Today we are joined with Dave from Buffer. Buffer are a social media scheduling site, who have remote working teams from all over the world. In their own words: “living in a place that makes you happy is one of our core beliefs”.
Anyway, that’s enough from me, let’s let Dave tell us a little bit more about the company where he works as a Happiness Hero.
Could you tell us the origin story of Buffer.
I joined Buffer around 2 years after it was established. At that point, the ideas of how we wanted to work and create had very much been entrenched in the company structure.
I think a lot of how Buffer has developed as a company, goes right back to the very early experiences of the founders, Joel and Leo working together. Joel started Buffer in his bedroom. How they worked to develop and improve Buffer, the mistakes, the learnings, and the pivots they went through in those early days – those experiences really defined the product and set the course and established an approach and attitude which came to define Buffer’s values and culture.
Our values permeated into a lot of our practices, one of which has been our policy of transparency on all levels, but most radically with salaries for our whole team. We share how much each employee earns publicly and we’ve shared the formula we use to calculate these.
When Buffer’s values were being established, and this radical level of transparency was being discussed, I believe there may have been one or two people who didn’t feel 100% comfortable and moved on at that point.
Our value of transparency is something that has since been nailed down, and become solid through evolution and adjustment and lots of conversations.
A core ideal that is another one of Buffer’s values is to strive to “do the right thing”. There is a lot of moral guidance embedded there, and we feel that there is immense value in being open and sharing your mistakes.
So yes, we share where things have gone wrong – just as much as we publicize our successes.
I feel that in the startup world, there’s more freedom and encouragement to explore new ways of doing things; to learn and to grow.
Fundamentally, a lot of our culture has developed from being set up as a completely distributed team, we have no office at all.
That’s another thing that comes from the early experiences of the founders. Initially, they had wanted to come to Silicon Valley to work on Buffer, but ultimately had to leave the States due to visa issues. They ended up travelling quite a lot and that opportunity to travel and work simultaneously inspired them to consider remote working.
How do your core values and dedication to transparency contribute to a great company culture; what policies and practices support that vision?
We believe transparency creates trust and helps us have a bias towards action by having access to all of the information we might need in making decisions.
Central to our company values is the belief in “doing the right thing”.
In terms of values, we express and invest in what we want to in see in Buffer’s culture. That includes reimbursement, our vacation policy and a lot more.
Moreover, we want everyone at Buffer to feel properly taken care of. When they join, we set people up to feel cared for, give them a strong foundation to to do their best work for Buffer. We give back – and I think that’s really positive force and motivating factor.
Buffer’s values aren’t policies as such, but we use a personal sense of what is right and wrong to guide us, as well as seeking advice from each other.
We rely on each other for support. In the past, we’ve used public and transparent feedback systems to give each other constructive criticism; address areas we could improve. However, we stepped back from that a little, because it didn’t feel people had a fair chance to share context on each situation.
Feedback is always taken as positive – I feel that I should embrace when someone is taking the time to help me improve. We try to be super mindful, considerate, honest and unassumingly positive at all times.
Our retreats are something really special. We get together twice a year for team building, workshops and collaboration.
It’ll be particularly interesting this year, as we’ve gone from 35 to 90 employees in the space of 12 months. There are team members who have never have been on a retreat before, or met each other physically for that matter.
The retreat covers about 10 days and there’s a working week in the middle of it, it’s not quite a vacation! So 4 – 4.5 days are spent working together in our teams, in whatever office or co-working space we can get our hands on. It’s getting trickier to organise as we grow!
We’ll have a fantastic team dinner, and at the last retreat for the first time we had an external speaker. On the last 2 retreats, we also invited our employees’ significant others to join, as well as their kids!
That felt really incredible, as it added so much depth and value to our relations with each other. It gave families a chance to understand what we do at Buffer. It meant a lot to me for my partner to meet these people who previously didn’t quite exist beyond my laptop!
When we get together to share our real lives offline with our partners, it’s truly incredible.
We asked the ‘significant others’ of our team how it felt to be there, and got some fantastic, honest feedback about what life is like for the partner of someone who works at Buffer!
A lot of our staff are incredibly passionate about their jobs; they’re dedicated to their work. The style of our work means that some people can possibly work long days or unconventional schedules if they’re wanting to catch up with people in different time zones. It’s good to understand the perspective of loved ones and how working like this can influence home life.
How do you feel that your unique remote working structure promotes morale, output and efficiency?
At Buffer, we’re looking out for new hires who will thrive in our culture and remote set up, as well as have the competence needed for their role. That emphasis on culture ‘fit’ is key. We look for individuals who are open, transparent and very conscientious. Trust is important and we’ll be building working relationships with people we might not get to meet in person for months. The qualities we’re looking for may seem slightly intangible, I image they’re things recruiters might not focus on when hiring face to face for an in-person role.
We’re lucky to have a lot of applicants who are thrilled by the prospect of working for Buffer. That passion often translates to strong and dedicated team members.
We have a number of different approaches to make onboarding a supportive experience for new hires.
We have a 45 day “Bootcamp”, like an induction period, during which we introduce them to all the unique ways of working at Buffer. We also have a buddy system, through which we help them get set up in their role and settled in.
Being part of the buddy system is a huge privilege; being there to help them navigate all the unusual things about working for Buffer, and I think it gives us really drives home our dedication to communication and transparency.
In terms of the systems that we use, we typically use Zoom for video conferencing, Slack for continuous communication, the Paper service from Dropbox for shared note and documents, and Discourse for written news, announcements, updates.
As regards Remote Working, what’s really important to us is that our staff are comfortable and free to manage their own schedule in a way that works for everyone. We want people to feel comfortable to check in with how they’re getting on; when they’re they’re heading out for some lunch, or a call, or if they need to pop out to take care of chores. We don’t use any systems requiring anyone to clock in.
We also encourage that individuals schedule weekly meetings with a team lead to chat about productivity and what they’re up to in general, to talk about achievements and challenges.
What difficulties or resistance do you face maintaining culture with distributed teams?
We give people the power to take care of problems as they arise.
One of the key challenges is addressing issues that may arise from remote working. We understand that some of our employees are more comfortable in one environment over another, and so we do all we can to make sure they are in a position to do their best work.
They can work from home, in the space that they like, where they feel most comfortable. We help them establish a set up at home, and ensure they feel connected with their team. If they prefer, we will cover the cost of a desk at a co-working space, or a tab at a coffee shop.
One challenge we do face, on a personal level, regards the isolation that can stem from working alone.
I’m personally aware of certain misconceptions of “working from home” that I adamantly refute! Many have an idea that by “working from home” they mean watching TV in their pyjamas!
What advice would you give other organizations looking to implement remote working to maintain their culture?
Firstly, a positive work culture shouldn’t just be a mission statement. It’s not meaningful when it’s just a poster hung on the wall, although I have so much love for the Holstee manifesto!
Our cultural values are ingrained into our hiring and onboarding, and beyond that into our daily work. We truly live and breathe them. We ensure they are present in everything we create and treat them like a road map to guide us and a toolbox to build our product.
So for anyone looking to retain culture, I would emphasize the value of actively building and maintaining it.
Also, just because this works for us, that doesn’t mean it works for everyone!
Making company culture work takes meaningful effort, and is something that you actually live, making it truly the foundation of your company, and more than an aspiration.