When it comes to building a great remote team, the Work from Home policy is a huge factor. There are so many things that managers and leaders need to get right, or else the Remote policy can actually damage a company's culture and values.
In this article, we look into some tech companies with Work from Home policies, ranging from a few dozens to hundreds of thousands of members, to see how they have effectively applied this culture to their organization. The three companies are: Hotjar, Google, and Dell - each is living on its own scale and growing at its own speed, but these are all noticeable.
Hotjar: Work from home since the beginning
Company size: Nearly 150 members across 24 countries
Remote members: 100%
Hotjar team in a company meeting. (Source: Hotjar)
Hotjar is a well-known start-up headquartered in the heart of the Mediterranean, developing a proud behavior analytics software that tracks user behavior and provides customer insights. A highlight of their 100%-remote-from-day-0 culture is the essential emphasis on personal development.
According to their founders, Hotjar’s values are guided by “respect, transparency, collaboration, and direct feedback”. With more than 7 years of experience in running a fully remote company, the management team believes that effective leadership is at the heart when it comes to growing a business.
It is noticeable that to turn this into reality, they have to carefully assess the people they bring on board, which leads to the need for a rigorous recruitment process. To achieve this level of leadership, they list out 5 factors:
According to David Darmanin, one of Hotjar’s co-founders, trust is vital in creating a mutual feeling for both parties: to take care of members and to make sure they care. Although processes and workflows are always involved to avoid any mess, they try to empower team members to self-organize as much as possible. Whenever a new member joins, it all starts with complete trust. Some visible signs are:
- Each team member is given a company credit card to take advantage of their perks (such as budgets for home office, personal development, working space, etc.) without the need for approval.
- Members can decide when they want to take time off and simply let their team know. There is no need for permission or approval here.
When you start with trust, everything becomes much more manageable. So with that, transparency is highly emphasized at Hotjar. On joining, new members can access all company data (even financial ones). While this is a massive concern for many (if not most) companies worldwide, Hotjar is entirely open to their employees about the highs and lows: monthly revenue, number of active users, amount of available cash in the company’s bank account (isn’t this amazing?!), and much more.
The idea behind this transparency - trust value is connected by responsibility. Hotjar is a team of mature people who are encouraged and challenged to own what they are doing and be a part of something greater than themselves. For those who come from a traditional corporate background and never felt personally invested in the company they worked for, it’s mad powerful.
People- and customer-centric mindset
As technology is getting more advanced every second, we’re getting familiar with (and kinda sick of) the digital screens that we now crave for that authentic human connection more than ever. That’s why human-centrism is thoroughly applied in Hotjar.
David believes that it can make or break a company, or determine how fast you grow or how quickly you fail. Hotjar starts at the fundamental: treating each team member how they would want them to treat their own customers. To set the tone for a human-centric workplace, they implement two essential acts: listening and empathizing. Below are some of their applications:
- To evaluate their reworked brand values, Hotjar surveyed the entire company for their opinions. When the responses showed that members were not supportive of the new values suggested by outsourcing consultants, the team started from scratch and came up with new values that genuinely reflect their souls.
- Hotjar establishes a habitual no-bullshit feedback session, giving each other constructive criticism to improve performance.
- The co-founder regularly sets aside a few hours every Wednesday for CEO 1-on-1, where everyone is welcome to share with him anything about the company from their viewpoints.
According to David, the first and foremost rule for leaders of all levels is: never, ever, micro-manage. Instead, they give members challenges and put them in positions to succeed and strive for their own better selves. Some methods applied at Hotjar are:
- Let the team lead the way. To do this, the exec team sets the North Star - or high-level objectives of the company, then they get out of the way (literally), so team members have the opportunity to work out how they’ll get there. The exec team only steps in to clear up a blocker that the members cannot solve(yet) - then everything can move forward.
A Hotjar mission team in their meeting. (Source: Hotjar)
- Have team leaders, not managers.
- Don’t confuse leadership with superiority.
At Hotjar, the exec team is especially careful when choosing team leaders. Team leaders differ a whole lot from technical leaders or expertise leaders, who are usually the senior. Not everyone with domain expertise is excellent at managing people, and assigning them the position only restrains them from what they can do best.
In fact, team leaders are people who are very good with people and good at understanding how to bring people together as a team to accomplish the mission. They should have excellent communication and collaboration skills because they are the glue that holds a team and keeps the team functioning at its best.
Create company-wide missions
It is common knowledge that it will (and should) come to a point when the company starts to move slower as binding edges begin to form between departments.
To make sure that things can pick up their earlier momentum and move fast, the Hotjar exec team set forth company-wide missions: tasks or objectives that bring people from across various departments and disciplines to work on a high-level initiative essential to the company’s success. These missions are diverse: from activating more people to sign up or subscribe, to triggering new users to reach their “aha! Moment” faster.
