March 11, 2020. An email arrived saying that we needed to evacuate our offices in San Francisco and Barcelona. The pandemic was starting, and to be safe everyone was asked to work from home until further notice. Who would’ve guessed that working remotely—and let's be honest, in your jogging pants most of the time—would be the new normal?
And what about the old normal that no one expected to lose so quickly?
Nobody could have imagined how much we’d be missing our Barception (yes, it's our BCN office reception and also a bar), and all the other nooks and crannies of our Typeform offices. We hardly realized how nice it was to meet with someone without a screen in between.
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Those first few weeks were filled with ups and downs. We finally got more time for our pets, roommates, children, and partners. Some of us were more productive than ever, even making time to try out that new thai curry recipe!
It was fun, but working from home also came with challenges. We had to welcome Typeformers remotely, find new ways to connect with team members, and learn how to transform our tiny apartments into effective work spaces. When you work at the dinner table, it's just not that easy to jump on the sofa and disconnect. Sound familiar?
As work-at-distance became the new norm, the big question became: how do we adapt as a company that puts so much stock in the people that bring Typeform to life?
At Typeform we live by five values:
Start from empathy
Make a difference
Bring joy to the journey
These aren’t just platitudes on the wall. They play a role in how we recruit and review performance, and how we treat each other in all our work. Our values also formed the basis for our approach to becoming a remote-first company.
1. Start from empathy: people have new needs
What drives your actions? For us, the starting point is empathy—for the customers who use our products, and our employees who make it all happen.
So as we adapted to our new remote life, we looked for ways to improve the work-from-home experience. But we didn't rush it either. We took some time to make sure our actions were meaningful.
As you can imagine, there were a lot of teams involved and things to consider. We started with the universals: people are working from home in spaces that are not equipped for healthy, productive work. And some extra expenses are appearing, like higher utility bills and internet costs. So we introduced a few new perks to help.
One of those perks was a new home office allowance, so people could purchase the desks, chairs, and screens they needed. We also added a monthly supplement to people's paycheck. Because let's face it, winter was coming and we were drinking more and more cortados and coffees at home.
When we were in-office, our Barcelona setup provided fresh catered lunches every day. While it was impossible to replace the face-to-face conversations with colleagues during lunch, we did start offering an additional monthly meal stipend to make sure bellies were full.
And then there were the parents. To help during the summer when schools and nurseries were closed, we added a nanny service. It offered both online and in-person support, learning, and entertainment for the children a few hours a week.
2. Make a difference: investing in healthy minds
We don’t hire people to check off routine tasks received from a boss. We look for people who are going to come in and make a difference. And to do that, there’s one thing that has to come first: the mental health of our employees.
How can we support people that feel alone? What could we do if someone’s facing anxiety? Apart from a trusted boss or colleague, who could be there when someone just needs a sympathetic ear to talk to?
We introduced Spill, a mental health service with highly qualified therapists. It’s integrated with Slack, and allows Typeformers to book one-off therapy sessions, or even start recurring check-ins.
Something else we already had before the pandemic, but definitely gained more popularity after, were our Friday mindfulness sessions. We invite an external coach, Kasia, to guide us through mindfulness breathing and reflect together with us. If you need a quick reset yourself, here’s a short guided session from Kasia:
3. Bring joy to the journey: have fun, make it personal
We were missing out on all of the office fun: that sense of togetherness in company meetings, the small talk with colleagues over coffee, that quick joke when you pass by someone’s desk.
And to be honest, we’ve struggled to find the best ways to re-enable these kinds of conversations. Yes, we have team meetings and 1-to-1's. But it isn’t the same as spontaneous conversation, connecting with someone face-to-face. So we had to get creative.
Say hello to our best (and sometimes worst) friend: Slack. Channels for ridiculous memes, people’s pets, cooking tips, books suggestions, you name it. With over 300 different people from 35 different countries, you’re sure to find something that satisfies your sweet spot.
We also have a coffee roulette channel that randomly pairs you with someone for a 30-minute virtual coffee. It’s a fun, pressure-free way to connect with people you might not work with directly in your day to day.
