By Balki Kodarapu
Servant Leader. Builder of autonomous engineering teams. WFH dad. Remote-first champion. Loves to scale Agile. And is a Software Development Manager at PayTrace.
For many years, I was utterly unfair, unreasonable and blind to remote members on my teams. Too many companies label themselves "remote-friendly" in their recruiting literature and hire unsuspecting workers who end up suffering in isolation and guilt.
I was no different in my previous two companies where the teams "did their best" to accommodate the needs of remote employees. Remote-friendly in our dictionary meant adding an audio or video conference link to meetings only when remote employees are involved, or sending email summaries of meetings.
In most cases, sadly, remote-friendly culture just stops there. Worst of all, these remote employees are stuck feeling guilty (that they are causing trouble to the team located at the so called HQ) and isolated (without anyway to raise their voice and be treated equally).
But as soon as I started at PayTrace, I noticed we were different in very positive ways. PayTrace has been proudly fostering a more inclusive remote-first culture without even realizing that they were 10x better than other remote-friendly companies. In fact PayTrace was founded remotely and stayed that way for many of its formative years. Until just a few years ago, everyone worked remotely. That naturally laid a strong foundation for this unique remote-first culture we all are able to enjoy today.
A tricky development did catch us by surprise though in the last several months. We moved into a larger office at our HQ (Spokane) and started building co-located teams there. At last count we are ~ 80% co-located in Spokane and 20% distributed across the Pacific Northwest. New and veteran employees were confused what it meant to be remote-friendly. So, I coined the term remote-first at our company. First it caused more chaos as people assumed what it meant either according to their convenience or fear of change. I quickly worked with one of our executive team members to remediate that confusion.
The result is the following "remote first manifesto". I am super-proud that over the last several months, we completely eliminated the confusion around our remote-first policies and expectations. Today every PayTracer is aligned behind the remote-first manifesto. Every manager and team is free to hire either in Spokane or anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. Wherever they are based at, it is clear what the expectations are from the company and the individual employees. The company was growing quite nicely already. And with this manifesto in place, we expect to scale even faster & better over the coming years.
And so without further ado, here is the essence of our remote-first manifesto laid out in terms of what it stands for and what it does't:
Remote-first culture is:
- When all meetings that we initiate have a zoom video conference link by default; we don't ask if someone is going to be remote and then add a zoom link, we just assume that they will be and prepare as such.
- When someone joins the PayTrace family, they are enabled 100% to be successful, whether they work out of the Spokane office or from anywhere* (*currently limited to anywhere in the Pacific NW)
- Where all important conversations happen in Hipchat, email or confluence by default. If they happen elsewhere, we make sure they are propagated back into one of these systems for the greater good.
- Where we invest heavily in bringing the remote team members to our Spokane HQ; so the entire team can have quality in-person time together at regular intervals and often.
- Where we trust our employees and leave it up to the individuals when they want to work-from-home versus be in the office (*as long as they work a minimum 2 days from office, a requirement to keep their dedicated desk)
- Does NOT prevent anyone from having in person conversations in Spokane HQ or anywhere else. Good organizations thrive on in-person bonding. The only ask here is that important conversations and decisions are propagated to the right stakeholders wherever they work from.
- Is NOT our stated intention to always hire remotely by default; on the contrary, PayTrace wants to be an active part of the Spokane business/tech community. And we will look to hire in Spokane first before opening up to the rest of the region. Also for certain roles and departments, we will only hire in Spokane.
- Is NOT 100% automatic flexibility to "work wherever/whenever" by default. Some departments and roles need in-person collaboration quite often and the PayTracers that fall in those roles/departments are required to be present in our HQ office during scheduled time slots.
As you can see this is not the world's most flexible culture. We definitely did not design it that way. But I can guarantee that this is the most intentional, well-defined remote policy anywhere! Hence we are proud to wear remote-first moniker.