June 13, 2021 / Shyam Nagarajan / Reading Time: 8 mins
Almost 1/3rd of the world's working population was put into remote work mode overnight. Even the voices of the vehement nay-sayers to remote work have been addressed by the year long experiment of remote work. As we unlock some of us may be looking at committing to remote work for the long term. I am very sure the question on culture erosion has been on the top of your mind. Having worked remotely with people in the team from all parts of India, having the right remote work culture is supremely important for us.
What we have been practicing is not the "real" remote work. Many companies that were not remote centric had to quickly make things work for them with remote working. Many of the office-centric processes were just force fitted to make them somehow work in a remote work setting. It is time now for all of us to look at what is the ideal way to implement remote work in our companies and set a strategy and implement the processes and policies.
Remote work has been around for more than a decade. We ourselves have been a remote company for over 4 years. It was catapulted into the boardroom of every corporation in the world by the pandemic. So this is not new. Let's look at companies that have been working remotely for a long time and learn how they are killing it with their work culture and learn from them.
Buffer today is a fully distributed team of 85 people living and working in 15 countries around the world. They were not remote from the beginning. They decided to go all-remote in 2015. Their focus was to build a company that focused not only on the bottom line, but also the happiness of their customers and team, and personal growth of employees along the journey. The founders in the early days of the company had to take on a nomadic lifestyle due to visa constraints and this translated into their decision to go all-remote.
Transparency : Buffer believes in transparency so much that the salary structures and the formulae for compensation are all public. Transparency is so important in a remote team as this lays the foundation for trust. Transparency also makes their communication have clarity and hence avoid assumptions and misunderstandings.
Onboarding : Buffer has a streamlined onboarding process. As you can guess they have documented everything. They have the concept of a dream team that comes together to onboard every new hire. This team consists of the hiring manager, role buddy and culture buddy. A role buddy is an individual in the same team or elsewhere at Buffer who is doing the same role as that of the new hire. This buddy is the go-to person for any task or role-related question the new employee may have. The culture buddy is from a different team and selected to help guide the new employee through culture-related discussions and provide additional context on company history and norms. This buddy will chat weekly with the new hire for the first six weeks, and as needed thereafter.
Buffer recognises that remote work can sometimes be lonely and also that their employees may need a change of scene of work and socialize. Buffer offers a perk that reimburses the coworking pass spent by their employees. Many companies in India have also started to give away coworking passes to their team members.. Our favorite has to be NotionPress who we work with. Their teams are now spread across 12 cities in India and all of them have a space or two that they can go to near their home to get a change of scenery.
Gitlab is the world's largest all-remote company. They have been very vocal about remote and have published a lot of content to help other companies take advantage of remote. If you are thinking about a remote for your team then you must download their remote playbook.
Did you know that Gitlab was not always fully remote. They were initially hybrid remote and then decided to become an all-remote company. Here are the standout elements of Gitlab's culture that we can all learn from:
Documentation, documentation, documentation : In the quote you read the statement "we document everything". Gitlab takes documentation very seriously. They live and breathe by the proverb "The faintest pencil is better than the sharpest memory". They have documented everything from how they work, how they communicate, what they value etc. Their documentation on the culture and values at Gitlab is a treasure trove for others and that in itself is a testimony to the importance they give to documentation.
Values at Gitlab :. They have clearly laid out the values at Gitlab and have made it super simple for every employee joining Gitlab on what they are and their importance.
Gitlab's emoticons for each value
Gitlab's values are : Collaboration, Results, Efficiency, Diversity & Inclusion, Iteration and Transparency.
They value the outcome of an individual over the number of hours they put in. They value feedback. You can read more on their values at the Gitlab values page.
It is kind of hard to imagine an individual or a startup that has not been touched by Automattic. With Wordpress powering over 35% of the websites in the world, you must have used it or might be using it now. Automattic is a company that was born remote and today has 1,511 Automatticians in 82 countries speaking 102 different languages. Hence are the front runners in setting an example for how a remote company should work.
The best place to start understanding what it is to work at Automattic is to start with their creed.
Hiring : Do you know that Automattic does not conduct its interview over a phone call or a video chat? They do their interviews over Slack!! Hard to believe? It's true. Automattic's entire hiring process is structured to give the candidate a feel of what it is to be working for them. So they have structured the entire hiring process to reflect the work style at Automattic. In a way this hiring process ensures that you are a cultural fit at Automattic. Let's deep dive into how they hire developers.
Zapier is yet another company that was born remote. Wade Foster, cofounder of Zapier says "The way we've defined the culture is through a shared set of common values that every team at Zapier uses to help them make decisions, interact with each other and our customers, and get work done."
Zapier, like the other companies have we have looked at emphasises on transparency, default to action and helping each other out as part of their core values. What I liked about their values documentation is that they have elaborated each value with examples of a good version of the value vs a bad version of the value.
In-person meetups : Wade Foster says "I tend to say the only real drawback to remote work is that, when there's a big milestone, celebrating just isn't the same." They make up for this in-person camaraderie that goes missing while being remote with company wide retreats twice a year.
At one of Zapier's company retreats
During these company retreats they plan a lot of activities and board games that reinforce the company culture.
InVision is a company that was founded in 2011 and has been remote from day 1. They have people in more than 25 countries around the world. InVision believes that the culture extends beyond the way people within the company interact with one another to how they interact with customers, suppliers, vendors, and partners.
They believe culture is shared, and sharing relies on communication to happen. Hence they lay a lot of emphasis on communication. InVision uses Slack for communication across their team. Let's see some examples how how they communicate:
InVision's #water-cooler Slack Channel
InVision uses Bonusly for employee recognition
As they say "culture eats strategy for breakfast", it is critical for you to get the culture working correctly for you. In an office environment it is much easier to demonstrate the culture of a company and for new employees to observe other team members and absorb the culture. When you are remote, you should make concerted efforts to document your company's culture and ensure that you have practices in place that ensure that this culture percolates to everyone in the team.
At the beginning of the pandemic we collected various tips on how to be happy and productive while working remotely. This would also be a useful resource as you look at framing the strategy for your team.