Webflow on building a remote-first culture.
Welcome to Recommend’it! The organisational design and culture blog by eliot. If you’re interested in creating more responsible and people-positive workplaces, you’ve come to the right place. We talk with organisations and people who dare to challenge the status quo and share their perspectives on how to make work work.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, the true face of many cultures and organisations has come to the surface. Some of the faces are beautiful while others — surprisingly ugly. The experience of remote work has been and still is, to say the least, a very different experience depending on what country you live in, your housing situation, your family situation, and of course the organisation you work in.
At eliot we have followed the development closely as ‘improving remote work culture’ has been a common assignment for us. We have read, studied, experimented, discussed, and worked with companies on how to create a responsible remote work culture.
For those and many other reasons, we were very pleased to sit down (virtually, of course) with Nicole Hopkins, Director of People Operations at Webflow. A company who deserves a lot of appreciation and attention when it comes to building a remote-first and friendly work culture. Webflow is a software company based in San Francisco on a mission to let everyone create powerful, flexible websites and apps as easily as they create documents today. Besides offering a great product, Webflow has managed to successfully build, maintain and continuously develop a remote work culture where about 70% of the employees work remotely spread out across the US and around the world.
We talked with Nicole about why Webflow decided to build a remote-first culture, some of their most important learnings and practices as well as perspectives on being a remote-first company.
The decision to build a remote-first culture.
Already long before COVID happened, remote work had gained a good amount of attention in the various business media and future of work communities. If done right, the potential benefits of remote work are many and promising — both from a business and personal perspective. Naturally, we were curious to hear about Webflow’s motivation and perspectives on why they decided to be a remote-first company. Here’s Nicole.
I think a huge part of it is to figure out ‘How do we keep people engaged and inspired at work?’. That’s one part of our mission — making sure that people working at Webflow can live an impactful and fulfilling life. And then, there’s the other part of our mission, which is to enable everyone to create for the web. If we’re only hiring people, let’s say, in San Francisco, we’re getting the same talent that every other startup is getting. So to be able to diversify our talent pool we say: “It’s not about hiring in other locations to decrease the cost of labour, it’s about finding the most diverse, technically skilled talent that we can, to be a part of our mission”.
We were quite excited to hear how Webflow has integrated people’s motivation, inspiration and engagement into their company mission. We really resonate with the idea of creating the conditions for teams and people to be engaged, inspired and challenged, and the business then taking care of itself. Another aspect Nicole mentions is diversity. We were curious to hear her thoughts on how Webflow builds a unified, healthy, and strong culture when 70% of the workforce is remote and highly diverse.
I think the culture is still a bit US-centric, but we’re starting to get pockets of teams elsewhere that have their own subcultures, which is great. It’s important to have that feeling of, not only do I feel like I belong, but I’m learning about something different. Often people perceive that you can’t have both at once, but creating that sense of belonging from a Webflow culture standpoint is something that goes back to our core behaviours. On the other side, we learn from our remote teams all the time and it’s awesome because it’s stuff they don’t teach you at school and you wouldn’t necessarily learn about depending on where you grew up. This makes us have really interesting dialogues. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes it’s about the racial injustice that’s happening in the US. Stuff that most companies would say “keep that out of work”. But because of the diversity of our company, people are curious and open and want to have discussions. I think that’s really special to create that sense of safety and to not be dictating what conversations are happening.
Core behaviours > Core values
Nicole mentions an aspect that we are very intrigued by — core behaviours. Since its beginnings, Webflow has focused on core behaviours over core values. A basic but excellent choice if you ask us. Most companies are battling with fluffy values, spending years of defining and redefining them with close to no impact. Why? Because they are fluffy and not actionable. We asked Nicole what these core behaviours are and why they are so important to Webflow, in their effort to creating a remote-first culture:
Every company that I’ve worked with previously, we’ve either had core values or not many values at all. Typically, when you report to executives, you sit down in a room and say ‘ok, what do we stand for?’. But culture, you know, should not be like beer on tap. But that’s what it feels like if not clearly defined and reliant on parties and perks. I think that a lot of startups find themselves in this place and what ends up happening is that you put a list of all these wonderful, aspirational statements on a piece of paper, but they’re not realized. So instead, everyone should take a step back and ask ‘how do we actually behave for better or worse? Because that’s our culture. So, for instance, saying: “no egos and no assholes” on a job description, but then coming to work somewhere and thinking: “yeah, there’s a whole lot of both here” is a problem. You can’t say it and then model something entirely different. Of course, there’s always going to be that constant iteration because as you scale and hire more team members , culture becomes this ever-evolving thing. It doesn’t stay with the initial culture set by the founder(s), but it is important that it is modelled from the top. So, it’s a delicate balance of continuing to evolve while also ensuring that it’s being modelled from the top down. Our core behaviours are tied into everything we do.
