“It doesn’t matter where you work from” is more than a mindset; it is part of Leadfeeder’s shared values.
Finnish SaaS startup Leadfeeder’s head office might be located in the very heart of Helsinki, but nobody actually expects the team members to be there physically. We live in an age where remote work is just as acceptable, if not more so. This is the model that supports the company’s mindset of giving every employee space to lead themselves.
This gives plenty of freedom – but also each and every member gets a lot more responsibility. “It’s all about trust,” says Jaakko Paalanen from Leadfeeder, who admits that their working model starts at the recruitment stage – which we think is true for all startups. If you want to build the right culture, you have to start with the right people.
“We need to find people who can self-manage. Knowledge and experience isn’t enough; you need to get stuff done and take care of yourself,” he adds.
As with any flat-structured, remote-working team, communication is key. That means that everyone has to be committed to online communications, and at Leadfeeder that means Slack. All company communications and operations are integrated into different Slack channels.
Nevertheless, enabling remote working does not mean that in-office workers do not need space to concentrate, adds Peter Seenan from Leadfeeder:
“It’s very important to remember that just because someone is in the office it doesn’t mean they’re ready for constant interruptions or it’s a green light to approach them whenever you want to have a chat. In-office employees should be treated with the same respect as those who work remotely. Perhaps these people would like to work remotely but just haven’t found the space or the environment in which to best function.”
Just Be Online?
As many companies struggle to ensure that remote employees are not, well, left feeling remote, the Leadfeeder team has acknowledged that they need to come up with some better initiatives for encouraging easy conversational turn-taking, describes Seenan. One of his biggest concerns is a reality in many startups, where the line between working time and free time gets mixed constantly. After all, nobody really knows what you are up to at any given moment but with the right mindset and people that is a good thing. Employees need to be self-motivated and good at communicating and they have to respect other people’s schedules and free time, says Seenan.
“People need to be clear about when they’re available so flexible work doesn’t turn into a detrimental always-available work culture which helps no one. The model requires that managers are not micro-managers and show trust and provide the right support to employees. Communication skills and empathy are the skills of the future and these will grow in importance as distant relations become more critical to our success,” he says.
Efficient communication also requires routines in which all team members are engaged, adds Paalanen: “We have, for example, ‘Daily Biz’ channel, where everyone updates what they have been doing or are about to do on a daily basis. On a weekly basis, we have a casual team Skype call on Fridays to make sure we also have lighter conversations with the whole team.”
“You have to make an extra effort to include people who aren’t in the office, even if whatever you’re doing doesn’t seem significant. It’s important to ensure that external employees are not isolated and that they don’t miss out on light-hearted moments.”
On a more personal note, every employee of Leadfeeder has monthly one-to-one discussions with the team lead to exchange thoughts about personal development. Being loud online on a daily basis does not always tell all about working efficiency, says Seenan:
“Just because an employee is not the most visible or vocal on Slack, it doesn’t mean they’re not working the hardest of all. Sometimes in the world of the extroverts we trust the big talkers, when it’s the silent hard-workers and listeners we should respect most. If someone is just getting stuff done and not laying it on in spades then we shouldn’t question that person but ensure we provide the trust they need to continue doing an awesome job.”
Now the team of ten employees located in Finland and Poland keeps on developing their collaboration tools to enable even faster expansion in the near future. But while searching for the right matches for the team, the next step for the company might actually be turning some employees’ daily rhythms to another time zone.
“It’s clear that at the very least we need people in Helsinki working on US time, so we may have a longer Helsinki working day in the not-too-distant future,” reveals Seenan.
How do you tackle the challenges of remote work in your startup, what tools do you use and which initiatives have improved employee morale? Please share your thoughts with Leadfeeder team through Twitter.