Behind the Decision to Stay Remote
The “how” and “when” of returning to the office — if at all — is a conversation-dominating topic for companies right now, one whose potential outcomes seem to shift daily.
At Vistaprint, though, their long-term remote work policy didn’t take long to materialize.
“A few months in, our team members told us in overwhelming numbers that they would prefer to make remote work a permanent state, at least for the majority of their workdays,” VP of Communications Paul McKinlay said. “Executives were extremely pleased with the productivity and progress they were seeing, and business was going well.”
In August, the Boston- and Waltham, Mass.-based company — whose tech helps small business owners create expertly designed, up-to-date custom marketing — decided to become a “remote-first” company for good. In also serving as the company’s head of remote work, McKinlay is helping to shape how that new arrangement materializes.
While McKinlay indicated that periodic “in-person engagements” will still occur for culture-cultivating purposes, he said that the company — recently recognized as one of Built In’s top 50 remote-first companies to work for — is steadfastly committed to the organization’s new normal.
“The single most important factor was complete executive sponsorship,” McKinlay said of the decision. “This was not a pilot; this was a new way forward, replete with investment to enable it and a strategy for our team members to contribute to its rollout.”
As McKinlay and the cross-functional team put the new policy into practice, asynchronous communication will be crucial for the strategy’s success, and they hope remote-first work will facilitate professional growth and benefit recruiting efforts.
Tell us more about Vistaprint’s “remote-first” culture.
VP of Communications & Head of Remote Work Paul McKinlay: Our intent is to retain and amplify our customer-obsession, our focus on data and results and our drive to act like owners.
At the same time, we are building a large number of new and revised policies, processes, tools and technologies covering all aspects of team member lifecycle to ensure they are designed to contribute toward a highly productive and engaged remote-first workforce. Culturally, we’ll need to embrace non-linear workdays, become agnostic to location and leave behind many of our current ways of working in favor of an ever-increasing preference towards asynchronous workflows.
This was not a pilot. This was a new way forward.”
How does a remote-first culture still allow for continued professional development and growth in teammates’ careers?
Remote-first should empower, enable and even supercharge growth and development for our team members in ways that were previously not possible. There is no longer an advantage in being in a specific location or having proximity to certain leaders or teams. Projects are no longer assigned at the water cooler and decisions are not taken across adjacent cubes.
The pandemic has forced many companies to temporarily move to remote working, which has caused the creation of so many remotely accessible content platforms, tools and practices. While many companies may return to offices when it is safe to do so, for those of us staying remote, these tools and services will remain and support our team members in their development goals.
When it comes to attracting new talent, how does a remote-first policy benefit Vistaprint and increase the diversity of its talent pool?
Moving away from an office-centric mindset removes the reliance on hiring within commuting distance of real estate, eventually opening much of the world’s population as possible next hires. We have published a list of locations where we can hire and our goal is to continually expand that list and employ sourcing strategies in new markets to increase diversity in our candidate slates.
We see this shift creating a more geographically diverse team, with cultural perspectives and experiences that bolster our business and culture. For existing team members, they are no longer limited by their geography for internal opportunity, and we see an opportunity to increase representation in areas that need it through our internal talent.
What is “async communication” and why is it important to a remote-first culture?
Typically, synchronous communication happens in the form of meetings; it can also include messages sent by email, Slack or a ticket system that has implicit or explicit expectations around quick response times, often within minutes. Conversely, async communication includes every aspect of communication that does not require two or more people to be available at the same time. Async communication focuses on respecting others’ time and leaning on documentation to enhance cohesion and understanding amongst colleagues.
Done well, async collaboration has many positive aspects. A key benefit of remote work is increased flexibility during the day. Async communication reduces the number of synchronous meetings, leading to more flexibility during the day and longer time periods of uninterrupted focus time.
A key benefit of remote work is increased flexibility during the day.”
Increased flexibility for scheduling one’s day is tightly related to mental and physical health. Too many meetings can lead to exhausting days. We’re aiming for teams — and especially their leaders — to celebrate results of this flexibility, such as someone enjoying a beautiful day outside and then working at a different time to suit them. This, and other encouraging, specific behavior, should be aimed to make all team members comfortable to follow this lead. This allows team members to focus on mental health, physical health and mental and physical recovery.
Asynchronous collaboration leads to increased inclusivity of all team members. In synchronous meetings, the loudest voice takes most of the speaking time, while quiet, introverted or new team members are hardly heard. Synchronous meetings also require scheduling across time zones, and teams who have team members in the U.S. and in India deal with a 10.5-hour time difference, leading to very early meetings for U.S. team members; or, in many cases, setting a standard of staying late or being excluded from a meeting for team members in India. A document that is being built up over a few days, or at least 24 hours, allows everyone to contribute opinions, thoughts and facts independently of how extroverted someone is or one’s status or time zone.
Lastly, how does the implementation of a remote-first culture set Vistaprint up for success in the future?
It allows us to access talent pools that are much broader, deeper and more diverse than we could before and open up new opportunities to existing team members. Real estate costs can be significantly reduced, teams can be more productive and work output can be increased in both quality and quantity.
Having more freedom, autonomy and trust to decide their work location and schedule — and the ability to operate when they are most productive — enables a far better future of work than the one we have historically experienced.