I’ll confess: I’ve always loved working in the office. The early days of RippleMatch—the startup I cofounded and grew to 100 employees over the past five years—are defined in my memory by late nights in our single-room, glass-walled WeWork office. Camaraderie forged in the daily struggle to launch a business, working in close proximity with incredible people. Take-out dinners, playing music, and team happy hours.
But in March 2020, as the pandemic began to drive sickness and fear across the country, we moved the entire company to remote work overnight. Complicating matters, the previous month we signed a lease for a 15,000-square-foot office in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, which was to be our first true office outside a WeWork. We even got the walls painted in RippleMatch blue in anticipation of our move-in date.
I spent most days on Zoom, our brand-new office full of 50 empty chairs collecting dust.
After it became clear that like many other technology employers, our business would not only survive the pandemic but thrive, I had an especially hard time figuring out what we were going to do about remote work. I deliberated over many long conversations with my cofounder, Eric Ho. We agonized over the call. We spoke to countless investors, mentors, and friends.
We were under no illusions about the downsides of remote work. We fully appreciated the value of in-person relationship building. The tap-on-the-shoulder conversation that can’t be replicated with a 30-minute scheduled video call. The daily collaboration between product managers and engineers. The genuine connections and friendships that develop from proximity like we had during our WeWork days.
But ultimately we believed that switching to a more flexible style of working would maximize employee happiness and align RippleMatch with where we believed the future of work will head. We rolled out a policy we call “remote-first.” We would maintain an office in New York, but employees could work from anywhere with no mandatory time in person. If someone in a meeting were working remotely and the rest were in person, we’d default to meeting on Zoom. Since we rolled out the policy in the third quarter of 2020, we’ve hired 39 people, 27 of whom have been fully remote. Of our 100 full-time employees, roughly 20 will come into the office on any given day.
So, how has it gone? First, the benefits of remote-first work have been enormous.
Employee happiness and well-being
Our employees don’t have to commute to work through Manhattan traffic, crowded subways, or bad weather. Employees are free to work wherever and however they are most productive, whether that’s at home or in the office. Real freedom and flexibility are some of the best perks we can provide as an employer. I’m especially proud of how this change has made RippleMatch a better place to work for those with young families who now have the flexibility to be present when raising their children.
For these reasons, our employees love it. They rated their satisfaction with the policy a 9.6 out of 10 in a recent internal survey. The benefits are so clear, I expect the next generation of employees will demand flexibility. Our research shows that 84% of Gen Z job seekers are looking for a company that is either fully remote or has a significant remote component.
RippleMatch is growing incredibly quickly. We’re aiming to double headcount in 2022. Bringing amazing people into the organization is a top priority and a constant challenge. Our remote-first work policy has been an enormous boost to our recruiting efforts. Whereas before we could only recruit talent living in the New York City area, overnight we expanded our available talent pool to the entire country. That represents a 40x improvement.
Because of remote-first work, we hired amazing employees we just wouldn’t have been able to recruit before. For example, we just hired a terrific product manager who we’d been talking to for years, but he had a house in Nevada and wouldn’t consider moving to New York. He started looking for opportunities after we launched the policy and it opened the door to another conversation.
Remote-first work has made us more competitive in the red-hot job market. We find that when navigating candidates with multiple offers, work flexibility matters a lot. We pay New York salaries regardless of employee location, which makes it easier to compete for strong talent in areas with a lower cost of living.
All of these benefits have been amazing, but what about in-person relationships? The shoulder-tap conversations? The friendships forged over late WeWork nights? Certainly, we’ve needed to make sure we retain what works best about working in person. Here are some strategies we’ve tried.
In-person onboarding: We fly every single new hire out to New York City to spend a week with us and get to know the team. Everyone who works with that person makes an effort to be in the office that week and grab drinks, dinner, and have in-person meetings. We’ve found this in-person time to be invaluable in developing relationships and creating an exceptional new-hire experience. Feedback on this has been universally positive.
Twice-a-year company retreats: Annual retreats have always been part of the RippleMatch culture, but now they serve an even more essential role in building relationships. After the pandemic, we started doing whole company retreats twice a year. Far from corporate, stuffy planning sessions, these are fun-filled weekends designed to get the whole company hanging out with each other and getting to know each other (ideally around a campfire). This frequency means that 100% of new hires have an opportunity to meet the entire team in person within six months of joining.
Frequent company events: We work to have constant programming for employees, both virtual and in person.
Technology: Our engineering product team spends all day on a virtual workspace called gather.town. It’s like Pokémon, except you’re in it all the time. Walk up to a colleague in their virtual office, and gather initiates an immediate video call, no scheduling required. Just walk away and your conversation is done.
This has been unequivocally the right decision for our people, culture, and business. There’s no going back to pre-COVID-19. Personally, I’m excited about building a future that gives more flexibility and freedom to more people. Opportunity to work at fast-growing companies shouldn’t be restricted just to people who live near tech hubs like New York or San Francisco and can afford sky-high living costs. Hybrid work lets us expand economic opportunity and helps employees build fulfilling lives on their own terms.
Andrew Myers is cofounder and CEO of RippleMatch.