Experimentation and iteration lie at the heart of a lot of things we do at Buffer. If you've been following the Open Blog for some time, or even if you've just popped by (hey there!), you might notice that we reflect on remote work– a lot.
Our remote setup enables our distributed team to work wherever they're happiest and that freedom is a much-valued perk that Buffer teammates enjoy. Our employees feel trusted to be in control of their job, and for us, we enjoy less overhead and the benefit of hiring without the confines of geography.
We're always looking for new ways to improve the remote work experience for our distributed team and remote team meetups, which we call On-Sites, are proving to be invaluable supplements to our remote setup. It probably sounds a tad ironic at this point – to rely on On-Sites when we believe so strongly in remote work – but hear me out.
Why host remote team meetups if you're fully remote?
While we wouldn't trade the value of being a distributed team, it's hard to deny the value of face time for team morale and serendipitous connections. Nine annual retreats (and the thousands of hugs exchanged) have shown us exactly how precious our time spent together is, and prompted the idea for smaller remote team meetups.
While the People team continually experiments with ways to cultivate that sense of serendipity across timezones, there's no replacing the warmth of a real hug or the joy you get from watching a smile spread across someone's face and light up their eyes without the filter of a camera lens. Real human interaction with those that we spend our days collaborating and creating with is key to our remote team meetups.
As the team grows in size, annual retreats are increasingly focused on team culture and company-level strategy; in fact, one of our key retreat objectives is to maximize team bonding opportunities throughout retreat week. This leaves little time for heads-down collaboration within the team.
Furthermore, although our remote team is fully-equipped to work together across time and space throughout the year on both day-to-day tasks and high-level strategic planning, the sense of isolation that comes from waiting a whole year to meet your team face-to-face can make things more challenging than they have to be.
It's not that we can't have these high-level, strategic discussions remotely. Rather, it's the invigorating effect that the dedicated team meetups have that excites us and inspires us to carve out a space for the same collaboration in our day-to-day.
To gain that interpersonal connection that drives our every day work, On-Sites are our solution.
Our customer advocacy team at an on-site in Miami (2018).
What are On-Sites?
We introduced these in-person, work-focused team meetups in 2017 to supplement the annual retreat and haven't looked back. With the annual retreat happening in Q2 and On-Sites mostly planned for Q3 or Q4, we've found that there's enough face time to maintain that sense of connection between coworkers over the year.
On-sites carve out the space to be intentional about high-level matters each team/area wants to tackle. It's often easy to get carried away with the day-to-day – there's always one more email to reply to, one more expense report to clear, one more pull request to review; On-Sites give us that blocked off time to be fully present to each other. They give us the opportunity to work on foundational things that align us as a team and things that help make the day-to-day a touch smoother and more cogent.
How we design On-Sites
In my previous professional life as a teacher, I often designed lessons with the end in mind. What is the outcome I'd like to achieve here? This approach informs much of how we design On-Sites at Buffer. We begin with the intended outcomes of the remote team meetups and figure out the rest from there.
Outcomes such as who's attending and what the purpose of the On-Site is help crystallize further details such as where the On-Site is held and how long it will be. While we did not prescribe a fixed number of days for the On-Sites this year, many teams decided on 3 full work days bookended by 2 travel days. High-level vision and strategy discussions can be energizing and draining all at once and it feels like 3 days was just right for most teams to power through all the topics while managing their energies and getting some team bonding time in. This duration also preserves weekends for family time before and after this week-long business trip!
Once we had the broad details locked down, the rest of the details fell into place. We reviewed our learnings from mini-retreats in 2017 and introduced a few new guidelines to make planning a little smoother all around:
- For meal expenses, we defaulted to putting large charges on company credit cards and working out a per diem for each On-Site. The amount varied depending on which city the team was headed to as well as further details like whether breakfast was included in our lodging arrangements.
