When Mattermost first started, it didn’t make sense for us to have an office; it was just myself and one other person. They were writing code the whole time, and I was on the phone the whole time, and being in the office we ended up interrupting each other. So eventually we started working from our homes and only got together when we needed to catch up.
As the company grew, we were hiring lots of artists and freelancers based everywhere from Los Angeles to Toronto. Even though there were more of us, it didn’t make sense for us to have an office space when most of the team was somewhere else anyway. We could simply hop on Skype, have our conversation, and get back to work. We became addicted to our ability to source really great talent from anywhere in the world, and addicted to the productivity of not having to worry about the overhead of an office, the time wasted commuting every day, or the frustration of having to find a space to meet up.
That isn’t to say scaling a remote team has been easy. We’ve learned a lot about what makes for a great remote experience. Here are a few of the lessons learned about the challenges of remote work, and how we make it work for our team.
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Pair design helps remote collaboration run smoothly
One of the superpowers of a remote team is embracing the ability to work asynchronously. Unfortunately, this can also make large group collaboration more challenging. There are certain problems you might want a relatively large group to work together — for example, planning our annual onsite. In an office setting, you’d just get those four or five or seven people together camped out in a conference room for a whole week, knocking out the problem. But it can be particularly challenging to wrangle a large group of people to carve out a long chunk of time to work together remotely. Everyone has other priorities they’re trying to juggle.
We’ve found what works best for remote collaboration is keeping the collaboration smaller. We try to apply pair design practices wherever we can; if you can break down and prioritize bigger problems into smaller problems two people can tackle, they can work through the problem, talk through it, and agree on it. Then, when they come back to a broader group, they come in with a much more polished solution and it’s easier to get an idea implemented.
Documentation is the secret to great onboarding and culture building
There’s a bit of a misconception that companies can only build stronger cultures in-person versus remote. I would say culture is stronger when everything is written down because everyone who joins the company has the same baseline: a consistent onboarding experience and documentation as the shared source of truth.
Remote onboarding done right can be far more scalable, efficient, and impactful. We get a good deal of positive feedback for our onboarding process at Mattermost because everything is documented. In-office onboarding experiences are usually a series of person-to-person interactions that mete out information bit by bit — you might talk to 18 different people throughout the day, each with a different piece of the organizational puzzle. When you’re a remote company, onboarding is a lot more focused on reading through information.
Don’t get me wrong — new hires at Mattermost still talk to a lot of people in their first few weeks — but the interactions they have are more meaningful because they’ve gotten all the administrative stuff out of the way. New hires can get up to speed on the history and context of ongoing projects and initiatives when they join and can start asking much higher quality, deep questions during those first interactions.
To find great remote employees, prioritize candidates with strong writing skills
One thing that’s become even more clear during the pandemic: there are people who really like working remote and thrive in a remote work environment, but it’s not for everyone. Right now everyone needs to work remotely. While many people have realized working from home is amazing — they love not having to commute, they love the independence, the flexibility — there are others who really miss the office environment.
One of the biggest indicators that we’ve found around who thrives in a remote environment is strong written communication skills. If you’re a strong writer and you can consume information in written formats really well, you’ll probably have an easier time transitioning to a remote team than someone who prefers face-to-face communication.
Want to join Mattermost’s remote-first team?
Mattermost is on a mission to connect the world with what matters most, and we’re continually looking for people to help us achieve that goal — no matter where in the world they live. To learn more about what it’s like to work at Mattermost and to see our current open roles, check out our Careers page.