Our take on working remotely
We’ve been giving a lot of thought on the way we want to build our company culture in the past few months, and one of the outcomes has been our decision to move our US office from San Francisco to New York City.
Here are a few lessons we learned in the process, in case they can be useful to other entrepreneurs in the same situation.
Building culture supersedes hiring the best talents
Over the recent years there have been a lot of voices speaking in favor of remote with famous scattered teams like Buffer or Baremetrics sharing the joys and benefits of it.
One of the key arguments is to make sure you hire the best talents. And another one is offer people the best balance between professional and personal life.
We actually diverged from these arguments as we realized how people work at our company.
First, there’s no such thing as “the best talents”. In every major populated area, you have fantastic talents and you’re not in a position, at the moment of hiring, to pick the best ones. You just find people who look great for the job and you hire them. The environment the company provides to these people has such a great impact on their performance that it matters more than the individual skills – by an order of magnitude.
And second, working in a start-up should provide such a rich professional experience that we shouldn’t think too much about the personal aspect of the employee’s life. Don’t get us wrong: we’re strong believers that a job is a job, that working hours should be decent and we adapt to personal constraints.
But as a result, we have a general “no remote” policy – except for the day following our now-usual monthly celebration parties because we want people to work together. Actually together.
That being said, we were facing this situation ourselves with our small, San Francisco-based US team.
Far from the eyes, far from the heart
As we scaled up our Paris office to 20 people, we realized we were building our culture here. We have a strong, natural cultural fit with our 2 guys in SF, but as we engaged into hiring 5-10 people there, we wondered how we could build a culture being 10,000 miles and a 9-hour time difference apart.
We actually wondered whether we could let things happen here, and maybe build up a team that would create its own culture, way of working and having fun at work. But we eventually felt uncomfortable with this idea.
Worst, we felt – from our Parisian “headquarters” standpoint – that we couldn’t bring in as much energy and excitement as we would like to.
In the end, it’s like a simple situation that happened to many of us. As much as you love someone, if you’re not together enough, you won’t be together for long.
That drove our decision to move our office to NYC.
We get 3 key benefits from this:
- We work together ½ day, every day. We can share help on customers.
- We can travel there more frequently, even potentially send staff from our Paris office to help if needed.
- They can travel to Europe more easily so we can organize more frequent offsites.
Of course, distance remains and we’re still iterating on the right balance to keep both teams in sync and sharing the same values.
The right balance for remote teams
A couple of months ago, we were in a situation where our cofounders were based in San Francisco, and a small (junior) team was operating from Paris.
Our CEO was very concerned about scattered situation and pushed for having 2 daily meetings (9am and midnight PST) to make sure information was flowing smoothly. The “hidden” intent was to have very frequent opportunities to take the pulse of the Paris team. Know how people were feeling. Know when to help them.
That proved actually very ineffective. It was perceived as a real police control and was more demotivating than helpful. So we stopped doing it after a couple of weeks.
Here are our conclusions:
- We believe we’ve found an “OK” way to interact right now
- Weekly team meetings on Mondays to review the last week and share the agenda of the next one
- Monthly travels of one of our co-fonders to the US office (this will start when we’ve moved our office to NYC)
- 2 offsites a year with the whole team (in Europe), essentially to party together (beside working of course but that’s the day-to-day routine)
It’s probably not perfect yet and we still need to find out how we’re going to make sure our culture spreads evenly on both offices, but the interactions we’ve put in place leave the opportunities to make that happen.