May 20 2020

Working Remotely – Extending WFH

A few weeks ago, I posted that Foundry had made the decision to remain out of the office until at least June 1st. We’re fortunate that we’re in the position to work effectively this way – because of the kind of work we do and the way our company is set up (not to mention that we’re a team of 14). While we miss seeing each other, we felt it was safer to keep everyone at home.

I’d actually been thinking for months before the crisis about the changing nature of work and had intended to write a post titled something to the effect of, The Future of Work Is RemoteĀ – a trend that I thought would be accelerated when some famous remote tech companies such as Automatic (a parent company of WordPress) went public and the world could see just how productive and effective a fully remote workforce could be (wish I had written that – would have been a great reference point right now). In our own portfolio, we have a few companies that are primarily remote – TeamSnap and Help Scout come to mind, as examples. There are many across the portfolio and almost all have some remote workers or at least a satellite office. Most of these “remote” companies also have a main office of some kind that at least a subset of their employees comes to. But often that office is laid out more like a co-working space than a traditional office, allowing for more flexibility for how it is used. One of the main advantages of remote work is that you can hire the best employee for any role, not just the employee that happens to be in your town. This was a huge advantage when the job market tightened and talent for specific positions got tight and we saw companies who were more flexible about remote work be able to take advantage of individual contributors across the country and across the world.

Of course, now many people are talking about working remotely and how the experience of forced WFH because of Covid will have lasting effects on how companies organize their physical relationship to their employees. Fred Wilson from Union Square wrote an interesting post about the future of work last week, which was particularly thoughtful.

For Foundry, we have decided that we are not going to reopen the office until at least Labor Day (that date could move out but it won’t move up). We concluded that this was the safest thing to do and felt like we wanted to eliminate some uncertainty for our staff (more on the topic of uncertainty soon – in a time of uncertainty around just about everything in our lives, providing some amount of certainty, even about something as simple as when employees will asked to come back to the office, can make a big difference). We also felt that this extended period would give us the chance to lean into work at home. As one of our portfolio CEOs said on a recent call, “You can either become world-class in working from home or world-class in creating a safe work environment. It feels like the better thing is to focus on the former.” I totally agree with this sentiment and we felt unprepared to create an office environment that would be fully safe for our staff. But we did know we had the structures in place to be very effective working from home and to continue that for a long period. To be sure of that we did a few things to make sure that everyone was well set up, such as giving everyone a budget to make sure their home office environment was as productive as possible and paying for internet access. Most importantly, we’ve put in place business structures, communication plans, and a regular cadence of stand-ups that allow us to stay connected (in some ways, more effectively than when we were all in the office together).

Obviously, not all businesses have this ability and many businesses need some or all of their employees in an office either to access specialized equipment and machinery or because of the nature of their business. But for those businesses that are able, we would encourage you to consider setting a date for returning to the office that is well in the future to provide some certainty for your staff and to keep the pressure off of the system as states start to open up.

Also published on Medium.