Google: The team speaks the efficiency of its products
Company size: 135,000+ full-time members
Remote members: around 20%
The tech giant didn't set up a remote team from the beginning. However, with significant advancements in new online tools and Google’s products, some parts of the big family are operating from individual homes. These changes in the company culture have led the management board to exciting studies of their own workforce.
In April 2019, Google released the results of a multi-year study into what makes for a great remote work team. It’s a topic of significant importance because 46% of organizations now use virtual teams (aka remote teams), according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRCM).
With employees spreading in all five continents, virtual teams and virtual collaboration would of course be a great challenge for team leaders at Google. In the study, they pondered over the question that every remote team or manager who is considering remote culture wants the correct answer to, “What makes for a connected, engaged, high-performing virtual team?”
Indeed, there is no “one-size-fits-all" solution, but Google's study did reveal some critical points of an effective remote team. Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google's People Innovation Lab - the organization behind the survey- shared: "Well-being standards were uniform across the board as well; Googlers or teams who work virtually find ways to prioritize a steady work-life balance..."
Later, Google also published 3 of their key recommendations from the research. Let’s dive into these.
Get to know each other as people
No matter where you and your colleagues sit, forming a human connection is essential.
Start meetings with casual conversations. This practice will encourage people to act like their usual selves and behave more friendly instead of like “machine workers.” As a result, natural connections and rapports can quickly be established between members.
They also recommend each member check the co-workers' schedule or ask them directly to arrange a call or a meeting, which avoids any overlapping in the agenda. Also, some may prefer to join discussions on certain days and at a particular time and dedicate the rest of their time to a deep work session. So, you’re better off checking with the colleagues so as not to disturb their routines.
Such practice is a piece of cake for 1-on-1 conversation or small team meetings. But what if you need to involve a larger group from very different time zones? It will require sacrifice. Some members may have to join discussions when they're off duty, so to make it fair, the team leaders or the operation members should have plans to rotate the timing to accommodate everyone. More importantly, a thank-you note at the beginning of the meeting for those who join off-hours is a tiny but impactful acknowledgment that shows appreciation.
Build an explicit knowledge base for guidelines
One of the most demanding challenges for working from home teams is miscommunication. Different cultural backgrounds form different assumptions. As the researchers at Google stated: “Norms set clear expectations for how your team works together. But they're often assumed rather than explicitly stated, leaving opportunities for confusion."
Eliminating unnecessary confusion as such is fairly simple. Google suggests these four aspects to build a company-wide guideline:
- Communication (e.g., answering emails/pings off-hours, expected response times, information-sharing across time zones)
- Meetings (when team members should and shouldn't join meetings off-hours)
- Schedules (personal time, vacation, etc.)
If your company establishes a remote culture, there's a high chance that you have colleagues who live in different time zones. It’s necessary to bear that in mind whenever you have meetings or workshops that need everyone’s presence. Ask your colleagues in different time zones (or even in the same timezone - being considerate is never an excess) when they prefer to take meetings.
The final tip regarding creating company-wide “norms" is to involve as many employees as possible. Everyone in the organization should find their “fit" rather than “bias" in the company guidelines. The more people you include, the more objective the policies are.
Form in-person and virtual connections
There are three key hurdles that Google finds in their remote team: Getting connected, Being connected, and Feeling connected.
To address these issues of remote employees (Google calls them “distributed employees” instead - pretty cool and making them feeling not-so-far-away anymore, right?), Google provides a high-level overview of the roles and suitable recommendations for each one, including remote employees, buddies of remote employees (huh - you may wonder what this means), managers and leaders.
Buddies of distributed workers resemble the position of an Admin-Operation staff. They take care of the well-being of each member so that the team can achieve their best performance.
For the purpose of quick analysis, we’re not going through each one, but instead, you will find a summary of the 3 essential points. To read the full Distributed Work Playbooks by Google, click here.
Whenever you’re in a video meeting with team members, unmute your microphone (after making sure that there’s no construction site near you or that your neighbor is in the mood for some karaoke) so you can make eye contact and express verbal validation to others. It ranges from a head nod, an “mmhmm,” to “yeah,” and all the way to “that’s brilliant!” - they will do wonders. Moreover, the setting is significant. Be clearly visible on the screen and dress appropriately. You want to appear professional no matter where you work - at the office or from home.
Reach out & start talking
Be human, be human, be human. A little support goes a long way, which is especially true for remote teams. Set off, or engage in a conversation just like you would do if the person is sitting next to you. Ask them open-ended, personal questions (the “small talk” as we call it), such as “What did you do this weekend?”. It would be much better than “How was your weekend?” or “Did you do anything fun this weekend?”.
Chit chat with your colleagues like they are sitting right next to you.
