Remote Work at Buffer
- Team Members
Buffer is an intuitive, streamlined social media management platform trusted by brands, businesses, agencies, and individuals to help drive meaningful engagement and results on social media.
We did start out remote, although it originally happened accidentally. In December 2011 our founders raised an angel funding round of $400,000. At the same time though, their visas to be in the U.S. expired and so they left for Hong Kong. In the midst of their travels, they were excited to grow the Buffer team and hired people that felt like a good culture fit, without minding what part of the world they were in. The team started growing in Nashville, London, and other places, while the founders continued to travel. At one point there was the chance for the whole team to work from San Francisco, but our CEO Joel decided to keep the company 100% remote in order to encourage teammates to live and work from wherever they felt the happiest and most productive.
- 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 coworking space.
- 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.
- It feels like the future: We 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.
- Time zones make you awesome: You can look at time zones 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 couldn’t achieve such a high level of service without being spread across multiple time zones. Time zones are a huge help for our development cycle too—with engineers in the U.S., UK, and Asia, we never stop coding.
Remote work was important to our CEO Joel Gascoigne from the start as he himself is someone who greatly enjoys traveling. He wanted the whole team to have the freedom to live and work from the place in the world they felt the happiest and most productive, and have the courage to discover where that might be. In the early days of remote work, it was quickly discovered that having teammates spread out around the world was an excellent customer service benefit. Customers could be responded to at all hours of the day, and there was often an engineer online if ever there was any trouble that needed immediate fixing.
We conduct all of our interviews virtually using a tool called Zoom.
We go through at least three interviews with all candidates.
Once we’ve gathered a talented pool of candidates for the role, we enter the review and interview phase. While reviewing candidates, we have everyone involved in the hiring process leave notes on every application.
We look for specific experience and culture indicators (we focus strongly on language and are able to spot some signs of alignment with our values based on the candidates’ notes to us) to help us narrow in on a small pool we believe are a good fit to begin the interview process.
We created the 10 Slack agreements of Buffer just for this.
Yes, our entire team meets up once every year in the spring in a different part of the world for a week-long retreat. Past retreat locations have been Hawaii, Madrid, and Singapore.
Individual teams (i.e., Marketing, Engineering, Leadership) also meet up once a year on their own so that each team can continue creating great relationships with the colleagues they work most closely with.
With this system, the team at Buffer should see their colleagues at least twice a year, and if they live in a bigger city (like New York), it might be much more frequent.
Communication is one of the biggest ones for us. One of our values is “Communicate with clarity” and it’s vital in having a successful relationship with remote colleagues. Clear communication leads to better understanding how everyone works and helps build more trust in our team. We also truly rely on tools like Slack, Zoom, Discourse, and email to make sure we can have the level of communication we want to.
We have a minimum vacation policy at Buffer where we ask employees to take at least 15 days off every year, in addition to whichever holidays they observe. We also regularly close Buffer at the end of the year from December 25th to January 1st.
It started organically as a result of our founders needing to leave the U.S. because of visa issues, and it was made a formal part of Buffer culture a few years later—we don’t even have an office any more.
Absolutely! We’ve been working on building Buffer’s healthy company culture from the start. The key thing for us was setting values as a team in the early days and having everyone agree on them. We’ve since worked to continue iterating on those values as the Buffer team evolves. The values we created have been so powerful in how teammates at Buffer behave. For example, our first value is “Choose Positivity” and our team chooses to see the positive in any situation.
Another core reason we’ve been able to have a healthy company culture is that our executives take the lead in living by our values and cherishing our positive company culture. With them placing priority on this it’s easy for the rest of the company to follow suit.
We talk about our company culture frequently and make sure everyone knows that their voice is valued in each discussion about continuing to create culture. We focus on continuing to iterate on things that could be improved—our culture isn’t perfect.
We ask the Buffer team for feedback in Slack and in surveys, and implement that feedback. The key thing is to show that we’re looking to continue to work on our culture as a company. We have an entire People Team that works on employee engagement and new experiments with company culture that we can try out. Having that dedicated team has definitely helped in further developing our culture.
We’d give the same advice we received when we were considering going full-time remote: either have everyone in an office or have everyone fully remote. The reason for this is so that you don’t create an environment where some employees feel left out or where communication happens in person and not online so that remote employees aren’t a part of the conversation.
Being remote, it’s top of mind for us to make sure that employees feel connected to one another. Data from our 2018 State of Remote Work shows us that 1 in 5 remote workers are lonely—we really work to avoid that feeling as much as possible by creating opportunities for our team to talk with one another and reach out.
Another challenge is definitely time zones. We have people all around the world. The biggest challenge is that many of our team members are based in North America, several in Europe, and fewer in Asia. This means that sometimes meetings and synchronous things happen in times that are better suited for North America and Europe and less so for Asia. We’re working to make this more fair and change up the times when we have meetings, or focus on asynchronous communication.
We are very conscious of the times that different teammates work and ask them to include it in their Slack profile so that everyone can know when they might be online.
We work to communicate as asynchronously as possible, whether by using Email, Discourse, or starting a project in Dropbox Paper, instead of using a tool like Slack all the time, which feels like more synchronous communication.
We change up meeting times to try and make it more available to people around the world, or hold two different meeting times so that it’s during the day for everyone.
This is definitely a challenge we’ll continue to work towards overcoming at Buffer.
I love being able to travel and visit family and friends around the world. The freedom to work from anywhere is absolutely incredible and I can’t imagine working from an office anymore.
I try to plan something for right after work, even if it’s just going for a walk. I think it’s important to close my laptop at the end of the day and mean it. It can be tough to stick to working hours when your home is your office, so definitely finding the right way to “end” your day has been really powerful for me in disconnecting.
The worst location for me is anywhere without Wi-Fi and power plugs. The best location is always my own home. I absolutely love setting up a home office that caters to my own productivity.