- Given the intensity of a 3-day 'hackweek' of sorts, we also strongly encouraged teams to search for lodging options that afforded everyone their own personal space at the end of the day. Although recommending a private bedroom and bathroom for each person limited options a fair bit, this guideline has generally been well-received! Breathing room at the end of a wild workday is always welcome.
- All remote team meetups had a main planner who collaborated with a People team member (that's me!) to make the event happen. The On-Site owner and I either co-planned the meetup or they planned the entire event on their own while I remained available to consult about key decisions along the way.
- We kept these remote team meetup discussions separate from the day-to-day by creating temporary Slack channels for each event. This made sure that On-Site specific decisions were attended to in their own space without disrupting the day-to-day discussion in teams (and vice versa!).
As with annual retreats, we made in-person attendance optional this year. Teammates may find travel challenging for a variety of reasons and some of these challenges could be overcome by taking the On-Site directly to those teammates (e.g. the Mobile team headed to Missouri to be closer to Jordan who had just come back from family leave, and the People/Finance team met in Portland where Nicole lives). When that was not an option, we experimented with variations of virtual and in-person meetings.
Here's what our On-Sites looked like in 2018
This year we tried every possible permutation of team meetups:
- 100% in-person (e.g. Data, People/Finance, Mobile, Analyze, Publish)
- Partially virtual, partially in-person (e.g. Advocacy, Marketing, Product, Core)
- 100% virtual (e.g. Executives)
Each of these had its merits and challenges, and we're learning as we go along. Here are some quick reflections on how each of these types of remote team meetups went:
Although these were tricky with some teammates flying a full day to be present at the On-Sites, meetups with full in-person attendance had arguably the smoothest experience once everyone had arrived and settled in. Groups either worked from a coworking space near the hotel, or in the case of the People/Finance team, worked out of the living room of a serviced apartment. Having everyone located in the same physical space made it easy to adapt the agenda as the days shaped up. Starting and ending the work day together also helped everyone feel fully involved in major decisions that were made or touched on.
On the other hand, expecting teammates to take a full week out of their lives to travel to (sometimes) faraway destinations for a 3-day meeting can be a tall order. It was especially challenging for folks who had to skip several timezones in order to do that – long-distance travel can be physically demanding and some teammates only fully acclimatized to the timezone changes towards the end of the week.
This also may not be the most inclusive option for teammates' who face more challenges around business travel or travel in general. This is something we are continually reflecting on.
Fully virtual On-Sites, like the Executives' hyper-focused 2-day series of Zoom calls, also went rather well with everyone located in the same virtual space. Much like the first option, having a clear start and end to the work discussions was helpful, and having everyone located in the same space, albeit virtual, made it easier to adjust to updates to the agenda.
A key learning we had from the very first People/Finance On-Site back in 2017 was the importance of determining what a workday might look like for virtual meetups like this. When you have people calling in from different timezones, the reasonable overlap can be quite small, and the agenda needs to be adjusted accordingly. For instance, as an APAC team member, it was quite difficult for me to attend the first 2017 People/Finance On-Site virtually as we have a 13- to 15-hour timezone difference across our team. The solution then was to fly me to a closer timezone to make the remote team meetup possible and it worked really well!
One thing that we could do a better job in for fully virtual meetups, though, is being mindful of the need for breaks. When everyone is located in the same physical space, it's easy to spot signs of fatigue on a teammate's face and it's also relatively straightforward to slip out of a meeting for a quick break. When you have a webcam focused on your face all-day, though, it can feel a little more difficult to slip out for a quick breather.
Partially virtual, mostly in-person
We worked with the partial model in a bid to accommodate each teammate's needs around time away from home and it's really the only possible model for teams with folks who are quite unable to travel. Just as companies with a partially remote workforce face challenges that fully remote teams escape, we found that this model had greater demands than the first two and called for a more deliberate and mindful approach.
