On Remote Work

Our new startup, TigerEye, is remote-first. Ten years ago while at PlanGrid, I wouldn't have believed it was possible to run a company remotely, but a worldwide lockdown showed me that a better quality of work and life can be achieved. With good communication architecture and well-defined rules of engagement, decisions can be made quickly on Zoom or a phone call [1]. There are trade-offs to remote work, but to us, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

The biggest fear of remote work is that employees won't actually work — a very real possibility. According to a recent Microsoft survey, some 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work means they can't tell if their workers are actually doing any work. But there are ways to derisk this. I believe that remote work is available to startups in a way that is not an option for larger companies, making it a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining the best talent.

Startups have fewer people and can move together as a unit more effortlessly. Bigger companies can be burdened by layers of mediocre middle management, making the entire org ineffective. Mandating that employees work from the office may give leadership a feeling of control, but whether having employees actually sitting in the office increases productivity or improves company culture is something that only team members can know. In my experience, the best managers know exactly what their team is working on and how much they’re producing regardless of where they sit.

Millions of women left the workforce during the pandemic to take care of their families, and many have not yet returned due to the lack of social infrastructure for childcare or eldercare in our country. To attract talented women back into the workforce we must remove the old-school belief that good work can only be done in an expensive office. As a mother of three, I wouldn't be able to achieve what I do if I had to sit in traffic and be in an office all day.

This holds true for many of my highly skilled colleagues who also have childcare and/or eldercare responsibilities. They work from home, excel in their roles, pay taxes and can handle any life challenges that come their way. And the data backs this too — McKinsey surveyed 13,000 office workers in six countries and found that those who have confidence in their working abilities, children, and a mortgage to pay, no longer want to commute to sit at a desk and do essentially the same job

This is how we ensure remote work is successful at TigerEye:
  1. Everyone on the team is excellent at communication – It is really easy to miscommunicate when working remotely, so we look for teammates who have the ability to write and speak directly and answer questions simply. Everyone writes like they talk. We’ve all agreed to move long Slack threads to a more productive phone call.  

  2. Company information is documented simply and easy to find – An important variable to effectiveness is ensuring that the whole team can find information they need quickly. Since we can’t walk over to a colleague’s desk and get answers, we make sure our Google Drive and Gitlab is organized and well-documented. It does take a Google Drive and Gitlab cop, and we put our most detail oriented and vocal person on this (CTO, founder).

  3. We share core working hours and embrace time flexibility – With our global team, we have six overlapping core working hours, so we know exactly when we are available to each other everyday. Beyond those hours, we embrace time flexibility, so employees can devote their most energetic hours to their most intellectually demanding tasks and also to take care of personal matters (without taking PTO or sick days). 

  4. We meet in-person and work remotely together – There is no substitute for in-person connection, so we do it at least once per month. While saving on office costs [2], we invest in travel so we can look each other in the eyes. Once a month our Dev team gets together in-person. There are also regional in-person workdays (e.g., Bay Area folks get together once a month). Every two months, our Go-to-Market team regroups in-person. We also offer WeWork passes for anyone who needs to get out of the home environment. When in-person, we make sure to eat together, because something magical happens when we break bread as a team.

  5. Recurring meetings with purpose – One of our commitments to each other is speaking openly about the hard things. We can be honest, disagree, and be respectful at the same time, and we carry this commitment into all our meetings. Our weekly recurring meetings include All Hands (alignment, lessons learned, open questions and discussions), Whiteboarding (for team problem-solving), Customer Updates (covering all aspects related to prospects and customers), and Show and Tell (providing progress updates).

  6. Culture of wholeheartedness (copied directly from our core values) – Life is hard even for the most fortunate of us. Building a company while living life will be challenging. The best we can do is to be wholehearted in everything we do. Be wholehearted in our personal lives. Be wholehearted when we are working. When we split our hearts into multiple pieces in multiple directions, we will get overwhelmed and be mediocre at everything.

We must face the reality that our world and our workforce has changed. A new normal has emerged: embracing remote work. And you know what boosts productivity? Trusting your team.

[1] Remote work may not be feasible for professions in industries like construction or manufacturing, as their roles often have hands-on responsibilities.

[2] PlanGrid’s 2011-2019 all-in office cost revolved around 10% of total opex spend. All-in cost includes rent, utilities, insurance, tax, food, security, vending, cleaning, facilities team and more.