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HOW IT'S DONE

The highly adaptable habits of the best companies for remote workers

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Photo: Shutterstock/Fizkes
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Published

As many companies that had to shift their operations online during the pandemic have learned, it takes more than virtual meetings, Slack channels, and regular quarantinis to make it all work.

It comes as no surprise then that the top-ranked companies in Quartz’s 2021 ranking of the best companies for remote workers had embraced the work-from-anywhere ethos before the pandemic. Flatfile, Loom, and Workato—respectively the No. 1 companies on our lists of top small, mediums, and large employers—used the lockdown year to finesse their policies and deepen their understanding of how to foster a high-functioning workplace online. For these three companies, going remote wasn’t just a contingency plan or a nice-to-have accommodation for employees—it’s been core to their success.

Flatfile, Loom, and Workato share common traits: They’re US-based tech startups that are in the midst of rapid expansions. All three companies cite their ability to hire and support talent virtually anywhere in the world as a competitive advantage. Two of the three also have used their own products to make remote work easier and engaging for their virtual workforces.

But for all the benefits of telework, each company also recognizes the value of in-person gatherings. Their remote work policies fund activities for staff members to periodically break away from the Zoom grid and meet face-to-face. As Joe Thomas, Loom’s CEO, puts it: “There’s just something deeply biological and human about getting together in person at some sort of cadence.”

Flatfile: Why a $10,000 designer home office benefit makes sense

🚀 Founded: 2018

👥 Number of employees: 50 going on 80

📍Headquarters: Fully distributed, 30% of workforce in Denver, Colorado

🧭 Key strategies: Hire for fit; invest in retention

“We were remote before it was cool,” says David Boskovic, CEO of the software company Flatfile. Boskovic and co-founder Eric Crane conceived of a fully distributed structure from the start, and sought to build the company with experienced staffers who shared their ethos.

“We realized that not everybody wants to be a remote employee,” explains Boskovic, who is based in Denver. “One of the first things we did was make sure is that people who are joining the team really enjoy a remote world.”

Flatfile’s founders made a decision to employ primarily senior staffers who need less supervision. Says Boskovic, “We only hire people who are on the top third quartile of their talent bracket. This allows us to have people who can get going with very little oversight and generally drive their own growth in the company. “

It’s not just a matter of hiring top talent, but also supporting them. Among the benefits at Flatfile, every employee gets a $10,000 allowance to design an ideal home office. “We want to invest in providing an effective work environment for our employees. We know that if they’re distracted, they won’t be as as productive and have a lot more stress that affects your ability to work,” he says.

For Flatfile, the investment makes plain business sense. “Companies oftentimes pay upwards of $20,000 to acquire a new employee, and the replacement cost of employees is significantly north of that,” Boskovic explains, factoring in recruitment and training expenses. “It’s something that we can absolutely justify going forward.”

Loom: The social dimension of remote work

🚀 Founded: 2016

👥 Number of employees: 160, 65% US-based

📍Headquarters: San Francisco, California

🧭 Key strategies: Remote-first policy; eliminate geographic differential pay scales; impromptu video check-ins

Soon after its launch, video-messaging software maker Loom discovered that its asynchronous communication technology was popular with distributed teams—which is exactly the type of clientele that founders Joe Thomas, Shahed Khan, and Vinay Hiremath designed their company to cater to.

“We’ve been a remote-first company from the beginning,” says Thomas, Loom’s CEO. “It’s been so important to who we are as a company that we made ‘remote first’ one of our five cultural values.” The company embraced flexible work hours, provided stipends for co-working spaces, and even had a self-imposed “remote week” where previously office-bound employees periodically worked away from their San Francisco headquarters.

Loom also eliminated geographic pay differentials, the practice of bumping up the salaries of staffers who lived in expensive cities like New York City or San Francisco, or reducing salaries in places with a lower cost of living. “We believe that equal work should get equal pay,” says Thomas. He says the goal is to make every employee feel like a “first-class citizen” entitled to the same benefits, opportunities, and parity in meetings, no matter their geography.

The social component of work remains top of mind for Thomas, who reported to Loom’s San Francisco office every day prior to the pandemic, with his dog in tow. The company is currently building a new headquarters in San Francisco and creating regional hubs for employees across the US, and renting a Lake Tahoe retreat for team meetings.

But in remote settings, Thomas says the company’s own product helped form bonds among team members (known as “Loomates”) scattered around the world. “We were able to be remote first in our communication and collaboration practices very early on because we are using asynchronous video at scale,” he says.

Thomas confesses that he found working from home challenging at first. But to him, the pandemic has only fortified the wisdom of Loom’s founding strategy. “It boils down to two things,” he says. “It makes individual employees happier and it makes organizations more resilient.”

Workato: Making remote work seamless

🚀 Founded: 2013

👥 Number of employees: 480, workforce nearly doubled over the past last year

📍Headquarters: Mountain View, California

🧭 Key strategies: Automate tedious business procedures, invest in a smart office-booking systems

It takes about 30 seconds to submit an expense report at Workato, while reserving a desk at the company’s headquarters can be done through Amazon’s Alexa. The workflow automation technology maker has eliminated many of the usual friction points of remote work life, in effect giving its employees a live demonstration of their product’s automation prowess.

As a global enterprise, Workato—a contraction of “work automation”—had a head start in navigating the challenges of distributed teams. During the pandemic, it upped the effort, reimbursing staffers up to $850 for their home office setup, and not making them jump through hoops to file receipts (the process is instantaneous over Slack). The entire company also takes an extra day off each month in addition to scheduled holidays.

“We want happy employees. I think it pays back,” says Carter Busse, the company’s new chief information officer, who had never worked at home prior to the pandemic. He says that Workato’s telework philosophy and array of Slack bots have made the transition easy. “It’s very refreshing to come to a place that’s transparent with its employees. We are flexible and open,” he says.

Meanwhile, Workato has parlayed what it learned about operating a high-functioning distributed company into a new automation platform for companies preparing to reopen offices. Automation Accelerator, as it’s called, is meant to simplify tasks like vaccination validation, contact tracing, capacity management, desk spacing, and desk reservations.

Like Loom’s Thomas, Busse is a believer in striking a balance between remote work and in-person gatherings. “We have to build those relationships,” he says. “I don’t think there’s any technology in the world that can replace bringing people together physically.”

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