Below is an article originally written by Arielle Tannenbaum, Community Strategist at PowerToFly Partner Buffer, and published on November 26, 2018. Go to Buffer's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
When you experiment with work culture as much as we do at Buffer, you tend to receive a lot of questions about it.
What is it like to work remotely? How do you collaborate across time zones? Do people really feel okay making their salaries public? Can you become friends with teammates when you're not in an office? Do you miss working in an office? Do you basically live in pajamas? (Quick answer to that one: not usually, though I definitely have spent a work day or two in pajamas!)
These questions are barely scratching the surface of everything we're asked.
Like many of my teammates, I'm more than happy to answer these questions when they come up in our Slack community, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and beyond, because it's a wonderful way to connect with our community and kick off some really interesting discussions about the future of work.
We love that people are curious about our work culture — being curious is how all of our culture experiments started in the first place, and asking these questions is a fantastic way to think through your own work cultures and discover new ways of working. Change happens when we start asking questions about why we do the things we do!
So, we thought it might be fun to compile the most popular questions we receive, and do some rapid-fire answering! And as always, we're happy for the conversations to evolve past this blog post.
Let's dig in!
On being a fully remote team:
Why don't you have a company headquarters?
The short answer: We believe remote work is the future of work!
We believe in living and working where you are the happiest in the world, and we want to support that for all of our teammates. At Buffer, every teammate can choose where they live and work (whether they want to work from home, from coffee shops, from coworking spaces, or even an RV), and they don't need to worry about being left out of an office culture. We gave up our office in 2015 and haven't looked back.
Do you miss working in an office?
While I love my teammates and would be delighted to see them more often, the flexibility that remote work affords me is unbeatable. For me personally, I love working from a variety of environments with different vibes, sounds, sites and people. You might find me in a Mediterranean café sipping mint tea, coworking with fellow remote work friends, or typing away on my front porch on a spring day. For some of my teammates, they are incredibly grateful to spend their work days at home, taking periodic breaks to play games with their kids.
Also, without being in an office with all of the distractions that come with it, we've found that we can really get into deep work and be much more productive!
How do you disconnect from work each night?
We all do this a little differently. I'll usually make evening plans to take a yoga class, cook dinner with my partner or friends, or attend an event so that there's a clear time that my laptop needs to shut. I also have a built-in alarm clock — taking my dog for an evening walk usually serves as a nice, clear marker for the end of my work day!
If you're looking for more advice about disconnecting from devices, we compiled great advice from the entire Buffer team in this blog post.
What tools do you use to stay connected as a team?
Many! Here are the main ones:
- Paper by Dropbox
Are your teams organized by timezones?
At the moment, our teams are quite timezone agnostic. For instance, our Marketing team spans across seven timezones! Our Product, Engineering, and Customer Advocacy teams are organized by product area within Buffer, though at one point the Customer Advocacy team was indeed organized by timezone. Sometimes we hire Customer Advocates in particular timezones around the world to make sure we're providing around-the-clock support to our wonderful customers.
How do you handle non-U.S. based employees?
All of our teammates based in the U.S. are set up as full-time employees of Buffer, and our teammates based outside of the U.S. are set up as independent contractors, or something similar depending on their country. Beyond that initial designation, we strive to make everyone's experience at Buffer feel aligned, no matter where they are in the world. For instance, while all U.S. teammates are covered under a group health insurance plan, Buffer also covers similar health insurance costs for teammates in other countries. We'll also pay accounting fees for non-U.S. teammates, as each country has a different tax set up. (This blog post goes into a ton of detail about all of our benefits at Buffer.)
Interested to learn more about how Buffer works? We share our latest workplace experiments and learnings in new blog posts every week. We'd love to have you join our email list!
On team dynamics within a remote team:
Is it possible to really get to know your team when you're all remote?
Yes! I know more about and feel more connected to the 80+ people at Buffer than a 40-person team I was on early in my career or even the 4-person team I was on at one point. Our team culture is intentionally built around helping us make meaningful connections with one another, so we do a lot of different things to focus on remote team building.
One of my favorite activities is hopping on a "pair call" with a different Buffer teammate every week to learn more about each other. Our annual in-person team retreats and mini-retreats are also instrumental for strengthening our team bonds.
Is it difficult to collaborate with your team when you're all remote?
Remote collaboration looks different than in-person collaboration, but it's not necessarily more difficult. It just takes intention. We lean into asynchronous collaboration, and this allows everyone on a team to contribute their perspective and ideas no matter the timezone. We rely on Paper by Dropbox to think through a lot of projects collaboratively!
Do you have to be online at odd hours?
