, we put a contingency plan in place (CommerceBear policy on COVID-19, if you’re interested). At the time the COVID-19 pandemic seemed and felt like a distant problem, and although we were starting to see the first few cases, there were no deaths yet. Our leadership decided that Monday March 16th would be a work from home (WFH) test day, and briefed the team that it would be a dress rehearsal for when/if going remote became necessary. Little did we know that our test day would become the real deal. We haven’t looked back (or been to HQ) since.

The past 15 days have changed everything I thought I knew about working from home. We’ve been more productive, organized, and united in vision. We’ve on-boarded new manufacturers, helped mobilize ecosystem customers, and deployed killer code faster than ever before. Although the furniture industry has been rocked by the mandated closure of retailers nationwide and the cancellation of major trade shows, our pipeline has gotten stronger. In a very short period of time, the global crisis caused by COVID-19 has already accelerated the furniture industry’s shift towards the full adoption of ecomm. In this light, our mission to help the furniture industry evolve has never felt more essential.

Paul Rudd You GIF - PaulRudd You Pointing GIFs

How we feel when furniture manufacturers realize that omni-channel revenue is incredibly important.

I find myself asking why we’ve been able to shift gears and adapt so quickly. We’re a high-growth company with an agile team, but that’s only part of the equation. There’s a lot of emotional stress associated with changing a way of life and going remote — 0 to 100 real quick, you feel me. Leveraging Slack, Google Hangouts, and ClickUp has been instrumental in keeping everyone in constant communication and optimistic. But what’s different about going remote during #covid19 is that there’s no swinging by BearHQ or “see you tomorrow” when signing off a call with the team. What we’re all going through requires full buy-in, total and unbridled commitment to the cause.

With that being said, I thought it would be useful to share with you what I’ve learned from the first two weeks of going remote.

  • Incredible leadership matters. Surround yourself with people who are overly proactive and outspoken. Now isn’t the time to sit back. If it wasn’t for our tremendous leadership we would have been able to mobilize as quickly and seamlessly as we did.
  • Over communicate all day long. Double down on all the little things to create a sense of normalcy. Every AM we each post our key daily tasks in the #general Slack channel, and tag anyone needing to be pulled in. Aggressively set statuses, even if you’re grabbing a sandwich for 15min, so the team knows you’re noshing. We’ve also taken to a call-first-mentality for bigger things, as quickly hashing something out over Hangouts is highly effective. Check this out, our messaging velocity on Slack doubled within a week of going remote 🔥
Our internal Slack messaging doubled from March 12th to March 19th. (Source: CommerceBear Slack)
  • Share your feelings and emotions. People want to know what their leaders are thinking and how they’re feeling about these new realities. Think of this as an incredible opportunity to open up with your team and share personal experiences and stories. There hasn’t been a better time to lead by example, as being real, genuine and vulnerable in-the-moment shows your colleagues you’re human.
  • Empathy doesn’t cost anything. Everyone handles sudden lifestyle changes in a different way. Because of this, I check in with my entire team 1v1 on an ongoing basis to see how they’re holding up during this volatile health/financial climate. Make yourself available to your team.
  • Get into a routine and maintain balance. Every day of the week can start feeling the same, hours blend together, and you find yourself staying inside and at your desk for days on end. That puts you on a one-way flight to burnout city. I’ve found that going for walks once or twice a day (while maintaining 6ft distance, obviously) is a great way to break things up, step away from your monitors and feel refreshed. Also be sure to set a lunch and dinner time, when you know you’re going to sign off and disconnect from your work world.
The work day is getting longer as more people work remotely. None of this is surprising, really. If you’re saving time by not commuting, you have more time to crush it at work. (Source: Bloomberg)
  • Learn and iterate from this. Allow these new standards to help you prepare for the future. Take note of decisions you’ve made and use them as lessons learned for the future. I can’t tell you how many companies had to close shop because their systems were incompatible with remote work. We’re in 2020 baby, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t leverage the cloud to WFH.
  • Talk to your shareholders, advisors, and other companies. You’re not going through this alone and having open convos with others will help you make better decisions as things progress. I’ve leaned tremendously on the guidance and insight of our Chairman of the Board, Howard Lis, and advisor Jason Tham, CEO of Nulogy, during these volatile times. I’ve also I can’t overstate the importance surrounding yourself with individuals who can help.

Although we didn’t have much of a choice in moving to remote work this time around, flexibility to work from home has meant a happier team, much higher productivity, and it has forced us to communicate better. I wouldn’t be surprised if the shift to remote culture we’ve seen the last few makes a lasting impact on how the world works 🌎

Message your parents, they probably miss you. As always, stay excellent to one another.

Sam Vlessing, CEO | CommerceBear

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