“Want to get lunch?”
This is a phrase you’ll rarely hear at our office. It’s not that we don’t eat or spend time together, but it’s physically impossible for our entire team to be in the same place at the same time. Sixty percent of our team works remotely, so for us, grabbing lunch is, “let’s meet on Google Hangout.”
It wasn’t always that way. Originally at Traitify, our entire workforce was based in one Baltimore office. We had a two-floor space and separated teams by department–developers downstairs, business and data upstairs. Before long we noticed those two teams ended up forming separate cultures; the space literally caused a divide within our company. We tried intermingling the teams, but new floor members took on the same behaviors as those we moved. To cut down this friction we decided to look for a larger space on a single floor. The company was growing–and we didn’t want culture issues to bite us later on.
Around this time we were also expanding our development team, and kept finding great talent outside our physical geography. We didn’t want to lose excellent talent based on location, so eventually we decided to give remote workers a shot. It was a risk considering the culture issues we were already dealing with onsite, but it paid off–and then some. Here’s how.
Remote Workers Improved Our Onsite Culture And Productivity
We started slow at first, by hiring our first CTO into a remote role. This led to the hiring of another remote developer, and another. Many of our hires came through referrals, so they had ties to the company already. And to our surprise, integrating them was incredibly easy.
In fact, we realized after a few months that hiring remote workers helped lessen our office divide. The remote workers we hired displayed high levels of self-motivation and responsibility, and were generally less antagonistic and better team players. Over time, those traits ended up rubbing off on other team members. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you can measure an applicants’ personality before hiring them; we build a product that lets us do exactly that.)
Productivity is a top concern for companies considering remote workers. But we found that they actually made us more productive overall. For starters, we’re forced to use Slack to its maximum potential to make that sure our team members, whether they’re in the office or around the country, feel like they’re sitting next to each other all day. While Slack can be a distraction, it can lead to fewer interruptions if your whole team uses it properly (i.e. not for every single thing). For instance, we have a policy that if an update requires more than a quick Slack message or email, we get on a video call. Facetime makes it feel similar to being in the same room as your colleagues, but it forces the requestor to think about priority level (Is it urgent? Can it wait until my colleague says she’s free?) and ultimately boosts efficiency.
There are challenges, too. If you’re not sitting across from someone, you can miss nonverbal communication like body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and posture, all of which build camaraderie and trust. But we’ve worked to mitigate that risk by planning team off-sites, work-away trips, and occasional company-wide gatherings, which we hope to make more frequent over time.
The Benefits Of A Hybrid Model
For Traitify, the remote workforce concept has been a swinging pendulum. We’ve learned that while some roles, like developers, can work well remotely, there are certain teams–like sales and customer success–that benefit tremendously from being physically together. Still, we’ve chosen to embrace this arrangement that we’d initially just stumbled across. Having a physical “hub” creates and reinforces the core element of Traitify’s company culture–a place where customers and investors can see “who” your company is and experience the energy firsthand. However, in order to attract the best talent, we also recognized the need to be open to hiring candidates outside our immediate geography.
Some founders insist on an all-or-nothing approach, but we don’t believe that’s the only way to make remote work successful. Instead, we’ve set explicit guidelines to reinforce the benefits of both remote and onsite work so our in-office and far-flung teams can work well in tandem with minimal impediments. All our staff in our physical headquarters now work on the same floor. And when we hire remote workers, we screen their personalities to make sure they’re self-motivated and responsible, then we train them to use collaborative tools in a way that optimizes their productivity.
I believe companies need to embrace remote workers, but they don’t necessarily have to resort to an exclusively remote workforce. It’s a great model to source talent, but the benefits of a physical hub are hard to overstate, especially when it comes to building a work culture. If our experience is any indicator, you really can–and maybe should–have it both ways.
Dan Sines is co-founder & CEO of Traitify, the company behind image-based personality assessments for employers and personal career growth.