Well, it depends what you mean by "odd." We like to try to challenge the status quo of the traditional 9-5 work day! We have the ability to choose our work hours, so some teammates do choose to structure their day in unique ways. For instance, some start their work super early in the morning so that they can take a break when their kids wake up, help them get ready for school, and then get back to work mid-morning. A few years ago, one teammate in Canada experimented with starting work at 5 am to have a lot of active collaboration time with his team in Europe. Once in a while, I'll hop on a call at 8 pm so I can sync up with a teammate in Singapore. A few months ago, some of our engineers stayed up late to do some core backend work while most of our customers were asleep. Otherwise, we try to communicate asynchronously as much as possible so that everyone can be included without needing to be online at the same time.
How often do you have meetings with your manager, your team, and the whole company?
Most folks have a weekly hour-long 1:1 with their manager, and we have an "All Hands" with the entire company every two months. The frequency of individual team/area meetings varies across the company, however. The Marketing team meets all together twice a month, while the Customer Advocacy team meets weekly. It's also quite common for small groups of teammates within larger teams to meet up more regularly to collaborate on projects.
How do you accommodate people's tech needs?
All teammates can get a new laptop by their first day at Buffer, as well as a monitor if they need one for their specific work. (We replace laptops as needed every three years.) From there, we have two different benefits to support people's tech needs: our yearly $200 Individual Equipment Allowance (covering things like laptop stands, headphones, keyboards, mouses/trackpads, etc) and our one-time $500 Home Office Set-Up Stipend (covering things like a desk, office chair, or monitor).
How do you know if people are unhappy about something work related if you can't see them in an office?
Great, important question! Teammate happiness is immeasurably important to us, and so we aim to provide as many pathways and opportunities for teammates to be able to share anything that is going on for them at work. This is the intention for the weekly 1:1 everyone has with their manager. Our People team uses CultureAmp (we've also used OfficeVibe) to send a weekly survey to everyone on the team to touch base about their experiences and feelings at work, where we're asked about happiness, job satisfaction, personal growth, and more. We also have a form that people can anonymously fill out anytime to share thoughts with our leadership team.
How do managers at Buffer manage their teams remotely?
Likely how managers manage their teams in-person! They build trust, empower, do a lot of listening, help teammates navigate transitions, and everything else a great manager should do. The weekly 1:1s between every teammate and their manager are intended to be a constant touchpoint for managers to understand what teammates are going through at work and support them in bringing their whole selves to work. On a more logistical note, one of our engineering managers, Katie, wrote about how she listens to different playlists to help her context switch between being "on" as a manager and doing other work at Buffer, which is fascinating!
Do you get lonely?
Honestly? Sometimes. Though there are many ways to combat remote work loneliness — in fact, I wrote a whole blog post about it! There are so many ways to not only feel connected to our Buffer teammates but also to feel connected to our local communities — going to coworking spaces, scheduling coffees and dinners with friends, volunteering with others, etc. As a remote worker, you end up learning a lot about yourself and your energetic needs. I've learned time and time again that I'm an extrovert and that I need to get out of my house throughout the week to be around people.
On our work culture:
How often do the Buffer values actually come up in conversation?
Would you believe me if I said every day? Honestly, it's true! The Buffer values are the core of our work culture, and they dictate every decision we make. (They are: Default to Transparency, Cultivate Positivity, Show Gratitude, Practice Reflection, Improve Consistently, and Act Beyond Ourselves.) We truly practice these values constantly, and, as such, they've become integrated into our day-to-day vocabulary. It's quite common to hear someone talking about how they want to make a project more transparent to the rest of the team, how a certain marketing campaign can help us act beyond ourselves, and how some intentional reflection time helped uncover some new insights about a challenge (and many other moments!). Our gratitude-themed channel in Slack gets a new post almost every day!
Is the culture really as positive as it sounds?
One of my favorite things about the Buffer team is that everyone joins the team with a foundation of positivity. We all "opted in" to bringing this positive mindset to our interactions every day, and to see the best in each other. So yes, we are a positive bunch! Instead of defaulting to complaining about the weather, we often start our conversations sharing good news or gratitude about something. I love this so much about our team culture. That being said, we also actively work to make sure that our value of positivity isn't resulting in artificial harmony, where a team sacrifices healthy conflict to maintain a misleading air of positivity.
How do you maintain a unified culture when you're all remote?
The Buffer values absolutely help with this! Also, learning about our work culture is a huge part of onboarding for new teammates. For us, it's not enough for a new hire to simply learn the job and do the work. Acclimating them and helping them find ways to uniquely contribute to our culture is incredibly important.
How do you handle performance reviews?
For us, performance reviews are a chance to give teammates an intentional opportunity to reflect on their own progress, strengths, and areas to improve, and receive tangible feedforward from the people they work the most closely with. We use a tool called CultureAmp Effectiveness to help us conduct these 360° reviews, which we did twice in 2018, in February and September. They're not used for deciding promotions, however. We have a separate system for that! (see section below)
How do you help your teammates maintain good work habits and productivity?
We swap tips and talk about it all the time! We're constantly experimenting with different ways of working and being productive and we love sharing our learnings with one another. We once had an hour-long impromptu video chat all about healthy work habits!
