At the time of writing this blog, Polarr has 27 full-timers where 12 are local in the Bay Area, 15 are remote. For remote teams, 12 are internationally located in Europe and Asia. For those who are local in the Bay Area, we work from home on Fridays every week, and between Monday and Thursday, we only require people coming into our office two days a week.
This might sound refreshing to some, but we're not alone in remote working structure or specifically the hub and spoke structure. Still, we want to contribute and track our data point to the overall learnings of Bay Area startup's "work from home" phenomenon. Alas, we wouldn't be able to run a non-remote company in an alternate universe, but I can share some of the useful and interesting findings here in this blog post.
Finding the perfect match.
True diversity in perspectives.
I believe there is a certain limit of diversity around any work area when it comes to mindset. You can have people of all different skin colors, genders and interests, but it doesn't help when most everyone's main source of inspirations come from the same daily life routines, the same blockbuster movies, the same VC blogs, and the "valley hype" media. I have no doubt that a smart local team would be able to analyze and learn from how companies in other cultures such as China are using different tactics in marketing and growth unconventional to the US mindset, but hiring a local Chinese marketing team who lives and breaths in China to contribute to the US marketing strategy often provides amazing insight and contrarian thoughts we wouldn't have thought ourselves. We've also grown to appreciate the drastically different user expectations from app onboarding to post-onboarding education in different regions, where our Chinese marketing team authored and published a national top-selling photography textbook that wouldn't have made sense in the US market. Another obvious area resulted from the "cultural fusion" is design at Polarr. Our current branding and design is a combination of ideas from designers in the US, Taiwan, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where each designer is deeply embedded in their own local design community and is able to offer insights from how each culture feels and experiences our design language.
Productivity and morale boost.
This is a somewhat nuanced but significant point - there is definitely something people feel really good about when they know they have teammates from different corners of the world holding their back when they're sleeping. The timezone difference, if leveraged properly can increase productivity significantly in build and test release engineering cycles, or design and user study product cycles. When we do see each other online, there is little time to chitchat when we only have a few hours of overlapping timezone to work together. But nothing beats the excitement to see our remote co-worker in the flesh once in a while when they fly into our office and then we seem to have an infinite amount of stories to catch up from their lives. We did a few surprise visit planning where nobody knew when a remote colleague would show up. Those are the best fun scares we've seen in the office. The something can be said when a local employee travels to a remote employee's home city unannounced - now you might have an instant friend to have drinks and show you around :).
It makes everyone a better human.
Working in an international remote team where people speak different first languages and have different cultural expectations on directness and softness in verbal expression styles could create confusions and communication breakdowns. When you can't see someone's facial expression, you might mistake a joke for a serious argument. But for this exact reason we all become better listeners and communicators where we grow better at expressing our ideas and providing contexts more constructively, honestly, and without ambiguity. I'd even argue that the heightened requirement of clarity in our communication required us to have broad context sharing in the company where we believe we have one of the most extensive and frequently updated internal Wiki from strategic and quarterly goals to "personal communication guideline" to each individual team member to fully accessible board meeting notes. The direct outcome of such a broader context in Polarr is everyone feels more confident in making informed small decisions autonomously without the presence of peers and the company has significantly less management overhead. So in a strange way, the more remote the team is, the less management it requires.
There are definitely many, many caveats and challenges running a remote team, especially on how to make remote team members feel included in the company's day to day culture. I will save that for the next topic for now.