Point Jupiter is a remote-first company. Here are some of our experiences and why we switched from remote-friendly to remote-first working and how you could do it too.
Remote-first is not that new
Remote work is nothing new, especially in the IT industry. Distributed and fully remote teams have been around for some time. However, during the pandemic, working from home became even more prominent.
At Point Jupiter, we experimented with working from home approaches for some time. We could work three days per month from our homes when we started the company. You’d need to put it in your calendar, and nobody asked questions.
We all worked from home for several months during the pandemic. And if the virus wasn’t enough, we experienced two devastating earthquakes in Croatia in 2020. The experience was relatively okay. We tried to adapt with ground shaking (literally thousands of times) and COVID-19 around.
Once we were back at the office, we knew we should embrace working from home. So, after one of our all-hands meetings, we asked all employees what kind of remote work would be best for them, and we all decided that on Mondays, we would be working from home days while we could still choose a single day during the week and stay at our homes.
However, that didn’t make us a remote-first company. Instead, it made us a remote-friendly company. And the differences between remote-friendly and remote-first are significant.
Remote-first vs. remote-friendly
Remote-friendly means that the overall company organization culture still favors working from the office, and employees can work for a certain number of days from their homes. However, internal processes, meetings, and overall organization still rely heavily on the office and its infrastructure.
Remote-first is a more radical approach. It makes working from home not just experimental but natural and normal. And it also means that the management should envision all company processes and, where needed, re-engineer them to make them remote-first.
About half a year ago, we decided to do a complete company repositioning and rebranding. As part of that effort, we wanted to reimagine how Point Jupiter will look in the future.
And while people might associate rebranding with the changes to visual design and logotype, we embraced it extensively. We reimagined our values, mission, vision, and all processes. Working from home and being a remote-first company was one of the key results of this process.
We wanted to empower our remote team members and ensure they were at the front and center of our company culture changes. We also wanted to level the playing field when it came to hiring. In the long run, we want to grow our team beyond Croatia and work with remote employees regardless of their time zone and specific working hours.
Taking it from traditional to remote-friendly and remote-first means that your culture will need to change. Here are some key areas we noticed and decided to focus on as we embraced this work model.
If there’s a single most important thing you will experience being changed, it’s communication. Going remote-first means that you will need to overcommunicate and embrace asynchronous communication.
Avoid postponing meetings and important discussions and waiting for someone to appear at the office.
So, for example, we decided to completely abandon asking people to put in our company calendars if they are working that day from the office or remotely. Instead, they can come whenever they want to, and we don’t want to dictate strict rules. But that flexibility means you need to feel comfortable working and discussing with people using telcos, video confs, and asynchronous methods.
Here’s another example — we use Slack for our office communication. If I need someone’s immediate attention, I’ll mention them, and they will get a notification. If it’s something that can wait, I’ll send a message, and they’ll get back to me when they can. No unnecessary notification disturbing your flow.
Also, overcommunication doesn’t mean more words being used — it means being more obvious and clear.
Another example — sometimes you need confirmation that someone has seen your message or that they are acknowledging it.
I use that with our office manager all the time. She’ll send me a document that needs my approval, or I need to make a payment. Once I’m done, I’ll add a checkmark as a simple way of saying, “I did it!”
That way, I’m not interrupting her work.
Document everything relevant. You can document almost everything: team meetings, client meetings, decisions, and major takeaways. If it happened, it means it should be documented.
Here’s a situation you’ve encountered countless times. You decide and agree on something with a colleague at the office. Maybe you decided it over lunch or some of those quick meetings in the hallway. The next day your remote-working colleague comes to an office, unaware of your decisions because she wasn’t there when it happened.
Make that shift in your mind.
Avoid bias towards physical presence and office work because that will be unfair to all those working from their homes.
If you decide on something, ensure all affected people are informed and document it. It might seem like an overload, but it becomes a routine in practice, and everyone benefits from it.
Again, the main point here is to avoid excluding people from being informed because it’s easier for you to do it that way. But, again, it might be a force of habit, but you can change it.
This doesn’t mean you should discourage people from talking to each other if they see each other at the office. Instead, work-related discussions and decisions must be available to everyone, regardless of location.
Team gatherings and bonding
It’s relatively easy to bond with people you see every day. The challenge is how to keep people who are working from their homes engaged as well.
At Point Jupiter, we have two ways of doing that.
Sometimes we organize team barbeques and simple office gatherings where we call and invite everyone to come to the office. Sometimes we go for longer and more engaging team gatherings where we travel to some location, work, and enjoy time together.
But sometimes, you can’t meet with everyone, so we resort to virtual coffees. We experimented with that during COVID-19 lockdowns. Here are some of our tips for COVID-19 and remote working.
We’d all jump on a video call, Google Meet, turn on our cameras, and spend time together. People would tell some jokes and share their experiences, and we even organized some game nights where we’d play together. For example, the online version of Pictionary can be extremely funny!
One of the main reasons we wanted to embrace the remote-first idea was the ability to hire people regardless of location.
In the IT industry, hiring great people is the number one challenge. And if you limit yourself to just a single region AND to just those people who are okay working just from the office, you are making this task incredibly more challenging.
