From the office to remote: Real.Digital chooses quality over the location

Around mid-August of this year Real.Digital announced that they will be operating as a remote first company from now on.

They might not be affected by the COVID-19 in economic terms, but the decision to shift their work practices was still a significant one. Fortunately, they’re viewing it as a great opportunity to open up their talent pool to people from all over the world!

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We’re so happy that we got the chance to interview Fabian Kothe, one of the Managing Directors, about this decision.

He started as an intern more than 10 years ago at Real.Digital and knows the company from its very beginnings: “It’s amazing to see what we have achieved over the past years and we are looking forward to taking it to the next level.”

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About Real.Digital

The journey started in 2010, when Real, an online shop, was founded. In 2015, they made the change to Real.Digital as it is now known and quickly became one of the biggest e-commerce companies in Germany.

They are hosting some of Europe's biggest marketplaces and were recently acquired by the Schwarz Group (Europe’s biggest retailer with its two supermarket brands Lidl and Kaufland).

They sell over 16 million different products and see up to 21 million online visitors a month.

Real.Digital defines itself as a dynamic enterprise with very little - or, flat - hierarchy and a start-up mentality. They are located in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Darmstadt with a current staff of almost 500 employees.

Can you tell us a bit more about how the decision was made to become a remote-first company?

Working remotely is something that has been established within our company since March, due to the Corona pandemic. We learned a lot during this time and realized that our employees were very satisfied and productive while working from home.

Another reason we made this decision is that we highly believe that being such a flexible company and employer is the way of the future.

We’re convinced that we’ll be able to attract a lot more qualified talents without the burden of being linked to a certain location. With happy, talented employees Real.Digital will be able to grow even further.

How did the staff react to this decision?

The reactions were mainly positive and excited. The decision to go remote-first was a wish of most of the staff and thus we listened and made it happen.

However, there were also a lot of questions – but we did our best to answer all of them in as much detail as possible.

Can you give us a sketch of the working method that 'remote Real.Digital’ has or, will have?

We will keep the office space for the employees who don’t want to or who cannot work from home (all the time). All the desks will become shared desks – which is why the personal belongings of the staff will be removed and can be stored in lockers at the office.

We will also install call boxes – areas that are meant for quiet video meetings since all our meetings will happen via Slack, Zoom, or Google Meet. In order to ensure that there are enough desks available, we already sent out a questionnaire to the employees in which they are asked how often they want to come to the office.

After evaluating their answers, we can estimate the needed office space and the number of desks required for the future.

In order to keep the business running, all employees must keep their core working hours between 10 am and 4 pm.

Other than that – plus a functioning wifi-connection – our employees can decide where they want to work, even if they want to stay abroad. Since there are some regulations concerning taxes, the time abroad will be limited and must be coordinated with our HR department.

To make sure that new employees feel welcome as well, we will focus on a well-structured onboarding process. Our virtual welcome day and a buddy program have been put in place to help introduce our company, principles, and team spirit to our newbies.

What will be the challenges of this new structure for Real.Digital and its staff?

The big challenge will be to keep our team spirit, which is the main part of our company, alive. Therefore, every team established daily coffee calls or weekly beer o’clock which will replace the coffee breaks at the office.

After the Corona pandemic, we will also re-establish our physical team events twice a year – as well as our well-known office parties in the summer and around Christmas time of course.

With our buddy program and well-structured onboarding process, we are facing the second challenge: welcoming our newbies. However, we are already getting great results from our digital onboarding process - and have been able to greet more than 60 new colleagues since April.

Remote first is a new concept to all of us – but we are positive that we will face and handle the upcoming challenges very well prepared.

What are the positive effects that you expect?

With remote first, we are able to become the most attractive employer within our branch of business. In order to grow, we will need the best talents to join Real.Digital – and we are convinced that the remote first solution will attract a lot of qualified people. A big plus: Applicants do not necessarily need to live close to our office – this broadens the range of people we can address.

Another positive aspect is the well-being of our employees. Most of the staff has wished for a remote-first solution. Their work-life-balance has improved a lot when we started the home office due to the Corona regulations. Happy employees are working more efficiently and are less likely to quit – therefore it’s a win-win situation for all of us.

How do you foresee the future of Real.Digital with this pandemic?

The Corona pandemic did a lot of damage to our economy. Luckily, as an e-commerce company, we were on the side of those who profited from these changes.

We did not experience any negative impact on our company and are growing even faster than expected.

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