What We’ve Learnt from Being a Remote-First SaaS Startup

At MarketGoo we’ve been remote-first for 6 years. We’re based in Madrid, but have team members from all over the world who spend most of their time working outside HQ. We’re proud to have had some of our cultural practices featured in publications like Stackify’s Build Better magazine, our pay transparency initiative featured in Fast Company, and numerous other mentions about our employee handbook, scrum training and even our Dev team’s productivity habits.

So what have we learned along the way?

  1. Startup Culture is Trickle-Down and Bubble-Up, but mostly Trickle-Down.

What your Employees value, their personalities and how they interact with one another will bubble up and foster a certain work environment, but the person who gives structure to this is your Founder.

What the Boss prioritizes, rewards and punishes will directly impact the flow and direction of your Culture. Positive vibes and wonderful employees may bubble up (just as negative attitudes will), but what will always trickle down and permeate into the workforce is the attitude and actions from the boss.

Trickle-Down or Bubble-Up?

The Boss is the Boss is the Boss. If they are toxic or reward toxic or hostile, ruthless behaviour, the workplace environment will become a reflection of that. If they lead powered by Company Values and empathy with employees, nipping bad attitudes in the bud, that will also show. The person in charge should be committed to a positive, transparent workplace culture, to structuring it and to unpacking and dealing with employee feelings and behaviours.

Since our inception in 2012, we’ve adopted an (almost) 100% transparency policy and our CEO has self-styled Head of Culture to reflect his steadfast commitment to it.

We’ve created a Culture Team within our company and use quarterly reviews to get feedback from employees regarding their work, feelings and both professional and personal goals. The Boss, while they should encourage everyone to speak freely, also needs to have a particular ability to be able to read between the lines when team members don’t explicitly announce certain things (feeling unmotivated or unappreciated, for example).

2. Say No to Buzzwords.

There’s a reason office buzzwords annoy so many people! Overused phrases to describe or promote your Culture is also frustrating — who wants to hear saccharin language about how we’re all one big happy work family where loyalty is the driving force?

Think long and hard about what your Company Values are and make sure everyone knows them. However it’s much more important for them to be internalised within your team than for everyone to see them plastered around the office or in employee manuals no one reads — so focus on making sure they permeate through to your entire team by hiring for fit and showing what those values look like in motion, through actions.

You Can Stuff Your Buzzwords in a Sack

Think about what has more impact — being open about company finances, how everyone’s role affects revenue/their own profit sharing, and treating your employees well with flexibility and empathy…

-or-

saying you consider everyone family, value work-life balance and believe in honest feedback — but then get defensive if employees give less than stellar feedback, fire people on a whim and encourage insane working hours.

Coherence between what you preach and what’s going on in practice is the surest way to arrive at a positive and fulfilling workplace culture that powers your mission and vision.

It took us a while to be able to articulate the Values of our Team into an ‘official’ list — we did it by consensus, our CEO led the process, and everyone gave their input. Now they act as one of the filters that guides our decisions (“is this in line with our Values?”), as well as a thermometer for employee satisfaction (“this Q it feels like we aren’t Rocking On and having laid back, fun moments”).

3. Don’t Force, Cultivate. Culture isn’t built in 1 day. You can’t force individual connections or bonds through mandatory team activities, but you can set up situations to force interaction that will have a beneficial result.

We all 💙 forced team-building

We’ve found that by going on semi-annual retreats and meeting up as a group at 2–3 times a year, our closeness grows by leaps and bounds and our work dynamic improves as well as our productivity. We are a semi-remote team that decided to adopt a remote-first culture and we quickly recognized the need for all of us to meet up face to face. Speaking of which..

Don’t Just Say You’re Remote First. When only some of your team is remote, they can quickly start to feel isolated and neglected. 2/3s of our Culture Team is Remote and their perspective is important to make sure we stick by the rules. What rules? Well, every company will come up with their own, but after reading how to keep remote workers connected and Trello’s Remote Success Guide, we knew we shared the same philosophy. Remote First or Go Home.

We also use OfficeVibe’s amazing tool Leo (Slack-based), which helps us take care of measuring employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement. Based on Leo’s confidential reports, we’ve been able to identify a few recurring sentiments which we then address in person during our Retreats.

4. Hire for Culture Fit.

In episode 2033 of the EOF podcast, JLD interviews Rand Fishkin. Around 21:14 Rand talks about how someone can be very talented at what they do, but not necessarily a good fit for your company. And someone may not have the full skillset you require or great leadership abilities yet, but if they are a good culture fit, you can help cultivate and develop them into the ideal fit for their role, and move them laterally once their full potential shines through.

Identify diamonds in the rough who fit in with your culture, and have the capacity to learn and adapt

This doesn’t mean that you should hire people who all think the same (and please don’t make the mistake of hiring yourself!) — it’s always a bad idea to sacrifice diversity in points of view and approaches just for the sake of keeping the peace. The most important things here are that your employees and new hires have expansion mindsets rather than fixed mindsets. Look for employees who believe that they can improve and develop their talents, and who take feedback well. That, and never sacrifice your “no-a**hole rule”.

Cultivating our culture, starting from simply harnessing a positive workplace vibe to deliberately structuring a dedicated team in our company has impacted us at all levels. You can see more about how we experience our retreats and daily life on our instagram page.

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This post was written by Larissa Murillo, Marketing Manager @ MarketGoo