Team Pluria: Remote Work, Mission Accomplished
In his famous 1970 book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler refers to work flexibility as one of the social changes that technological progress will bring about and predicted that in the future, employees will no longer have to go to the traditional office, but will instead be able to work from anywhere in the world.
The future he refers to is here, it is happening as we speak, but the shock is still lingering: many companies hesitate to confidently adopt the flexible work style and they choose to forcibly impose the old ways, depriving themselves of the opportunities that arise from redefining the concept of work and the paradigm of collaboration with employees and the teams.
In this context of change, Pluria plays the role of a flexibility partner, leading the change from the 9-to-18-in-a-fixed-office routine towards flexible work rituals, from anywhere in the world. And because we all know that it’s easier to preach than to act, we decided to walk the talk together with some of the people who are part of the Pluria team.
Born in 2020, Pluria has grown in a largely organic manner and has a team that currently stands at over 30 people. They are distributed in remote teams in Romania, Spain and Colombia, but they have the freedom to work from wherever they want and to grow professionally in a work environment that is 100% flexible.
I met six of them in a series of Zoom interviews, out of a desire to discover how does a company with headquarters in the cloud function, how it is organized and what kind of “clouds” can sometimes threaten the cohesion of the organization and the coherence of its internal communication and not least, what does a 100% remote work style look like.
I spoke with Anca Șerban, Head of Marketing at Pluria, digital nomad since 2020, traveling and working from all the corners of the world. From Romania, I was able to hear their thoughts live from: Cristina Marinescu, Product & Activation Manager, proud Pluria member ever since Pluria was only an idea, working from Bucharest; Rafaela Sava, Content Manager, who is switching between Timișoara and Portugal and new work perspectives towards which she’s looking with interest and curiosity; and Codrina Corcoz, Sales Enablement and Business Development Representative who is traveling from Bacău to different picturesque spots in Romania where business ideas mingle with relaxing landscapes.
Then, I crossed borders and spoke with Irvin Claure Yelma who is coordinating Pluria Sales activity in Spain from Valencia, Madrid or Bucharest and who is combining professional and personal passions: sales, business strategies and cooking. My last Zoom “trip” took me to Bogotá, Columbia, where Natalia Gómez, Marketing Manager LATAM is developing communication strategies and campaigns from several chic coworking spaces offered by the Pluria app.
What I brought back from these virtual travels is a couple of essential points about what flexibility and work in a remote team mean and also, some recommendations for any company that plans to become a distributed organization.
Before and after: how did you work before Pluria and how did you adapt to working in a team that is distributed over different continents and cultures?
Anca: Before Pluria I worked for many years in Big4, then at 7card where the beginning of the pandemic found me. Just like many other people, I started working exclusively from home in 2020 and with time I got tired of working out of the same four walls with no other alternative. I asked the guy who was then my boss if I could work remotely from another country, and he said yes, so I’ve been working remotely from anywhere in the world ever since.
The biggest problem of the remote work style is the time zone. My colleagues are working from different continents: for some, it’s Monday, for me, it could be Tuesday morning if I’m in Australia or, the other way round, for me, it might be morning, but in Europe it’s already evening. The good part is that when working asynchronously, it doesn’t really matter where you are physically.
Also, the space where you work from is very important. I work from cafés, hotels or coworking spaces, any place that has a Wi-Fi can be my office for the day. Flexibility is a work style and a lifestyle that you assume. If you like the work that you do, everything is possible.
Rafaela: I came to Pluria in April 2022. For me, it was a little strange in the beginning: I had worked for a corporation for a long time, then I spent some time in IT companies and most of the time I worked either from the office or from home. There was always the option of going to work from the office. Consequently, at the beginning it felt a bit strange, but in a good way, because I immediately saw the advantages of full flexibility. For me, this new work experience marked a positive milestone, I liked the idea of working for a company that is no longer dependent on physical headquarters and office spaces.
The experience of interacting with my colleagues is unchanged because I can talk to them as often as I need to, and we even meet occasionally in Bucharest. The office is where we want it to be: a café, a coworking space, a place that we choose together. It might even be in Porto: I, for example, went for a month in Portugal to experiment with the concept of workation. To be able to work remotely for a month (or more) from a different country is something that is not available to the employees of a company that does not offer full flexibility.
