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We’ve declared our company remote first. Here’s how we’re engaging everyone without office perks

Crunchbase’s chief marketing officer explains what they’ve invested in when catered lunches and enticing outdoor spaces went away.

We’ve declared our company remote first. Here’s how we’re engaging everyone without office perks
[Photo: Rawpixel]

Back in the before times (aka February 2020), Crunchbase, like many startups in the Bay Area, had a great office culture. Think catered lunches, pingpong tables, communal dining, glass-front meeting rooms, enticing outdoor spaces, and all the LaCroix water and Blue Bottle cold brew you could dream of. 

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Then COVID-19 turned the world upside down. In an instant, rituals that were once fun, bonding experiences, such as squeezing together on couches during our Friday town halls, or sitting shoulder to shoulder at lunch, became dangerous to our health. Our switch to work-from-home was swift, and we were among the first companies to react to the pandemic. 

Little did we know, that decision would change our company culture forever.

As the “temporary” two-week work-from-home plan turned into two months, then turned into no end in sight, and internal surveys showed that most employees wanted the flexibility to work remotely forever, we decided to officially become a remote-first company

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Today, going “into the office” means something different for every Crunchbase employee. For me it means pulling up my sweats, popping on a biz casual sweater, and walking past the kitchen to my desk. For others, it means commuting to a coworking space in one of our new remote nodes. And there are even a handful of purists who still go into the San Francisco HQ. 

Without the help of in-office perks and in-person bonding, we’ve had to significantly evolve our culture to foster connections and employee engagement. Here are three investment areas that have had a positive impact for us.

Demonstrate that mental health matters

A study conducted in 2021, showed that half of employees who quit did so in order to preserve their mental health. Employers must acknowledge the reality that mental health is health, and provide the support employees need to stay well. Just as we’ve given insurance benefits and sick leave for colds and broken bones, we also must provide resources for mental health.

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The first step is fostering a culture that destigmatizes mental health. Make it safe to talk about the things that lead to burnout. Be vulnerable with your employees about your own struggles so they know it’s okay to be open with theirs if they so choose. 

The second, and potentially most crucial: Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just say you care about mental health, invest in your employees wellness.

Crunchbase doubled down on wellness perks and benefits in direct response to the pandemic. We noticed that team members weren’t taking PTO in the early stages of lockdown. We don’t know if it was fear, or just the sense of not having anywhere to go. But we could see that the endless days of work were having a negative impact.

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To combat burnout, we started “Mental Health Mondays,” giving our team three-day weekends every other week. The response was overwhelmingly positive and our productivity did not suffer. We had simply given the whole company permission to take a collective breather. 

Now, as the world has started opening up and employees are back to taking normal time off, we save Mental Health Mondays for those months where there aren’t holidays that offer three-day weekends. We also offer an unlimited PTO policy so that employees can take time as they need it, for any reason. 

We also offer employees a holistic wellness reimbursement. Employees can choose how they want to spend their $100/month wellness benefit: Anything from gym memberships and running shoes, to meditation apps, massages, smoking cessation treatment, and more. This perk puts the power in employees’ hands to decide what type of self-care would be best for them. 

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Work on having fun

Having fun is probably the most overlooked requirement for building a high-performance team.  This is especially true in a remote-first environment where you miss out on the casual moments of connection that happen in hallways and between meetings when you’re in an office.

On my team, we started a voluntary “fun committee” and gave them a budget. We also committed to recognizing participation in the committee as a positive factor in career feedback. If you do spin-up a team like this, it’s critical that you give members full credit and make it worth the time and energy it takes to do this work. Because it is work. And it’s extremely beneficial to team dynamics.

Our fun committee plans virtual events that allow us to be physically present within our own space but still virtually connected to each other. For example, they hosted a virtual scavenger hunt where teams had a huge list of tasks to choose from and earn points. Everything from “take a picture of everyone matching” to “do a 60-second guided meditation” to “write a haiku.” Hilarity ensued. Early on we also hosted a magician whose tricks I still think about to this day. And just this week the committee hosted a guided cooking class, where our team had ingredients at home and followed along to make Nonna’s Italian-style meatballs. Perhaps one of the weirdest outcomes from these events was when we hosted a pumpkin carving contest. One of my colleagues literally carved my face. It was a gourd time. 

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Give your team purpose

We’re in the middle of the Great Resignation, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Employees are leaving their jobs at unheard of rates, making retention one of the most difficult and important things for employers to focus on. In addition to culture and, of course compensation, leaders should also think about giving their teams purpose. If pay is what sustains you and culture is what engages you, then purpose is what motivates you.  

I think of purpose comprising three main areas:

  • Impact: Seeing how my work directly contributes to the company’s success.
  • Empowerment: Having the ability to execute my job well.
  • Meaning: Sensing that my work serves a greater good.

Impact is driven by focus, alignment and accountability. At Crunchbase, we use OKRs (objectives and key results) to do just that. It’s a goal-setting system that forces focus and galvanizes the company behind a few key investment areas. OKRs are set at the company level and then cascade to each executive’s org, then subteams and all the way down to each individual employee. We check in monthly, quarterly and annually, giving employees a sense of progress, visibility into how their work is contributing to company goals, and a safe space to identify when our efforts aren’t yielding target outcomes.

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Empowerment comes in when it’s time to start executing against goals. Do folks on your team have the resources they need to make progress? If your employees don’t feel like they can get their jobs done, frustration will likely lead to resignation. Here are just a handful of things we do at Crunchbase: 

  • Provide RAPID framework to empower project owners.
  • Slack to empower cross-company visibility and asynchronous collaboration.
  • A $3,500 annual education stipend to empower self-guided professional development.
  • Employee surveys and 360 reviews to empower them to share concerns.

Meaning is all about your “why.” At the company level this why is often referred to as the company vision, and their mission is how they’ll get there. If your employees are passionate about your vision, they’ll feel the bigger purpose behind the day-to-day work. It’s not about what we’re getting done this week, it’s about what we’re setting the path for in the long run.

For Crunchbase, this means democratizing access to opportunities so a more diverse set of innovators can bring their ideas to life. We’re building a platform that is accessible, easy-to-use and leverages its power to shine a light on iniquities and raise awareness for historically underrepresented individuals. Investments that support this mission are extremely meaningful to everyone who works at Crunchbase.

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There’s still a lot to figure out as we all continue to navigate this new way of working in a remote world. At Crunchbase, starting with investments in employees’ wellness, creation of moments of delight, and a deeper understanding of our purpose as employees has been very impactful. While these may not be the exact tactics that drive engagement for your team, they’re a great starting point for every leader to consider. And, hey, once in a while, it’s still fun to get together in person and play a game of ping pong while sipping flavored water.


Shanee Ben-Zur is the chief growth and marketing officer at Crunchbase.


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