For starters, being mindful of designating work hours that take multiple timezones into consideration is especially key to be considerate for teammates calling in from different regions. Teams that went with this model also had to navigate the tricky experience of spontaneous after-hour conversations that happen when the team is kicking back and relaxing. These tend to happen serendipitously and can be super fun! However, virtual teammates miss out on this vital benefit of the meetup. Ensuring that the virtual attendees feel involved in the whole On-Site experience is important.
Looking back, it felt like we were most-equipped to collaborate at maximum efficiency when the On-Site was fully virtual over video calls or when everyone was physically present in the same space for that week. Managing a partial in-person team experience, on the other hand, is something that's still quite new to us and we see much room for improvement there. It would be fantastic to learn from other companies who have grappled with meetups of this nature too.
Buffer teammates working together in person (one of the few times each year we're together IRL)
In true Buffer fashion, it's time to iterate
Looking ahead to 2019, here are some nascent reflections the People team has about the future of On-Sites:
1. How we can be more strategic with On-Site planning?
This year, most of the planning was undertaken by teammates or area leads who had to make things happen in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities. That's a lot of heavy lifting! We also found that working independently to plan these On-Sites led to some missed opportunities to streamline travel for some folks. (Our CTO, Dan, attended a grand total of three On-Sites this year! Thanks for your dedication, Dan!)
Next year, we intend to shift most of the logistics and planning responsibilities to the People team so each area lead can focus on setting the agenda and high-level objectives together for their team's meetup. With a birds-eye view of all the On-Sites that need to happen in 2019, the People team is toying with different ideas such as:
- Having an 'On-Site month/season' where all the remote team meetups happen around the same time and the day-to-day isn't disrupted
- Conversely, spacing out the On-Sites to alleviate the travel demands on those teammates that need to travel to two or more remote team meetups seems like a viable option as well.
2. What are our expectations around travel to remote team meetups?
This reflection mostly centers around questions of whether attendance is truly optional for all folks on the team. Is it, say, really an option for a teammate in a faraway timezone to attend one virtually? And does the immense value of having team leads present in person make virtual attendance a non-option for them? How optional are we willing to make On-Sites next year? We're still ruminating on these questions and it's hard to say for sure what we'll decide!
3. How can we be more mindful of the experience for teammates who cannot physically be present at On-Sites?
Regardless of where we land on the previous question, it remains a reality in our diverse team that some teammates will not be able to attend On-Sites. I see it as one of our key responsibilities on the People team to never stop thinking of ways we can increase the quality of the experience for virtual attendees of On-Sites. Whether it's introducing guidelines around asynchronous communication during that week, or providing equipment to encourage a more consistent or robust experience for virtual participants. There's plenty more we can do!
With so much to chew on, we're incredibly excited to start crafting the On-Site experience for the Buffer team next year. As always, candid feedback from the team on what went well and what needs improvement has been immensely valuable and we're grateful to folks for taking the time to share their thoughts.
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!
Below is an article originally written by Joel Gascoigne, the founder and CEO at PowerToFly Partner Buffer, and published on September 16, 2018. Go to Buffer's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Buffer is a fully remote team.
It's a decision I made at the end of 2012, when Buffer was in its infancy, and it's interesting to reflect on that decision now. I am happy to report that I am in love with the choice we made to be distributed all across the world.
When I say that we're a remote, distributed team, I mean that we're literally spread across the whole world. Buffer is a team of 79 right now, and we have teammates on almost every continent and across timezones worldwide.
The sun never sets on Buffer!
The worldwide, remote Buffer team and the timezones we cover. (Visual courtesy of timezone.io.)
6 reasons why being a remote, distributed team is so exciting
I think the distributed team discussion is often focused around the challenges. I wanted to share from our experience the fun side of being distributed, which I think far outweighs the challenges:
1. Our team is super productive
The thing about hiring people for a distributed team is that they need to be self-motivated and productive working at home, coffee shops, or a co-working space.
During the hiring process, we look especially for people who have worked as freelancers or on startups. Everyone on board is incredibly smart, and it's humbling to work with them.