Cristina: Me too, before Pluria, I worked for IT companies, but it was always from the office and I never had the possibility to work from home or from another place. When the pandemic struck, I worked exclusively from home, but after a few months I was looking forward to seeing my colleagues again and also to working together.
I am part of the Pluria story since the very beginning, I came from the 7card team because I trusted Andrei Crețu and his vision – he was then my direct manager. We were used to working together in the IT area. When he called me and told me about the project, I was fascinated and I didn’t hesitate one second.
When we talk about flexibility at work and in the relationship with the team and the company, I think it depends a lot on the type of job and the department you are a part of. I need to have some kind of structure because we work with an externalized IT team, and they do have a work schedule. So there is a need to synchronize with their schedule. But when it comes to the collaboration with my internal teammates who are distributed over several countries, there is no limit. For example, often times I set up a meeting with my colleagues from Columbia at 9 PM my time, but it doesn’t bother me because everything is very flexible, and you get to find the balance yourself. But I must admit that it’s a very good idea to meet your colleagues in person, me too I felt this need, especially after the pandemic.
With the Bucharest team we meet once, maybe twice a week, according to each colleague’s program. We pick a café or a hotel lounge when we have an easier day, we work and then we have lunch together. If we want to concentrate more on the project, then we choose a coworking space, generally one that is located in the center of the city so that it’s easier for everyone to get there.
I think that one of the things that also helped a lot was that whenever a new colleague joined the team we tried to bring them to Bucharest to meet them personally, to create a connection, to explain more about the project and to do all the onboarding sessions in person. This summer, we even got our colleague from Spain to come to Bucharest to meet the team in person.
Codrina: I joined the Pluria team in May 2022. Before, I used to work in the hybrid model, and I was working three days from the office and two from home. To be honest, the hybrid work style was actually ruining my plans because it offers limited flexibility: you are still tied down to the city where the head office is located.
On the other hand, when you are working 100% remotely, you actually have absolute flexibility, and you can literally work from wherever you want. And even if in the beginning I did not consider flexibility an important criterion when choosing a work place, I think that I was basically yearning for it. And don’t you know it, when the opportunity to join the Pluria team came, I said to myself “Wow, how is it going to be to work exclusively remotely?”.
At first, I was a bit scared, I thought, “Wait, but I want to meet my colleagues in person” – I was somehow terrified by the unknown, I had never worked like this before and I didn’t know how it was going to be. But I eventually realized that it’s a great privilege to be able to work from anywhere, because actually no one is preventing me from meeting my colleagues in person. If I want to see them, I can get on the train or on a bus anytime I want and go to Bucharest. And it’s exactly what happened and what will keep happening. But, at the same time, I can work from anywhere, which is great.
Since I decided to join the Pluria team, I am no longer tied to Bucharest, I can live wherever I want, so I have decided to go back to Bacău. But I find it fascinating that I have colleagues in several cities; also, just as fascinating is the fact that I have access to the Pluria network, that I can travel to different cities and I can work from the spaces available in the Pluria network. And then there’s the Bucharest team: most of my colleagues from Romania are based there. I lived in Bucharest for a long time, I have the possibility to go there on a visit and work together with them, see and experience the workspaces. And this is how I overcame the fear I felt in the beginning, it actually turned into an opportunity, into a great, great advantage.
Irvin: During the pandemic, we were all forced to work from home. But most companies were not ready for it. There were certainly some companies that had already implemented a hybrid work model before, but the pandemic brought an additional motivation for the employers to let the people work from home. But once they had the possibility to bring them back to the office, they did it.
Flexibility and back to the office – two different worlds, right? When I applied for a position with Pluria the flexibility of the work style was not my main criterion, but once you have this opportunity you realize just how lucky you are: you have the option to decide and to organize your time according to your own needs and desires. I like to travel, so being able to choose where I go to do my work, while at the same time having the best options and saving time, is simply extraordinary. Also, I like to cook, so being able to organize my day so that I have time to work and follow my passions is priceless.
I think that the work style of the future is certainly based on objectives and not on a fixed number of hours. At the end of the month, you have to be able to show that you met your goals and deliver results – and you can do that from anywhere if your type of job allows it.
Natalia: In my case, in my previous job, I was working 100% from the office. I got tired of that work style, and that is one of the reasons why I chose Pluria. I live in Bogotá where we have to face the traffic and the meteorological conditions. In Colombia, we are now a team of ten. Remote work brought me more flexibility and quality time. Besides, I get to connect with different people from all over the world.