Instead, with remote-first, we can employ colleagues from any part of Croatia, not just those living close to our offices. And since most developers and designers now prefer working remotely, you are much more attractive as a potential employer.
And we have some bold regional and global plans. I see us having colleagues from Slovenia, Ukraine, USA, or Australia. Being remote-first will make that incredibly easier for us.
Talent does not reside just in big cities. By being remote-first, we don’t limit ourselves.
(We are hiring, so go ahead and check some of our open positions!)
Empowerment, trust, and inclusivity
We are still a relatively small company, but we’ll not stay that way forever. And we are already prepared for that. By embracing remote-first culture, you make sure that you empower people to make their decisions and give them your trust.
As a result, they are more independent and less restrained, and they can make the best decisions. By being remote-first, you are also inclusive. There are no differences between people working just from the office, those working hybrid, or those fully remote. They are all treated the same and provided with the same tools, and everyone relies on the same processes.
Trust is a two-way street. People must feel that management trusts them to get their jobs done regardless of their location. Employees need that reasonable safety that making occasional mistakes is not a terrible thing – rather, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.
Keeping everyone on the same page regardless of their location is a crucial element of remote-first culture. At Point Jupiter, we have two ways how we are achieving this.
The first approach uses a special Slack channel for company-wide announcements and messages from me as our CEO. It’s brief, to the point, and keeps us all up-to-date with some basic information.
The second one is much more engaging — we have regular all-hand meetings.
Previously, we used to have 1 or 2 per year. After we embraced the remote-first culture, we now have them every month. We sit down, and as our CEO, I explain and show what happened in the previous period, what are our plans, metrics, hiring updates, and more. Everyone gets to ask their questions and have them answered.
People at the office come to our meeting room, and people working from their homes connect via Google Meet. We make sure tech works well and that everyone can see and hear each other and gets their chance to ask questions and have them answered.
It also enables me to stay accountable and readily available to everyone, regardless of their location.
Benefits of being a remote-first company
Although we’ve been remote-first for a relatively short period now, we already see some key benefits and expect even more of them in the future. Here are some of them.
No unintended hierarchies
We heard it from colleagues in our industry — people who worked just at their offices had bigger chances of getting promoted and recognized. Promotions, leadership opportunities, and recognition are heavily biased towards those working in the office physically.
By embracing remote-first policies, you are fairer and more inclusive to everyone. Just because someone works from Split or Rijeka and is not with us in the office doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the same opportunities as those working in the office.
Meetings are more meaningful, as it is a physical presence
If I want to jump into someone’s office and “quickly ask” them something, the chances are — it’s not going to be quick. So instead, I’ll ask follow-up questions, and sometimes, we will stray. Not good for anyone’s productivity.
If I want to jump on a call with someone, I’ll be more prepared, be more mindful of their time, and make sure I’m as efficient as possible. In remote-first culture, this is the preferred way, and it trains you so that even your face-to-face meetings are more efficient and shorter.
Designing your processes to be remote-first means that if you need someone at the office, it has to be for a good reason. It also means those meetings will be more meaningful and relevant. And everyone appreciates that.
Access to the best talent, wherever they are
Why limit yourself and focus only on a subset of a subset of a subset of people you are looking to hire? Being remote-first lets, you work with the best and brightest, wherever they are. Sure, you need to take care of legal arrangements and different jurisdictions, but it’s doable.
Employees are more productive and loyal
People who prefer remote work will be more productive than when they have to travel and work from the office. Studies have also shown they are more loyal and show that you care about them and their wishes. Parents spend more time with their kids; others save time commuting and spend time reading, biking, or hanging out with their friends or significant others.
Point Jupiter prides itself in being an extremely work/life balanced company (it’s the number one positive characteristic people list out). Of course, being remote-first improves on that.
It’s not obligatory, and you get to be flexible
We don’t ask people to put it on their calendars when working from home or the office. We decided to keep our physical office because some people prefer working from it. Some prefer hybrid ways, and some want to be (almost) exclusively remote.
By keeping our office, we made sure we covered all those expectations. At the same time, by adopting the remote-first culture, all working out of the office have the same access to information and resources. It’s a win-win situation.
Reducing your carbon footprint
And lastly, but equally important — with no need to be at the office daily, you get to save some money on your gasoline and don’t waste your time commuting. Even better – you reduce your carbon footprint and help keep the world from overheating!
Remote-first culture is a deliberate team effort
Remote-first is not a point in time. It’s not that you have now achieved this status, and your work’s done. It’s a constantly evolving process that includes every employee at your company. Fine-tuning, listening to feedback, adjusting, and making course corrections as you progress are essential.
It takes courage, but it might become necessary sooner or later. If that’s the case, why not embrace it open-handedly and thrive? That’s what we did!
At Point Jupiter, we restructured all our processes to make them remote-first.
We wanted to achieve the following: At the all-hands meeting, I wanted to announce that we are now switching to being a remote-first company and that people can start taking advantage of these decisions — from tomorrow.
No transitional periods; we just did it.
But it took us several months of hard work behind the scenes to prepare us for this. To deal with challenges from hiring and new project kick-offs to less prominent but still important elements like how much fruit and snacks we now need and how we will get it.