2. Team members have incredible amounts of freedom
Have a family event coming up and need to travel on Friday? No problem.
Want to take off to Bali or Gran Canaria for a few weeks and work from there? Awesome – please share photos :)
These things have all happened and are regular occurrences within our distributed team.
It's the little things too, like being able to avoid a commute and spend more time with family. We don't have working hours, and we don't measure hours at all. We're all excited about our vision, and we focus on results, balance, and sustained productivity.
3. It feels like the future
Even being able to share the locations of all my co-workers when I meet others and chat about Buffer is so fun and exciting. I think it provides a great story, rather than all of us being in the same office each day.
People ask how we manage it and I share our workflows and remote work tools. We call Slack our office, and Zoom is our conference room. Here's a look at some of the team in a recent Zoom call:
A team call on Zoom, the tool we use for video calls. You can check out our full list of remote work tools here.
I genuinely believe that how we're set up will be very normal in a few years. There are certainly challenges and we're still figuring a lot of it out. It's fun and a huge privilege to be able to be part of this innovation and experiment and share our learnings.
4. I'm learning so much about the world
People within the team speak lots of different languages, and talking with each other we learn about what it's like to grow up elsewhere in the world. We think carefully about shaping our culture further and how our choices might affect the various cultures within the team.
5. We travel the world to work together multiple times a year
Part of the DNA of Buffer is that we traveled all over the world for much of the first two years. This is something that has been sustained and is part of our values (and many in the team have lived up to this value by traveling as part of the team).
In order to have deliberate face-to-face time together to bond and have fun, we have regular teamwide Buffer retreats each year where we gather the full team, and we hold mini-retreats throughout the year for smaller teams and areas of the company.
A team work session from our 2017 retreat in Madrid, Spain.
On our all-company retreats, we spend a week working together and also do activities like sightseeing, boating and safaris. Most recently we gathered in Singapore!
6. Timezones make you awesome
Finally, you can look at timezones as an inconvenience, or you can embrace them and discover the magic of the time difference.
A key part of our vision is to set the bar for customer support. We obsessively track the happiness of our customers and our speed to respond to them. We have more than a million users and we reply to 80% of emails within 1 hour. We couldn't achieve this level of service without being spread across multiple timezones.
Timezones are a huge help for our development cycle too – with engineers in the US, UK, Asia and Africa, we literally never stop coding.
Beyond the positives of having a fully distributed team, you can also learn about our list of perks and team benefits that all employees receive at Buffer.
Below is an article originally written by Hailley Griffis at PowerToFly Partner Buffer, and published on March 28, 2018. Go to Buffer's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
We aspire to live by our values at Buffer.
We also strive daily to turn our values into behaviors that positively impact how we treat each other, how we interact with others, and how we see the world.
Even still, we feel that having values isn't enough.
Especially if we want to create the inclusive organization that we're striving to become.
While our values do influence our behaviors, we also felt compelled to create a code of conduct to serve as an official commitment to teammates and new or potential hires about the behaviors we expect (and the behaviors we discourage) at Buffer.
We're excited to share this document publicly for the first time! Read below to learn more about why a code of conduct was so important for us (especially for diversity and inclusion), and see our code of conduct in full. We hope this can be useful for you to read, take pieces of, or use as a reference, however you see fit!
Why A Code of Conduct Makes a Difference for Diversity and Inclusion
Ensuring that everyone at Buffer feels included is a big priority for us. That's why creating a framework for expected behaviors is something we feel is important for our continued work on inclusion.
There's a great quote from Andrea Barrica on Medium that sums up how a code of conduct affects diversity.
As Andrea's quote mentions, creating a code of conduct goes beyond hiring and into retention. According to Jeanine Prime, leader of the Catalyst Research Center for Advancing Leader Effectiveness, "creating a workplace where employees feel included is directly connected to worker retention and growth."
Further studies have shown that nearly one-third of workers report having felt bullied at work and roughly 20% ended up leaving their job because of it.