You say that you are a company with the head office in the cloud. How do you structure such a business, and how do you coordinate it so that it functions as normal and as coherently as possible?
Anca: It’s been an adventure that started with a phone call and I immediately answered “Yes, I want to be a part of this story”. It’s the first time that I get to be in a company since the beginning, since its inception, and it’s actually a professional experience that I always wanted to have, and in a start-up such as Pluria our work has an impact not only on the business itself but also in making come true the dream that brings us together as a team, and that is, building a better way of working for both companies and employees.
In the beginning, the whole team met virtually once a week. That was during the pandemic, we were all working remotely. Pluria was born and has developed organically, we started to work each on his/her area: I on marketing, Cristina on the product, others – with the partners from our network, and gradually the once-a-week virtual meetings we used to have in the beginning disappeared. We still have all-hands calls with everybody, every two weeks, especially because we are an international team. Last year, we had the opportunity to also launch in Columbia, and now we have colleagues in Colombia not only in Romania and Spain and the network has also expanded to other countries in the Latin America.
Working in a start-up is different from working in a multinational company: there you have more clarity, things are more settled but at the same time harder to change. A start-up comes with a mix of freedom and responsibility – what happens depends a lot on yourself, so you feel responsible for the smallest detail. And more responsibility helps you grow professionally and become from someone who is simply executing tasks, someone whose work really matters in the big picture of the business.
Irvin: In Spain we have very little competition. But we are very close to the companies we work with, and we try to adapt to their needs, to offer them the best possible service. What we offer is not only alternative spaces for work, but also support for this transition period. And we want to make sure that the people who book a desk in one of our spaces have a pleasant experience, feel welcome and spend a beautiful day at work.
And still, there has to be some kind of structure in this flexibility for all. What are the company rules?
Anca: We have the classic convention of the 8 hours a day, but it’s a flexible schedule. We focus more on the results of the team, and you cannot fake those, because one simply cannot pretend that they are working and produce in fact nothing at all.
Cristina: I think that in every country where we are present, we try to be available during the 9 AM-6 PM interval. Because this is when Pluria users access the spaces in our network, and we want to be available for them in case they have questions.
At the same time, when we have projects where we have to coordinate with colleagues from different countries, we agree on a schedule that is convenient for everyone.
Overall, we have the freedom to do what we want as long as we bring in results, and I think this is what matters.
Rafaela: At Pluria we are a team that is still rather small. When you talk about teams with hundreds of people, it is more difficult to control the volume delivered by each and every employee. But because we are a close-knit team, and we interact with each other rather often, it’s easy to evaluate the level of commitment.
As for the way a normal day looks like, I believe that if the job I have requires a creative process, it’s nonsense to ask me to stay glued to the laptop. My schedule also adjusts to the kind of tasks I have on a specific day.
Codrina: I myself, because I’m in charge of sales and BDR, you can find me talking to clients at 7 in the morning or at 9 in the evening. And at some point, flexibility can give you the impression that you are working all the time, also because we are now working from the phone as well, we no longer have to be with a laptop at a desk in order to be working. The brain is still functioning even if one is not sitting at a desk. But there is also the advantage of taking a walk, of connecting with nature, of spending more time with friends and family.
There is certainly a balance: there are advantages and disadvantages, but in my experience so far in the six months that I’ve worked here the advantages weigh more, so that makes it easier when a client calls you at 6 in the morning. You need a lot of understanding and flexibility.
How do you choose the spaces you affiliate to the Pluria network?
Cristina: There are several requirements. Firstly, the space has to be located in an area that is accessible, it has to have facilities that allow our users to work: we don’t affiliate just about any café or hotel, because we need to make sure we offer spaces where you can concentrate on your work. For the co-working spaces, it’s ideal that they also offer special rooms for meetings and conferences.
Generally, when you work from a co-working space, you end up connecting with the people who work in that space even if they are not part of your team, and they don’t work for the same company. Communities develop. I myself have a place where I usually go and there I found a well-defined community – they are people from the IT sector and I resonate with them: we exchange advice and ideas.
At the same time, we affiliate spaces according to the specific needs of our clients.
Codrina: For example, we have a client who bought an individual Pluria plan even if he works for a big company, because his colleagues don’t actually want to get out of the house. So we asked him to join our team, to work together and to meet, especially because we want to have close relationships, not only among ourselves but also with the people who use our app.
