COVID-19 has forced many companies to go fully remote. Most, when this is over, will likely go back to always in the office. Some may decide that WFH is superior and transition to that full time. This first part of this post discusses a third alternative: Both!
In-Office vs Work From Home (WFH), Why not both?
One of the first things most startups discuss is whether to be remote or work in an office. At Spreedly, my two technical co-founders didn't think an office was a necessity. I thought face to face was valuable for collaboration and team-building and, in some ways, more critical in 2011/12 than today, to show we were "serious."
We took a tiny office in downtown Durham, NC. Almost immediately, we realized it was hard for me to do all the sales, support, and investor-related phone calls while my co-founders built and deployed our offering. We compromised around one day in and one day out. I would schedule the bulk of my calls for those at home days, and they would have excellent maker time. Thus we worked from home Monday, Wednesday and Friday and came into the office on Tuesday and Thursday. We experimented a little with days, but traffic management and parking were big deciding factors.
We eventually had some success and began to hire new employees. No one asked much about why we did things the way they did; they just followed our schedule. I think it was around employee ten that I first heard, "This was one of the reasons I took the job. Having the ability to work from home and get things done, combined with in-office days where we can brainstorm in person, strikes me as a perfect balance."
The primary benefits I've witnessed from our approach include:
- It reinforces our culture of autonomous employees to whom we delegate a lot of power around the "How" of our goals.
- It makes you more remote-friendly, as you need to pick tools, services, and practices that work with all employees working from home 60% of the time. This is especially important for Spreedly because we now have quite a few employees who are fully remote.
- It lets you draw from a wider geographical pool of employees, particularly as it pertains to hiring just outside of immediate metro area your office is in. People will put up with a "long" commute for two days a week for an exciting role.
There are some drawbacks, and the main ones I see are:
- Some potential employees self select out as they are looking for a traditional "all-hands-on-deck" startup experience.
- The office can be quiet during all in-days, as it seems people are always in meeting rooms (more on this topic below).
Our unique two-days-in /three-days-out approach has also meant constantly analyzing how we configure our office. In our scenario, most people will default to in-person meetings vs. Zoom when given a choice. This creates a high demand for meeting spaces on in-office days. We're scheduled to move into a new office space soon, and we've changed the ratio of traditional workplaces versus meeting places to favor more meeting places.
One big downstream effect stemming from compacted in-office meetings is that even during work in the office days, it can be jolting to see an empty office at 10 am. Generally, people like to do face-to-face meetings. The result can fill meeting rooms and leave empty desks/standing desks. Regular five-day in-office schedules see the same number of meetings spread out over five days, resulting in a different ratio of people working at a desk vs. in a meeting room at any given time.
Lastly, we favor in-office days for interviews, which creates even more demand for meeting space. It also makes it harder to juggle scheduling to bring a candidate in as you are competing with everyone for meeting space on those days. This issue became quite noticeable for us in the last six months as our hiring increased. We haven't done any actual measurement, but a back of the envelope says 20 to 30% of people come in at least one other day of the week, often the same individuals.
Our unique blend of in-office and work from home has worked to our favor to attract the type of autonomous, self-motivated employees we desire, and we can draw these people from a greater geographical area. Adding remote employees is more manageable, and we hope it carries over as we grow internationally or perform acquisitions. There are some downsides, listed above, but as we approach roughly one hundred employees, this blend has worked well for us. Hopefully it gives other companies insight as they return to work and start to consider different work styles. Now, I turn it over to some of our employees to share their perspectives on working from home full time.
Spreedly employees react to working from home full time
As you can read above, we’re used to working from home a majority of the time (if not full time) but under different circumstances. We feel lucky to work for a company that offers this opportunity, especially during a time when so many are out of work or are in need. We love our community and have found ways to give back during the pandemic to local restaurant workers, healthcare professionals, students, and food banks. In times like this, we can all use a little good news. So grab a third cup of coffee, put on a clean (or sort of clean) pair of sweatpants, and let the kids run wild while we reflect on a few things we’ve learned during COVID-19.
My last job was fully remote, but I was able to work at cafés, hotel lobbies, co-working spots, etc. It’s a little tougher being full-time at home with two small kids around! It’s been really nice being able to have lunch with my wife and them, and the occasional interruptions by an enthusiastic 2 or 4-year-old aren’t too bad, either.
The weekend we all found out we’d be staying home with the kids my spouse and I had a really intense planning session resulting in a very detailed schedule laid out in a google doc complete with resources and links. We helpfully emailed that spreadsheet to our neighbors with similarly aged children because community! That spreadsheet has been referenced and opened a total of never times.
WFH is essentially a promotion - I now have three dedicated assistants (my kids).
I have been texting my parents, who live in a remote forest cottage in the country with no internet access, daily. They are normally in town frequently to say hi (especially to the grand kids), so its been especially important during this time to ensure they are not emotionally isolated.
My life has turned into sharing memes with friends, creating separate "office" spaces in our 1/1 for my partner and I, and taking an ungodly amount of pictures of my dog during her "alone" time.
Working from home has meant evening cocktail hour. Monday night was a tiki night with Painkillers.
As the spouse who normally does the grocery shopping, getting in arguments over who gets to go to the grocery store has been interesting.
We adopted a puppy just before quarantine. She fully believes WFH means going on “Walks for Hours” and has been a great motivator for lunch time walks to get some sunshine.
Our dog, Fraggle, has found it challenging with the whole family being home all the time since we want to include her in all of our walks and hikes around the neighborhood. She doesn’t want to be included anymore.
My husband and I have been working from home together now for about a week. I’ve been using my set up now ever since joining Spreedly (on the left), but never have we worked together in the same room. It’s very much an Apple household. We both hold Apple Certifications….he works for them, so it’s expected. We are learning the importance of communication, because living and working together is a new relationship dynamic.
One final note before we close. Some of us got together and formalized a way to give back to our community during this time of need. So we're excited to share a stat about that:
As a company, we’ve donated over $4000 to local organizations and businesses to help restaurant workers, healthcare professionals, students, and people in need.