On transparent salaries:
Why did you decide to share everyone's salaries?
We've written about salary transparency a lot, from examining the transparent pay revolution to exploring how to even talk about pay. If I could sum up why transparency is important to us in one quote, this quote from our CEO Joel would be it:
One key reason transparency is a such a powerful value for a company's culture is trust: Transparency breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of great teamwork.
What's it like to work somewhere where your salary is transparent?
I don't think about it too often! When I do, I appreciate that so much thought and care goes into developing a fair, accurate, and generous salary formula for everyone on the team. I like that having transparent salaries sparks thoughtful conversations about taboo topics in the business world — including the significant gender wage gap. I'm proud that we want to offer this data and create a culture where people feel empowered to share information and ask questions. For another data point, my teammate Hailley has found that folks at Buffer are more open to having financial conversations, where things like swapping budget planning templates and sharing advice around tax filing are quite common!
How does the salary formula work?
Our People/Finance team is constantly evolving our salary formula to make sure it's keeping up with the ever-changing job market and inflation, to ensure our data sources are accurate, and to improve how we think about career progression within Buffer. So much about our formula has shifted even since we last wrote about it in December 2017! Our Finance team recently did a "rebenchmarking" of our salaries, which involved switching to a new data source for identifying salary averages in various cities for various roles, called Radford. In a nutshell, our salaries start with identifying a particular job code from Radford and then selecting the specific salary for that teammate's level and step based on our career framework (see section below). From there, we apply the Cost of Living Multiplier.
How do you calculate someone's salary who regularly moves to different areas?
We use a Cost of Living Multiplier. The multiplier is one of three geographic bands, based on a high, average, or low cost of living area. We start by benchmarking all salaries to the San Francisco 50th percentile market. Then, we use data from Numbeo to figure out which geographic band applies for each teammate. For high cost of living areas we pay 100% of the San Francisco 50th percentile, average is 85%, and low is 75%. We figure out each teammate's geographic band by comparing the cost of living index of a teammate's location to the cost of living index in San Francisco. So, if a teammate moves to a different area, we'll calculate their updated salary for their next paycheck.
If there's a formula for salaries, how do people get raises?
We have career frameworks for each role at Buffer. Each framework comes with levels (large and distinct jumps in terms of area knowledge, role complexity and overall scope) and steps within each level (smaller milestones of growth in terms of ownership and initiative). A step change can happen at any time, determined by a conversation between the teammate and their team lead. A level change can happen during one of four "calibration" periods throughout the year. There are six levels for individual contributors, and four levels for people leads (managers), and four steps within each level.
Other than salaries, what else do you share transparently?
Check out our transparency dashboard! If something isn't on there that you're curious about, chances are that we've written about it in this blog post or on our Open blog, or feel free to write a comment for this post to ask your question.
Can I see what I would make at Buffer?
You sure can! Feel free to check out our salary calculator!
How do you hire?
We aim to always be evolving our hiring, making sure we're diversifying our talent pool, removing as many biases as possible, and giving candidates a better, more transparent experience throughout the interview process (for instance, we now outline the entire interview timeline in our job listings). We've laid out our hiring process in this post, from the first step of thinking through the objectives of the role to making that final decision to bring someone on board to the team.
Can someone's location hurt their chances at getting hired at Buffer?
Not usually! We aim to stick by our value of supporting our teammates in living wherever they are the happiest in the world. For some specific roles — especially for our Customer Advocates who provide wonderful support to all of our customers — we might look for a candidate to support customers in a particular timezone. However, this would always be disclosed in the job description.
Do you proactively hire people who live the Buffer values or teach them when people are hired?
Our values are foundational to our work culture so, when hiring, we do look for candidates whose values align with Buffer's. In fact, the first interview in our hiring process is always fully focused on our values! This is instrumental in helping our entire team be united in our core beliefs. A key element of onboarding at Buffer is about helping new teammates develop a deeper understanding of our values and healthy work habits that reflect our values (i.e. practicing reflection and cultivating positivity). That being said, we also value individual "cultural contributions" — the unique perspectives and backgrounds that new teammates bring to our team!
When hiring, how do you identify who will be good at working remotely?
When we craft interview questions, we think about what having a knack for remote work might look like. One question that we try to explore during interviews is: do they have a track record of having shown drive in their professional or personal projects? This tends to translate well to the self-motivated nature of remote work. We've also found it to be helpful if someone has given some thought to what it would be like to work remotely for them, even if they haven't actually done it before.
What is your turnover rate?
As of August 2018, our turnover rate was 5.8%, meaning our retention rate is 94%! We conducted some research about teammate tenure at Buffer in 2017, if you're interested in taking a look.
Are you hiring?
By the time you read this post, we might be! Feel free to check out our Journey page to explore our open roles and learn more about our work culture. You can also join this mailing list to find out when we post new jobs!