And then there are Typeform events. Holiday parties, meet-ups, team retreats. How do you host an event during a pandemic? Online, of course. But how do you make this meaningful, engaging, and fun?
For last year’s end-of-year celebration, our Employee Experience team hosted a three-day event, each day with a different theme. We did guided yoga sessions, various workshops, virtual murder mysteries, and celebrated the business’s success together. We even had our own Typeform's got talent show (hosted by our remarkable in-house presenter—thanks again Ismael!)
And we’re always looking for new ideas. What are your tips and tricks for making remote work work? Is there anything that you could implement in your day to day to foster meaningful conversations and deeper relationships inside your company?
4. Own it: new problems, no problem
Like in every company, there are always challenges and things to improve. And when we see these things, we step up and own it. How and where we hire was one of these challenges.
We have offices in Barcelona and San Francisco. Before the pandemic hit, we worked hard to relocate new hires, especially to our Barcelona headquarters. So what do you do when traveling suddenly becomes risky, and government visa offices are closed?
Allowing people to work from home was already part of our culture.
The pandemic just helped us realize that it actually doesn’t matter if people’s homes are in the same city, or even country, as our physical offices. That's why we’re slowly opening up the possibility to work from selected countries within a range of timezones.
We’ve also reinvented the onboarding process, trying to make the remote experience as close to how we onboarded new starters before.
During their three-day onboarding, newbies are introduced to every department. It helps provide an overall picture of Typeform, which we hear is especially useful as you don’t naturally see all these teams at work while sitting in your living room.
We want people to understand our product, our values, our culture—and just how much we care about bringing joy to the journey.
But how do you replace the old-school scavenger hunt that used to take place in the office? Our employee engagement specialist, Kasia, invented an online meme challenge to complete before people start with their teams on Day 4.
To help Typeform grow in the next few years, we’ll be looking for more incredibly talented, driven, and humble people. And we’ll increasingly look to accommodate this talent wherever they are on the globe.
We also know the strains that the distance places on teams and managers. To help, we’ve created a pool of resources, Slack channels, and training to help guide managers leading remote teams. And we’re constantly looking for ways to make this more effective. Because managers need guidance too.
5. Win together: team building and bonding
Apart from company-wide initiatives, we’ve also seen teams come up with their own creative ideas to keep people close despite the distance. Here's a couple of examples to give you a peek inside the teams, maybe even inspire you to do similar things within your own team :-)
Within our Talent team, we came up with the Unwind sessions. Just one rule: you could talk about anything but work. They quickly became one of the most anticipated moments of the week. And at the end-of-year Unwind, we organized a holiday quiz session where the team got dressed up for a festive touch.
Our Customer Success (CS) team also planned a weekly Virtual Social Meeting where the whole team could meet up and connect on a more personal level. Other teams have followed suite.
Recently, the marketing folks got together to break free from a virtual escape room, along with other breakout Zoom room activities. Then there was a little extra budget to share some laughs over order-in dinners. They couldn't pour each other's drinks, but we hear it was still a good time.
The future we'll shape together
We’re now a full year into the shift to remote work. And let’s be honest: challenges still exist. It's not all perfect and there are still things we're trying to figure out—for example, that whole work-life balance challenge when both occur in the same physical space.
One of the hardest problems to solve is the ability to meet spontaneously with other people. Because of course, Zoom meetings are planned. So how do we continue to encourage more natural, meaningful conversations on a more spontaneous basis?
And then there’s the big question: "So what's the future hold for Typeform?”
Who knows! But there are things we do know. Like that we’ll be continuing to grow—fast and globally—and looking to attract the best people to join our journey.
And this is just the beginning of a greater journey to realize our mission: inspiring brands to have meaningful conversations, at scale.
We've all learned by now that life can be pretty unpredictable. And we remain committed to the needs of our people, starting with their safety and continuing with their engagement. That means we're not rushing to get back to the offices for now. Our first goal is to embrace remote work and do our best to accommodate the varying needs that people have while working from home. So that we can continue to #wintogether.
For those whose home situation just doesn't work, we're opening our Barcelona office for a limited number of people. And looking further ahead... it's hard to say. But we do know that having a virtual coffee isn't the same as having one together at Barception.