You can create a dedicated group chat or channel that is just for fun and non-work and social purposes. At Boost, we have a channel for funny or motivational quotes or just random thoughts, interests, and leisure shared by members. Sometimes, the Admin team hosts a challenge that encourages everyone to share things about their daily life and discuss what’s new. These are the times that we know why Bruce is a video game guru - moments we see each other as humans.
Cherish the difference
Cultural diversity is an outstanding part of a global company like Google. Instead of considering it a burden for integration, Googlers try to appreciate differences. To really embrace the ethnic mosaic, the role of the buddies, leaders and managers is undeniable.
While team members find it hard to know each other's customs and personalities, the mentors and the leaders need to have an overview of their staff's origin. The so-called buddies of distributed employees act as the bridge for any cultural discrepancy. The guidelines suggest:
- Reflecting: some behaviors required for distributed work aren’t comfortable counter-cultural identities, norms, or personalities.
- Teach a teammate something new about your culture (e.g., words in a new language, holidays/cultural traditions).
- Use 1:1s to discuss how distributed Googlers can be heard, supported, and included.
Dell: A flexible policy for remote members
Company size: 150,000+ members
Remote members: 25% prior to the pandemic and increased to more than 50% after the COVID-19 outbreak
While the world has been treating remote culture and policy as a work in progress, Dell has left us far behind with its forward-thinking system. Their infamous work flexibility program, “Connected Workplace,” has been running smoothly since 2009. With more than 150,000 active team members, Dell has about 50% of their employees working remotely - meaning roughly 75,000 remote employees!
The distributed team at Dell has a huge number of members. (Source: HR Open Source)
Dell’s Connected Workplace program allows eligible team members to work remotely, at variable hours, or in other flexible capacities that meet their job and lifestyle needs. Before Connected Workplace, flexibility at Dell was informal, with most arrangements being made one-on-one between team members and managers.
According to Mohammed Chahdi, Director/Head of America's HR Operations at Dell Technologies, a remote work policy has been a critical factor in their business model. Not only does it reduce the human impact on the planet, it creates happy and more productive team members, it also helps Dell win by attracting and retaining the best talent.
Another look at performance tracking
One of the main concerns about remote work is how to ensure productivity. At Dell, the management team doesn't compare the performance of the employees who work from home with those who come to the office. However, an interesting finding is that the engagement scores of distributed employees are equal and sometimes higher. Chahdi shared: “These scores are an indication of how committed someone is while doing their job”.
With the notion of working from home, productivity will never be associated with showing up early or staying late at the workspace. The traditional idea of “good work during business hours" becomes more flexible as employees at Dell can choose their best time to get things done.
Work flexibility and communication
To Dell members, work flexibility that comes from a remote workforce allows its members some options to create a collaborative work environment between the company’s needs and the team members’ needs.
Dell allows its staff to work flexi-time. This is beneficial to the employees but can affect team collaboration and communication. (Source: Dell Technologies)
However, to run this huge corporation smoothly, communication is key to everything. “Keep the lines of communication open at all times, whether through regular meetings or just a quick check-in via instant messaging” said Chahdi. The hardest part about managing a remote workforce is ensuring that not one member feels forgotten or overlooked regarding regular updates to development opportunities based on them not having a face-to-face relationship.
To achieve this ambitious mission, Dell has developed and actively supports an Employee Resource Group (ERG) called “Connexus” that champions a flexible work community by creating a collaborative work environment. Connexus acts as an outlet for members to share experiences, questions, and success stories, and provides valuable resources.
How to build the best work from home policy
With such credibility and experiences in remote culture, Dell has valuable advice for a team considering going remote: Explore as much as possible if your organization can support flexible work arrangements. The idea is to communicate and collaborate with your team members to develop a program that allows mutual benefits and positive results. They may include:
- Talking with other companies to gather best practices and lessons learned. You would want to pay attention to their background (number of team members, business model, facility) and challenges to ensure you substantially gain the best of their implementation.
- Creating remote program strategies and policies that will work for your company. These are vitally significant to any remote team, and as much time and effort should be spent on them. You don’t just “go remote” with the strategies and policies of a cubic office - they have different challenges and thus require different solutions.
- Educating leadership/management on work flexibility.
- Partnering with IT/facilities/HR. Build a robust back office that offers training, toolkits, and FAQs. Remote culture needs tons of preparation, which can be made easier if the work can be digitized. The concern now focuses on the matter of work security and stability.
- Design regular health checks and progress dashboards to measure the state of the program. Since you won’t be around your team for quite a while (or forever), a clear communication and collaboration process should be at the beck and call so everyone’s on the same page and can move forward.
With the onset of the pandemic, many businesses are hesitant and confused when changing to remote working or a hybrid model. However, the idea of working from home has been applied among tech giants. We hope that this analysis gives you more confidence to make the big move in personnel management.
As a remote team since the beginning, we also have a lot of tips to share. Have a further read about: