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How Tiny's become remote-first

May 25th, 2021

5 min read

A lady working from home

Written by

Andrew Roberts


The Tiny Way

A crisis inspires many things. Innovation is one. Change is another. But the decisions made during a crisis (whether from necessity or creativity) are what matter. They’re the ones that become your path out of the crisis and for the years ahead. At Tiny, we embraced the opportunity the pandemic presented, to reshape both our work model and mindsets. 

Almost every workplace was affected by the pandemic. Some closed, some hibernated, some pivoted. We, like many startups, decided to move from merely highly-distributed, to remote-first – and reaped the benefits of adjusting our culture, identity and mindsets to match.

While our approach continues to evolve, we’re focusing our efforts on the three core areas of scalability, collaboration and belonging, to build our all-remote team.       

1. Scalability

The need to grow our team significantly had already shown itself before the pandemic, so the unexpected change to work-from-home (WFH) helped us to fully embrace something that we were already edging our way toward.

Gif showing an increasing bar chart

In the past three years, we roughly doubled our team and we had a certain ‘awkwardness’ with our existing distributed mostly-in-office work model, especially given the three time zones (Australia, US, Sweden) we cover.

Our move to a remote-first model has endowed us with the flexibility to recruit talent from anywhere. That single change has opened new doors to a wider field of skill sets, experience and people who despite being spread across the globe, are committed to our growth, mission and culture.

Indeed, more than 30% of our team have been hired since the beginning of the pandemic, giving everyone the equal opportunity to work in a manner and location that best suits them, their situation and their ambitions. We’ve added more than a dozen new cities, that our team calls home.

2. Collaboration

Teamwork plays a huge role in our work and product. We have millions of open-source users and thousands of paying customers and to keep them happy, we need to work together. Closely. However, over time our global mostly-in-office model had developed some undesirable attributes. 

Location-based fiefdoms had gradually crept in from time-to-time. They were counterproductive to the development of client-focused solutions and working as one. And had sometimes spelled disaster for collaborative connection building. The change to all-remote, has broken down these geographic silos, with everyone now working equally hard to connect and collaborate via Zoom, Google hangouts and other team-based platforms and tools. 

It’s also driven us to use tech to build more varied opportunities for inclusion, that better accommodate people’s different styles of (and desires for) collaboration. Our primary internal communication channel is Slack, with weekly (optional) meet-up opportunities for people to see, talk and laugh with others in their WFH set-up. Virtual Coffees, Teatime Tuesdays, Donuts and Crossword Fridays are a few of these, as are walking meetings and normalizing the WFM idiosyncrasies (pets, kids and background noises). 

3. Belonging

Gif of a team doing a group high-five

These are the human and cultural aspects of our change. Our culture had always been important however the pandemic opened the opportunity to review it, discard aspects that no longer worked and do a better job of bringing to life the values that drive our business – both inside and out.

Making sure that everyone feels a sense of belonging to Tiny, has become a touchstone. We place more emphasis on inclusion than ever before, and everyone contributes their own sense of self to the Tiny culture. Our All Hands meetings are driven by a new success metric – the ‘number of voices heard’ – as well as sharing the usual growth plans, numbers and recognition for individual and team efforts, company wide. 

Encouraging people to unmute their microphones, turn on their cameras and get involved in All Hands, has added greater personality to the event and allowed me to test different formats, structures and styles of presentation (some successful, others not-so). HR tools such as 7Geese have also been employed to encourage greater (and wider) recognition of efforts, as well as sharing anniversaries, birthdays and achievements. 

There’s also been an unexpected gift to our people, from all-remote work – they’re now able to make meaningful choices about where they live, and what they own. Around 10% of our team have moved (for example, from the San Francisco Bay area) to a location where they can afford to buy a home. Without a remote-based model, it’s unlikely they’d have been able to afford a property. For some, being given the freedom to choose where they live and own, is an extraordinary bonus. 

Regardless of the shift to remote-first, we still fully appreciate the need to bring people together to build trust and a sense of belonging. As we move further in 2021 and vaccinations accelerate, we can’t wait to host more and more get-togethers.

Tips for virtual All Hands meetings

In a post-pandemic workplace where meetings are (for the foreseeable future) a virtual environment, both company leadership and culture building has by necessity been transformed into infotainment. Remote leadership is an increasingly important competency, as is keeping abreast of the latest software, apps and tools to facilitate better communication and collaboration.

Although my approach continues to evolve with each month, here’s my current tips to help you level up:

  1. Evolve your Zoom tactics/presentations 
    1. Create energy in the virtual room – use music, video, asking people to turn on their video, and unmute their microphones
    2. Simple slides are often best – just a photo of someone celebrating a milestone, or a screenshot of a customer’s website
    3. Breakout rooms are a hit – they help people mix, meet and can also be used for brainstorming ideas
    4. Surveys are good (when I remember)
  2. Get some equipment
    1. Invest in a green screen (about $30) and use the mmhhmm app
    2. Use a great webcam – I have found Camo works with your iPhone to give a great result
    3. Get a good microphone
  3. Frequently change the meeting format and screen – it keeps participants alert and lowers the boredom factor
    1. Add in unusual things like a 5-minute workout
    2. Bring in the customer voice where you can – start with logos and call out to participants to explain. Ideally, bring customers into the meeting/call.
    3. Ensure that people hear their own name – to help build inclusion and recognition (a person’s own name is the most important word they’ll hear)

From our experience, becoming remote-first isn’t just letting your team work from home, nor is it an easy way to avoid the overheads of offices. Establishing a healthy remote-first culture is a constant work in progress that requires nurturing, hard work and an investment of time. It also needs a company-wide effort, to ensure that everyone feels visible and valued – regardless of their location.

CEO ThinkingCollaboration
byAndrew Roberts

Co-founder and CEO of Tiny, the company behind TinyMCE and other great content creation products and services.

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