This all sounds very well but our first thought is how? How does Webflow make sure that the written core behaviours don’t just end up as most company values — something decorative on the walls?
For example, we do a thing called team development cycles (TDC). It’s when you sit down with your manager to have a conversation about development and feedback , but it’s not a review because it doesn’t directly correlate to your pay. It’s more about peer feedback, self-reflection and manager alignment so that you can be set up for success six months from now when we have our performance based pay cycle. For example, with the TDC, there are questions in there that are designed like “mad libs format”. So, it could go something like: “The two core behaviours you demonstrated over the past six months were _____ and ____. This showed up when you ____ ”. So, people can see the correlation between what they do and how that feeds into their behaviors and expectations around performance.
Webflow’s 7 core behaviours:
- Start with customers
- Practice extraordinary kindness
- Be radically candid
- Move intentionally fast
- Just fix it
- Lead by serving others
- Dream big
I’m sure, it’s not only us who see some potential conflicts between some of the listed behaviours, especially ‘practice extraordinary kindness’ and ‘be radically candid’. We talked to Nicole about that potential conflict.
We have the ‘practice extraordinary kindness’ core behavior. This place is really kind, which you need to be to create psychological safety in a remote setting, but sometimes almost to the extreme. I used to get feedback from the CEO at my previous job that I was too nice. “ And then I come here and it turns out — I’m not kind enough! (half kidding) The other core behaviour is ‘radical candor’ and, it’s clear how these two can potentially come into conflict. You’ve got extraordinary kindness that can push people into ruinous empathy without realizing it. The key is to remember that when you are direct with feedback, while caring for the person you’re giving it to, that is extraordinarily kind. For example, sometimes I have to have a serious discussion with someone because their behavior is getting in the way of their own success. . The widely accepted too kind thing to do would be just to smile and move on. However, for many, kindness means addressing that behavior to make them aware of how it’s impacting their success and removing any potential tension in our working relationship and that is great. If you solely work on direct feedback without thoughtful consideration and care for the person you’re giving it to, you run the risk of people acting too aggressively and hiding behind radical candor. Recognizing that extraordinary kindness is in fact the care portion of radical candor is key.
Top 3 remote culture and collaboration learnings
In the most classic of summary fashions, we asked Nicole if she would share with us her top three learnings for making remote work work.
The ability to know how the business is performing. What is on the mind of our leadership team? What are the struggles they are dealing with? What are the teams that we are building and where are they in the process? Some teams are further along in terms of maturity and development than others and we need to be aware of that.
Transparency ties directly into communication because you can be transparent, but if you don’t communicate it in the right way you are not going to create psychological safety. Instead, you might just scare people. I’ll use COVID as an example. We had very ambitious hiring targets for 2020 and then all of a sudden things turn into: “Hey, we don’t really know what’s going to happen. We just need to slow down hiring for the moment”. Subsequently, people tend to think the worst, right? Layoffs. What does this mean for me? I can’t afford to feed my family if I get laid off. So, to have our CEO say: “I just want to make it very clear. We are not even close to thinking about doing layoffs. In fact, I would take a dollar a year salary before we even got to that point’ was very important.
The third thing is ensuring that your people have the resources they need to do their work. Acknowledging that tools like a good laptop and internet connection are huge components to doing your job well.
To support the remote-first culture, Webflow has intentionally designed some of their perks and benefits to specifically address the needs of a good remote setup. Amongst other things, they offer $380 USD per month for productivity (e.g. office setup, internet, coffee, commuting etc), $200 USD for mental and psychical wellness, annual company ‘working vacation’ and 10% time to work on passion projects that will make you better at your profession.
One thing we’d like to add on to Nicole’s three learnings is the 50% idea. The 50% idea is a simple but crucial aspect of building a responsible and inclusive remote team culture. You should strive for setting expectations and agreements for when you meet at the office and when you work remotely. If, let’s say 60% of the team is at the office every day and the 40% are there only twice a week, it can subconsciously lead to exclusion of the people from the team who are at the office only twice a week because they will not take part in the informal chats and conversations that naturally take place at the office.
If you’re curious to read more about remote culture, click here to read our piece on building remote team culture. Otherwise, thank you for reading recommend’it and as always, we appreciate your thoughts and feedback!
If you have specific things you need help with or simple just want to know more about remote culture and collaboration, do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org