What we know so far, is that we won’t be moving into a “work anywhere around the world” setup, because at this stage, we don’t want to go asynchronous. We want to keep our meetings and (digital) facetime, so we will limit the time zones we are working in. And to facilitate in-person meetings post-COVID we try to stay within geographic proximity. At the same time, our DNA is international - and we don’t want to limit our hiring to Germany. Plus - even within Germany, we are not all at the same place, so we will stay remote post-COVID.
One thing as a disclaimer: We didn’t come up with the one solution and then stuck with it, it was a constant iteration and there likely will be further iterations. I will tell the story alongside those iteration steps.
Pre-COVID: The wrong way of doing a hybrid
Pre-COVID, we had employees working fully remote already, but that was rather opportunistic than thoughtfully planned. The result was a hybrid solution, but with 80% of the team in the office and 20% remote. This was set out to fail, because we would do meetings in the office, with two people dialing in. We had a lot of offline communication, that wasn’t easy to follow for everyone outside. And we were not really conscious about it.
In the midst of the pandemic: First thoughts on a new policy
In that sense, the COVID-19 effect was good because it brought us to think about it again. Yet, we had some initial experience on what it meant to work across different locations. In May, about two months after moving to WFH, we started thinking about long-term implications. We did a survey with the team and noticed that there was a wide range of what people wanted, from not going to the office at all to going there most of the days, with few exceptions. Those who wanted to go to the office emphasised the importance of it to them, and so our thought was, we need a policy that still includes mandatory office visits to make sure we can serve those for whom the office matters. We decided on a policy that allows a budget of 100 WFH/WFA days throughout the year, where we would still try and keep important meetings, such as setting OKRs, within the office. Another important pillar of that policy version was a decision against working asynchronously (also based on team feedback), which meant sticking to our core working hours.
Towards 2021: About finding out that our first policy won’t work
This policy was ok, and well-received at that time - but six months later, many things had changed, and the fact that working fully remote worked well actually led to us hiring in many different places. We went from 80% Hamburg, 20% Berlin to 40% Hamburg, 20% Berlin, 40% elsewhere - and we noticed that the policy we had thought of wouldn’t work anymore. Fully remote was working, yet we noticed that there still was a desire to be able to get together physically, not just once every year. By that time, we started looking more closely into the locations where we hired people, and where we had interesting candidates we were interviewing.
Besides Germany, Portugal had actually proven to be a great source of talent, and after looking into the legal & tax implications of opening an entity there, we took the decision to open an entity and double-down on this location. What does this have to do with our policy? The fact that we had employees working from 5 different cities by then, made it impossible to go back to an office-first policy. Remote-first was the given, and the decision to allow everyone to work from home throughout the year was a consequence. At the same time, we wanted to keep the option for offices and the way to enable this in the stage that we are in, is by focussing the recruiting efforts to specific regions, so you are much faster to get to a number of X employees where it makes sense to open an office. And what we noticed is that this is actually a great perspective for new hires as well. Even though this might not make sense at the first glance, because we get the worst of both worlds (limiting our talent pool with a geographic focus while still having to navigate a fully remote setup), I see clear benefits long-term: A) There are talent hubs for a reason - most people, especially in tech, are attracted to similar places. Even with doubling down on only five places across Europe, we can capture a high number of talents there - while also capturing the local network effects. B) Having a geographic focus makes it much easier to stay on top of legal & tax - to get a feeling for salary levels, employment law, work culture. C) If you offer a set of locations, you give employees flexibility and still keep the possibility to build offices or co-working hubs, if your employees want it. And for us, being together in one place (post-COVID-19) is not something we need on a daily basis, but something we want recurrently, and therefore locations still matters in our strategy.
The future: How is this policy going to evolve?
Opening an entity in Portugal was the first step towards this policy, and I will talk about the location selection in my next article. Right now, we are waiting for COVID-19 to pass and see how people adjust to life afterward. We can only define the rules after knowing what the team wants, but so far, we don’t plan on setting any rules on who has to come to the office how many times. The offices are opportunities for employees to work and meet, and our goal is to fully move away from the office being an obligation, but rather an initiative and a benefit for the team. This means, whenever there are a number of employees in a city who are interested in an office - we will make it happen. But the option to work remote will not go away, and all our communication and collaboration is designed for remote. Because we learned that it doesn’t work the other way around.