We are constantly testing the spaces we offer through Pluria: for example, last summer I stayed for some time in Brașov and I tried all the Pluria locations from that city.
Also, every time I travel to a different city, I like to see the spaces Pluria network has to offer in that particular city. Currently, we are present in all the big cities from Romania.
Rafaela: Me too, I like to experiment with Pluria locations. If it’s a new space, I want to see how I feel in that space and I try to imagine how the users would feel there.
I tried all the spaces from Timișoara, which is where I live now, but I think the most relevant experience that I had was in Portugal, in the two cities where Pluria is present: Lisbon and Porto.
I took to knowing each and every co-working space because I wanted to see what they looked like. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I actually managed to see all of them, but I did experiment with different types of spaces, including cafés and parks.
Irvin: We also choose spaces according to specific needs of the companies. We have three main directions: companies that need additional work spaces in order to offer an alternative for their employees; companies that don’t actually have a head office, and for them, we look for adequate work spaces; and thirdly, companies that go through an expansion process and need to reach new clients – to these companies Pluria offers the adequate space for a meeting with prospective clients.
So we also find spaces according to the requirements of each company.
Natalia: The same is true for Colombia, where we are positioned as the ideal partner for the diversification and distribution of work spaces at company level. We try to adapt to their needs and to present them the benefits of flexibility. It’s a learning process for the companies, and we support them throughout this journey. Our clients help us grow and expand, with each new employee from a city that we didn’t cover before.
So Pluria offers the ideal model: work done from anywhere in the world, measured through results.
Cristina: Exactly! As long as we are productive, and we complete the projects for which we took responsibility, there is no restriction.
Rafaela: There is a rather large degree of independence in what we do, including in the tasks we perform: if, for example, you are used to depending a lot on your colleagues, this style of work might seem a little too weird for you. But the distributed work style encourages independent and asynchronous work: that is, we are not always, all of us and at the same time working on the same requirements – each one brings their contribution in their own way and in their own time to the project.
This does not mean that we work chaotically. We do have meetings and deadlines that we have to meet. This is the simplest way to explain the way we work. It’s true, it comes with responsibilities and with certain things that come with the territory. If you are very codependent, you might find it difficult to understand this style of work.
Anca: There are many people who want flexibility in order to be closer to their families, to avoid the hours lost in traffic or simply to fulfill a dream that is not tied to a fixed place.
Cristina: There is clearly a need to get out of this routine that has been imposed as a standard on the labor market. Me too, in the beginning I missed the team but once I saw that we can talk, and we can all find a day or a time when we can see each other and stay connected just as we did when we went to the office, I stopped having this need. I believe this is a period when the new style of work is being tested and accepted.
Irvin: We are the living proof of a concept that works and is in full development throughout the world. Companies must learn that it’s also the employees who have the right to decide how they organize their work and to choose from a variety of spaces that are available for them.
What are the greatest challenges of a distributed work model, work from anywhere?
Anca: It was a completely new experience for me to work 100% remotely with people I have never met in person, to build a team from a distance, to learn how to motivate them, to give and to offer feedback. We are an international team from different cultures, and this brought an additional layer of difficulty to the complexity of the work style.
Natalia: I like this style of work, but one of the challenges I faced in the beginning was how to organize my own schedule, tasks and time. Because we work remotely, we have the resources and the technology to communicate, but sometimes it can take longer than before. The communication among teams can be slower, the answers not as quick – and this is a problem that we identified while working together in a coworking space.
At Pluria, how do you tackle the issue of emotional health?
Anca: We pay attention to how our team members feel, but it’s also a question of how each person manages their own effort. Remote work does not mean working always from home and this is what we try to do at Pluria: we try to meet as often as possible offline, in the spaces from your network, be they in Bucharest or Bogotá, for those who happen to be there.
Cristina: Emotional wellbeing has been a taboo subject up until the pandemic, and I believe that, at least during the time when we worked mostly from home, we tended to be exhausted because, not being used to the new style of work, we didn’t actually have a start and a finish hour. In time, you can actually end up working non-stop and entire days can pass before you realize that you start to feel ill. I think it’s important to realize this and to be the one who opens up to the team and talks about how you feel – and not wait for your manager to notice that you work too much, that you crossed the line and that you need a break. When you feel that you have given too much or that you don’t feel well, it must be you who starts this conversation with your boss. It’s rather a communication problem: if until recently it was a taboo topic, and we could not talk about our emotional wellbeing, now we tend to hide it and to say “It’s ok, I’ll work less tomorrow, and it will go away”.