We love the team we've built at Buffer and would never want anyone to feel excluded or bullied, which is why we're placing so much importance on this code of conduct. This is a living document that we keep so that everyone on the team has access to it, and we're excited to be sharing it with the world today to spread the word about how much impact these codes have.
Buffer's Code of Conduct
Feel free to grab any part of this if you're looking for inspiration while creating your own code of conduct!
Buffer is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, age, disability (physical or mental), sexual orientation, gender identity, parental status, marital status, and political affiliation as well as gender expression, mental illness, socioeconomic status or background, neuro(a)typicality, or physical appearance. We're united by Buffer's values, and we celebrate our unique differences.
We put forth this code of conduct not because we anticipate bad behavior, but because we believe in the already exceptional level of respect among the team. We believe that articulating our values and accountabilities to one another reinforces that respect and provides us with clear avenues to correct our culture should it ever stray. We commit to enforce and evolve this code as our team grows.
Like our Buffer values, the contents of this code of conduct are concepts we expect teammates to work to apply to their daily lives in and outside of Buffer. Specifically, the code of conduct applies to teammate interactions in various areas of our shared professional lives, including all events hosted by Buffer, shared online spaces (Slack, Discourse, Trello, email, etc.) , social media, pull request feedback, and conferences or other events where we represent Buffer.
Every member of the Buffer team is expected to work smart, be considerate of their teammates across the team, and contribute to a collaborative, positive, and healthy environment in which we can all succeed. Specifically:
- Be supportive of your colleagues, both proactively and responsively. Offer to help if you see someone struggling or otherwise in need of assistance (taking care not to be patronizing or disrespectful). If someone approaches you looking for help, be generous with your time; if you're under a deadline, let them know when you will be able to help or direct them to someone else who may be of assistance.
- Be inclusive: Go out of your way and across cultures to include people in team jokes or memes; we want to build an environment free of cliques. Avoid slang or idioms that might not translate across cultures, or be deliberate in explaining them to share our diverse cultures and languages. Speak plainly and avoid acronyms and jargon that not everyone may have an understanding of. Be an ally to teammates when you see a need.
- Be collaborative. Involve your teammates in brainstorms, sketching sessions, code reviews, planning documents, and the like. It's part of our values to share early and ask for feedback often. Don't succumb to either impostor syndrome (believing that you don't deserve to be here) or the Dunning-Kruger Effect (believing you can do no wrong). Recognize that in addition to asking for feedback, you are similarly obligated to give it.
- Be generous in both giving and accepting feedback. Feedback is a natural and important part of our culture. Good feedback is kind, respectful, clear, and constructive, and focused on goals and values rather than personal preferences. You are expected to give and receive feedback with gratitude and a growth mindset.
- Be respectful toward all time zones. Embrace habits that are inclusive and productive for team members wherever they are: make liberal use of asynchronous communication tools, document syncs and decisions thoroughly, and pay attention to timezones when scheduling events.
- Be kind. Be polite and friendly in all forms of communication – especially remote communication, where opportunities for misunderstanding are greater. Avoid sarcasm. Tone is hard to decipher online; make liberal use of emoji, GIFs and Bitmoji to aid in communication. Use video hangouts when it makes sense; face-to-face discussion benefits from all kinds of social cues that may go missing in other forms of communication.
The Buffer team is committed to providing a welcoming and safe environment for all. Discrimination and harassment are expressly prohibited. Furthermore, any behavior or language that is unwelcoming—whether or not it rises to the level of harassment—is also strongly discouraged.
Additionally, there are a host of behaviors and language common on tech teams which are worth noting as specifically unwelcome:
- No surprise if a teammate isn't familiar with something: At Buffer, we believe in the value of a beginner's mind. It's always acceptable to say "I don't know" or "I don't understand." All questions are great questions! So please don't act surprised when people aren't familiar with a tool, person, place or process. This applies to both technical things ("What?! I can't believe you don't know what the stack is!") and non-technical things ("You don't know who DHH is?!").
