Managing across cultures: Paris <> SF

Alison Eastaway
Mar 5 · 5 min read

How we organise for success across 9000km and 9-hours of time difference

Sqreen is an international company with offices in Paris and San Francisco. Being internationally minded is a key strength of ours but it certainly comes with a few challenges!

How can you organise your team for success when there’s 9 hours of time difference and 9000 kilometres between you? Well, here’s how we did it.

Culture is key

Culture is central to any organisation and Sqreen is no exception. When we talk about culture we mean lots of different things. It’s about our mindset, our norms and habits and how we make decisions. Culture is also about what gets noticed and what gets rewarded.

Sqreen was born in France, but from the start, we’ve aimed to build a culture that reflects the diverse backgrounds and experience of all our Sqreeners. Participating in the YCombinator program in San Francisco and having excellent Paris and Berlin-based investors early on enriched our culture enormously.

Our mindset at Sqreen is that we can always learn from others — and our culture rewards the seeking out of knowledge, mentors and the sharing of these learnings back to the team.

Language matters

Since virtually the beginning of Sqreen we’ve spoken English in the office. Even in 2019 it’s still quite rare to find Paris-based companies working entirely in English. We find this is key to attracting the best talent and it helps that we’re also not all French — our team comes from all over the world.

That said, our love of food (eating it, talking about it, talking about it while eating it) is pretty French!

Sync regularly

Culture can also differ between departments, and at Sqreen with our product engineering teams based in Paris and our sales and marketing in San Francisco we wanted to be super careful not to create silos.

Sales and marketing that is disconnected from the product is just as dangerous as product engineering being far from customers and prospects.

We keep everyone connected in several ways:

  • Our all hands meeting on Fridays to keep updated on the customer pipeline and product developments and to share our wins for that week
  • A weekly update email from SF to Paris and vice-versa to share what we’ve been up to that week from a work and social point of view
  • Video calls — every meeting room at Sqreen has Zoom capabilities and our kitchens have a live feed into the other Sqreenhouse during common hours

In addition to this, regular travel and a smart communication approach help us to close the gap. More on these below:

Flying employees back and forth is expensive, how do you justify it?

We encourage all of our Sqreeners to travel to Paris and SF often, but we ensure we make this happen at least once a year.

Everyone at Sqreen travels, to meet other Sqreeners, to attend conferences, to meet with peers and mentors and to spend time with our customers.

Travelling comes with a not-insignificant cost, and so as with all things at Sqreen, we developed a philosophy for it. Our travel philosophy (known internally as ‘Sqreen-safari’) is:

Travel wisely and with purpose.

This means that we carefully prepare our trips to San Francisco and to Paris to ensure we get the most out of our travel, and don’t simply do the same work as every other day but in a different location and timezone.

We try to plan trips several months in advance and a few weeks before, Sqreeners develop a plan of attack. This might look something like this:

  • Scheduling coffees with any Sqreeners they haven’t met in person yet
  • Syncing up with product and sales to see which customers they can meet
  • Checking with our wonderful operations team about any team events happening while they’re in town
  • Joining the local Slack channel #sqreenhouse-paris or #sqreenhouse-sf and checking if there are any events on while in town (Some of our favourites include: Paris API, Product Stories, Paris.js, Bay Area OWASP, HeavyBit Events etc.)
  • Making a list of peers / mentors they’d like to meet while in town, then asking the team if they can help with introductions — or reaching out directly on LinkedIn — it works!
  • Sharing on social networks that they’ll be visiting

Leveraging the meetings and learnings

All Sqreeners benefit from each other’s travel, which is why a key part of our philosophy includes sharing a detailed recap about the trip the week after their return.

Sqreeners tell us who they met, what they learnt and what inspired them. Often these meetings spark many more interesting conversations. Sometimes they even lead to hires, introductions, new clients or mentor relationships.

Everybody wins.

Communication approach

One key thing to keep in mind with a distributed team is how much communication matters. With 9 hours of time difference, our energy and moods will be different (morning in SF = end of day in Paris) and keeping this in mind all the time will likely avoid frustration and misunderstandings.

We think it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate, and if we don’t communicate proactively, we may lose days and create frustration.

We also have a philosophy on that called ‘Sqreen-comms’ and it’s pretty simple:

Protect each other’s focus, but when in doubt, ask.

This involves using Slack, email and Zoom intelligently, always coming prepared to meetings and being particularly efficient in the few business hours we have in common.

The key to success

Like most things, there is no silver bullet, but the key to success lies in intentional communication, regular and meaningful face-time and a deep conviction that the benefits of an international distributed team far outweigh the challenges.

We’re convinced!

But don’t take my word for it, here’s our CEO Pierre Betouin’s take on building a successful distributed team.


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Alison Eastaway

Written by

Head of People @ Sqreen

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