Working Remotely at Strava — Time-shifted
with contributions from Todd Santaniello
Over the past several years Strava has embraced remote software engineering. Engineers move away from our San Francisco headquarters for various reasons, such as family needs or cost of living concerns. In a few cases engineers have been hired to work remotely out of the gate.
Currently 16% of Strava’s engineering team is remote, based in home offices around the world. In the US, we are spread across the Pacific, Central and Eastern time zones. There is also one engineer based in Ontario, Canada, and one in the Czech Republic.
Benefits of Working Remotely
Engineers with experience working remotely will understand that there are advantages and disadvantages to working from a home office. The following list highlights some of the most popular advantages realized by the team at Strava:
- Exceedingly short commute (usually measured in footsteps)
- Freedom from office distractions (great for finding focused time in the zone)
- Flexibility: you can also mix up your working location if you’re feeling house-bound and work from a coffee shop or an office that provides shared space.
- Cost savings: the costs incurred supporting a desk space in San Francisco are often far greater than a home office setup.
- Expanded talent pool: by supporting a remote workforce, we can retain existing talent and even attract new talent when circumstances preclude living near Headquarters
Disadvantages of Working Remotely, and How We Address Them
Despite the many benefits of working remotely, there are several disadvantages encountered by the team at Strava that we manage and mitigate.
General Isolation: The Strava office abounds with camaraderie, face-to-face collaboration, group exercising, communal eating and healthy doses of general banter. Early on, it was easy for remote engineers to feel excluded and isolated. To address this, we increased our usage of communication tools such as Zoom and Slack which make remote communication a breeze, to the point where it almost feels like you’re working in the same office. In addition, remote engineers now travel to Strava headquarters periodically for quality time with co-workers, team building events, quarterly planning and training. Finally, most large, in-office events and celebrations support a video stream with high quality cameras and microphones.
Communication in Meetings: Participating effectively in meetings requires a good set of protocols and expectations, both from the remote engineer and those present in the meeting room. For remote engineers, we’ve learned that interrupting to make your voice heard is sometimes required during round-table discussions. At the same time, those present at meetings in the office have learned to periodically ask remote attendees if they have anything to add or watch for the remote person un-muting their mic. Either of those are usually a cue they have something to contribute.
Working Outside of the Pacific Timezone
Working in a timezone that’s offset from headquarters presents another set of challenges. Staying in the loop with email, Slack discussions, and other communications can be difficult, so it’s important to scan your inbox and important Slack channels in the morning for gems you may have missed. Making good use of Slack channels to document important decisions and having co-workers looking out for you with mentions is also helpful. Some teams at Strava maintain a #decisions Slack channel dedicated to documenting important decisions to keep everyone, and particularly remote engineers in the loop.
Despite some small drawbacks, working in a different time zone has a lot of advantages. For those working east of San Francisco, every morning has a dedicated block of meeting-free time for feature work and it’s also a great time to review PR’s that were opened the previous day by the Pacific timezone crew.
On a personal level, having a flexible schedule until noon allows you to tend to family responsibilities such as school drop-off, running errands, and taking care of what’s known at Strava as the preferred_activity_type — running, cycling, swimming, or whatever you do to put the “strive” in Strava. Starting later means working later into the evening, but with San Francisco still in high gear, this can be a bonus.
In a by-gone era, software companies were reluctant to allow employees to work remotely on a permanent basis. However, given the intense competition for talented engineers, especially in the Bay area, the reality of remote employees is here to stay. Having remote engineers in offset time zones presents its own set of challenges but with good systems in places to optimize communication, these challenges can be effectively overcome.