- No well-actually's: A well-actually happens when someone says something that's almost – but not entirely – correct, and you say, "well, actually…" and give a minor correction. We strive to let others save face as part of our values, and most well-actually's aren't crucial to the overall conversation. If it's critical to add your correction, use language that leaves room for the idea that you might be wrong or missing some context, too.)
- No exclusionary language: Be careful in the words that you choose, even if it's as small as choosing "hey, everyone" over "hey, guys." Sexist, racist, ableist, and other exclusionary jokes are not appropriate and will not be tolerated under any circumstance. Any language that is unwelcoming—whether or not it rises to the level of harassment—is also strongly discouraged.
- No subtle -isms: Much exclusionary behavior takes the form of subtle -isms, or microaggressions – small things that make others feel unwelcome. For example, saying "It's so easy my grandmother could do it" is a subtle -ism with tones of both sexism and ageism. Regardless of intent, these comments can have a significant demeaning impact on teammates. If you see a subtle -ism, you can point it out to the relevant person, either publicly or privately, or you can ask a lead or People Team member to say something. (If you are a third party, and you don't see what could be biased about the comment that was made, feel free to talk to the People Team.)
Please don't say, "Comment X wasn't sexist!" or "That's not what they meant. You're being too sensitive." Similarly, please don't pile on someone who made a mistake. It's not a big deal to mess up – just apologize and move on.
Reporting a problem
These guidelines are ambitious, and we're not always going to succeed in meeting them. When something goes wrong—whether it's a microaggression or an instance of harassment—there are a number of things you can do to make sure the situation is addressed.
1. Most recommended: Talk to a member of the People Team. People Team members take concerns about this stuff seriously. We are here for you to discuss the problem and we will figure out what steps to take next. You can make a report either personally to Courtney/Director of People and Jenny/Compliance Manager anonymously. We're keen to hear concerns about situations of any size and magnitude. In all cases, we will make every effort to stay in clear communication with anyone who reports a problem, maintaining confidentiality whenever possible.
2. Recommended: Talk to your lead. Your lead probably knows quite a lot about the dynamics of your team, which makes them a good person to look to for advice. They should also be able to talk directly to the colleague in question if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe doing so yourself. Finally, your lead will be able to help you figure out how to ensure that any conflict with a colleague doesn't interfere with your work.
3. Address it directly. For smaller incidents that might be settled with a brief conversation, you can choose to DM the person in question or set up a video chat to discuss how it affected you. Please use this approach only if you feel comfortable; you do not have to carry the weight of addressing these issues yourself. If you're interested in this option but unsure how to go about it, try discussing with the People Team first—they will have advice on how to make the conversation happen and can also join you in a conversation.
Taking care of each other
Sometimes, you'll be a witness to something that seems like it isn't aligned with our values. Err on the side of caring for your colleagues in situations like these. Even if an incident seems minor, reach out to the person impacted by it to check in. We'd also appreciate it if you would speak to a member of the People Team directly to voice your concerns. Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to speak directly to the person who has violated the code of conduct.
If you want to speak to a person impacted by an incident or to the person who has violated the code of conduct, but you're unsure of how to navigate these interactions, try reaching out to Courtney/Director of People or Jenny/Compliance Manager—these conversations are tricky, and we'd like to help you figure out how best to approach them.
Committing to self-improvement
None of us are perfect: all of us will from time to time fail to live up to our very high standards. What matters isn't having a perfect track record, but owning up to your mistakes and committing to a clear and persistent effort to improve.
If you are approached as having (consciously or otherwise) acted in a way that might make your teammates feel unwelcome, listen with an open mind and avoid becoming defensive. Remember that if someone offers you feedback, it likely took a great deal of courage for them to do so. The best way to respect that courage is to acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and move on — with a renewed commitment to do better.
That said, repeated or severe violations of this code can and will be addressed by the people and culture team, and can lead to disciplinary actions, including termination.