During these times, many companies are switching to remote work. You may have heard that large companies, like Twitter, Shopify, and Slack are doing so, but we’re also seeing this shift with smaller companies, startups, and digital agencies as well.
Perhaps this transition was already in the pipeline, or maybe COVID-19 was the catalyst.
Either way, many companies are choosing to either close their physical office for good or allow their employees to work from home indefinitely.
We’ve been curious to learn more about the experiences of these companies making the shift to remote work so we started an interview series to discover more about their journeys.
- What were their motivations?
- What challenges do they face during this transition?
- How do they see their future?
In today’s interview we’re chatting with Rafat Ali, founder, and CEO of Skift about his experience as Skift navigates the remote work transition.
Skift, based in New York City, is an online platform for professionals (marketers, technologists, and strategists) in the travel industry. It provides insights, daily news, and research reports on global travel trends and organizes events for the travel industry. They have about 40 employees.
At the end of last year, Skift wrote an article about the fact that working remotely is becoming mainstream and that it certainly has its advantages - such as “higher productivity and less turnover.”
Employees are able to work from all over the world, so they can discover new destinations and keep their daily jobs. It also opens the opportunity to recruit people from all over the world, making the hiring process more about skills and less about availability based on location.
Mid-April, Rafat Ali gave an extensive interview with AdExchanger, where he explained Skift’s transformation to a fully remote company. You can also find some additional news on Skift’s transformation published by Folio.
Closing the physical office
For eight years Rafat used the following slide in his presentations: “Travel is the world’s largest industry. Let’s start acting like it.” While this statement was true at the time, COVID-19 hit the travel industry hard and, essentially, brought it back to zero.
As travel experts, Skift had predicted some of this shift, and began making some decisions early February to protect their organization - such as a hiring freeze, and moving several conferences to a later time in the year.
Since March, Skift has been working with about two-thirds of their staff but this still wasn’t saving enough costs.
So, Rafat decided to let go of the physical office and become a fully remote company from August 2020 onwards. With no rent and office expenses, Rafat Ali estimates the company will save about $600,000 a year.
A sketch of the working method of 'remote Skift'
Skift’s headquarters in Manhattan will be closed. However, their idea is to rent office space one or two days a week for staff that live in the New York City Area to stay connected.
In his interview with AdExchanger, Rafat explained that they are checking up on the new reality for their event options every week. As Digiday writes, the nine physical events that were already planned have been rescheduled to later in the year. However now, it is likely they will be canceled completely.
Skift has been discovering new online options and has already organized some virtual events - like conferences.
For these events, they chose a ‘pay as you like’ system, because not everyone can afford to accommodate set prices these days. Rafat said: “The industry needs our voice, our information, and our expertise.”
In the best-case scenario, virtual events will bring in 25-30% of the original revenue. It’s not going to save the company, but it's definitely going to generate some additional income, and subscriptions, which normally account for 25% of the company's revenue, will be more important than ever.
Some thoughts about the positive effects
Since March, the traffic on Skift’s website has been three times its previous average. And this will probably remain true - at least for a while. Rafat said that his editorial and research teams are working overtime to be able to cover everything from this period and it's transformative effect on the industry.
Much like everyone, they’ve been starting with online events. One of the positive outcomes of these virtual events is that online there isn’t the same need to organize regional conferences, instead presenting an opportunity for anybody to join in from anywhere. For example, Digiday said that one of Skift’s “webinars on business travel had over 3,000 viewers.”
Not one, not two, but three crises
Rafat has lived through the crises of 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008. Nevertheless, he said this still doesn’t really prepare you for anything like COVID-19. A lot of business travel will probably disappear for good. Especially the big conventions, which are also part of Skift’s business.
This is mainly because business operators all over the world have begun to realize how much money they’re saving without travel costs. Rafat points out that this is a once in a lifetime chance for businesses to reset their cost base.
A lot of people are losing their jobs. While governments are offering some hope through money put back into the economy, for the travel industry, there is no known end to this recession and nobody knows what the recovery process will look like. Skift estimates that it might take 5 years for the travel industry to be back at the same scale it was in December 2019.
The future perspective of Skift / the travel industry
Rafat points out that we’re just at the beginning of this. As an entrepreneur, it’s currently all about existence and survival and the question of “How do we get to the other end of this?”
However, a lot of habits and inventions have yet to be born and good things can come out of this. The travel industry - in a broad sense - is trying out many different things to handle this period and for Skift, these changes are just as exciting to follow, investigate and share with their clients.