Street Culture: Why Telecommuting Makes Sense for Many Tech Startups
Regular telecommuting among the non-self-employed population has grown by 103% since 2005, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by globalworkplaceanalytics.com.
“Two fears about corporate culture often arise when organizations consider allowing remote work,” writes Rodney L. Lowman, author of A Comprehensive Guide to Theory, Skills, and Techniques. “The first is how the dispersion of employees will affect the company’s culture, and the second is how remote employees will adopt and remain in touch with the culture. It is therefore important to determine what kind of culture exists before setting a program in place. Some cultures are less conducive to virtual work, such as a culture that is heavily dependent on personal contact with key individuals within the organization.”
But the option does work for a lot of companies — and for many startups, remote work is a built-in part of how a company initially gets off the ground.
Kristen Stiles, co-founder and CEO of babysitter-finding app Sitter.me, told Street Fight in February that she worked remotely for six years during a job she had with HP, and is very familiar with how to communicate as part of a telecommuting team.
“It takes a particular personality to work at home effectively, but you need to trust employees enough to do that and to be as productive as they can,” she says. “I think face time is fabulous, but I don’t think it’s required for success.”
At Sitter.me, which launched in May 2015, the initial three-and-a-half person team worked remotely until January 2017, when the company was accepted into the Boulder, Colorado, TechStars technology accelerator.
“We would get together once a week and work at the Commons on Champa or at Union Station [in Denver],” Stiles said. “But if you have the right team, the right employees, then they don’t have to be there physically. If you don’t trust your employees to work at home, you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place.”
For the hiring and job search platform Proven, trust was placed in every employee this year when the company took its entire team of employees remote. Co-founder and CTO Sean Falconer wrote in a blog post that when everyone in a company is distributed across different locations, communicating effectively is the one central theme that contributes to company culture.
“If you don’t communicate in a remote environment, you don’t exist,” Falconer wrote.
He said that many people’s reactions about a fully remote workforce were concerns about if employees would actually be working, or about how they could not work from home because of distractions. By polling more than 30 remotely-based companies, Proven collected tips about how to do it successfully. Communication — often by team collaboration platforms like Slack — was an ongoing theme in the responses.
Antonio Tomarchio, CEO of location intelligence firm Cuebiq, admits that it can be a challenge to communicate when people are all over the place.
“We have to find the best talent wherever they are,” he told Street Fight in March. “We hold weekly meeting across all the different teams, we try to have a global staff meeting every month, and we extensively use a cloud system with shared documents. It’s a shared knowledge space; everything is done in the cloud so people can access documents when they need them.”
Cuebiq has about 30 employees, though, and for larger fast-growing companies, remote teams can each grow in a different way within the company’s overall culture.
Just over a year ago, the on-demand parking spot app company SpotHero had about 75 employees, and was just beginning the process of building out remote sales offices. They were also hiring for more than a dozen employee positions,
Now, SpotHero has 150 employees. Three small regional offices in New York City (7 team members), DC (2 team members) and San Francisco (3 team members) host the remote sales teams, and the company also has two regional software engineers, one in Arizona and one in Texas.
Trish Lukasik, COO of SpotHero, said in an emailed statement to Street Fight that the company is making an effort to make sure regional team members outside of the company’s Chicago headquarters would still experience SpotHero’s culture and feel connected.
“All regional team members conduct meetings via video chat and visit Chicago on a quarterly basis,” Lukasik said. “Managers and executives make a point to visit regional offices as often as possible for face-to-face meetings. We also ensure that all special events hosted by our Culture Committee are also implemented at our regional offices. For example, we recently ordered pies for all employees on Pi Day.”
April Nowicki is a Street Fight contributor.