The first step is to realize that you have a problem and to communicate it. I feel I came close to having such a problem, but when I realized what was going on and when I communicated it, I calmed down and slowly recovered.
I believe that one of the things that also helped me was meeting with my colleagues on a weekly basis, it’s well known that the social component is vital for the emotional wellbeing.
Natalia: In Colombia, we have two meetings with the entire team: one at the beginning of the week and one at the end. It helps to stay connected and to know what is going on in all departments, but each with his or her own work. Also, we talk about different subjects, such as mental health, we do things outside work to maintain this feeling of belonging and of being connected.
Irvin: Beyond Pluria, I also follow the dynamic of the people who use the app. It’s interesting to find out that people tend to use Pluria more on Mondays and Fridays: to get out of the house after the weekend and to go out with colleagues after work on Friday. Companies receive stats from us and based on that information they can come to their own conclusions, implement programs in order to ensure the happiness and the emotional stability of their employees.
You took on this new style of work with all the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities that come with it, so different from everything you have experienced before. What are your plans for the future at work?
Cristina: I wish to be able to visit and work from other cities from Romania or from another country. And of course, I would love to meet the colleagues from other countries.
Codrina: I wish to be able to work from Spain and Portugal. I would start with a month in each country so that I can explore the local culture and enjoy the lovely weather and try out the Pluria spaces available there. I also have my eyes on a location from Mexico that I spotted since the first day that I entered the network, that place is absolutely fantastic.
Rafaela: Frankly, what I wish for is to meet all my colleagues in person – it’s a different kind of connection and relationship that is established. Because we are all distributed in many countries, I never had the opportunity to meet all of them.
Anca: I’m already planning my next destinations, but I would like to be able to meet the whole team at least once a year because this has never happened so far.
But before we get to meet everyone in person we plan some parallel online meetings: all our team from Bogotá in one coworking space, and the teams from Bucharest and Madrid – the same, and all connected through a live online call.
Natalia: One of the things that I like most at Pluria is the fact that you get to understand different cultures and work with colleagues in different countries. We, the people in marketing, have to adapt to different cultures, to different lifestyles and this is very interesting. In order to improve things, I think that in the future we will have to become even more aware of our role, to talk to other people from the workspaces and identify more opportunities and perspectives. Secondly, we should focus more on the numbers and on the business segments that can help us grow.
Irvin: We are a startup, we become better with every mistake that we make. I cherish this unique and amazing feeling that with every small thing that I do, I am part of the growth of this company. After you worked for a company with 600 employees, it’s incredible to be surrounded by people who listen to you and who pay attention to your every idea. I plan on staying with Pluria because I’m curious about how far we can go.
What is your advice for those who want to embrace this style of remote work, from different locations and different work spaces?
Cristina: You need more organization – of the goals, of the projects and of the team you are a part of. And I believe it’s very important that you set the communication as a priority for your team, taking into account, of course, the flexibility of every member of the team.
Rafaela: The feeling of freedom that the remote work offers places it in the category of benefits but at the same time it comes with a level of commitment and responsibility that you have to be prepared to take on, not only towards yourself and what you have to deliver, but also towards your colleagues. You are offered flexibility, but at the same time you yourself have to learn to be flexible and to get in sync with the team. I think it’s an experience you should try at least once in your life. In the end, if you don’t experience such a thing, you have no way of knowing if it’s right for you.
Codrina: The fear you feel in the beginning is normal, but you will get over it once you discover the opportunities.
Anca: Prepare for the cultural differences you never knew existed, or you didn’t anticipate. Try out new experiences, whether that is working from a space other than your living room or a coworking space in a different part of the world.
Irvin: Always try something new! You will meet interesting new communities in the work spaces, you will make new connections well beyond your work colleagues. There is a diversity of people, spaces and options out there that will offer you a new perspective.
Natalia: Managers and departments mostly see Pluria as a benefit and therefore miss out on the opportunity to implement this culture of flexibility. But at the same time, the employees must understand the benefits of flexibility and recalibrate their priorities: you can now visit your family or the friends from another city and be able to work at the same time.