What it takes to grow a remote-first startup during a pandemic

on June 3rd 2021
Blog
•  company

By the time the pandemic hit in March 2020, Chronosphere was still less than a year old. We had grown from a few employees working out of two U.S. hubs (Seattle and New York) to twenty people and an additional hub in the EU (Vilnius, Lithuania). We were expanding at a typical pace for an early-stage startup fresh out of stealth – that is to say, we were growing fast! We organized our meeting schedules around the time-zone gaps and travel allowed us to bond in-person. We functioned like a distributed but cohesive company. 

As it turns out, this geographically-diverse approach to our workforce set the stage for what would come next for Chronosphere – explosive growth, and adaptation of our culture to meet the pandemic moment. 

Remote-first means growth-first

Flash forward to more than a year into the pandemic, we now consider ourselves a remote-first company. No longer limited to hiring around physical hubs, we’re now able to scour the globe for the best people to join the team – those who share our Chronosphere values

Our remote-first formula is already successful: Despite the pandemic, we tripled our workforce in the space of a year. We now have sixty Chronospherians (and counting) on board across ten U.S. states and three EU countries. 

Although challenging at first, the new, borderless and remote way of working has created positive (and hopefully lasting) change – location is no longer a limiting factor for our workforce and our growth continues. 

The future workplace is here to stay 

Throughout this past year, we have adapted our virtual workplace in ways that make Chronospherians feel healthy, productive, and excited to join the team. Having added three-quarters of our current workforce in recent months, and with plans to more than double that by year end, we feel like we’re experts on what it takes to grow a globally dispersed startup during a pandemic. 

We recognize the virtual workplace is here to stay, so we’re dedicated to continue building and creating the best possible experience and culture for all Chronsopherians. Here are some of the approaches we’ve taken thus far:

Hybrid office approach: As the pandemic restrictions ease, Chronosphere will continue to be a remote-first company. But we will also support hybrid scenarios where employees can choose to work from a hub office, home office, or alternate options, such as co-working in a shared office space or coffee shops. 

We recognize that different parts of the world are opening back up at different rates, and we want Chronospherians to feel comfortable with their decisions to come back to the office or continue to work from home forever. Our employees will be able to choose the option that’s right for their circumstances.

Time zones differences: Working from home – aka telecommuting – is not a new concept. Our friends at Zoom can tell you that! But having an entire workforce go remote has simultaneously (and in Chronosphere’s case, permanently) triggered the need for everyone to be extra thoughtful when booking meetings with colleagues or communicating via Slack, text, or even email (nobody wants to feel like they have to respond to email at 2am their local time). We encourage people to be mutually flexible when booking or accepting meetings. No single region should feel left out of the loop, or on the hook to attend meetings when they should be sleeping or enjoying dinner with family or friends.

Onboarding remotely: Onboarding is an area where Chronosphere really shines. We realize employees aren’t able to walk over to their hiring manager’s desk on a whim and ask them a question, so we give new employees virtual day-one and week-one experiences that feel like they’re in-person. In addition to live onboarding sessions with real people, we equip employees with a roundup of essential learning links, applications, and more. New employees have easy access to their hiring managers, meeting with them every day for the first week. We want new employees to feel the excitement of the first day, no matter where they are logging in.

Bonding our team remotely: We encourage Chronospherians to get to know their teammates in a non-work sense, just as they did when going to the office every day. To help with this, we have created “Chronosphere Traditions” as a creative means to break the ice from afar. For example, in the “Chronuts” tradition, new employees are introduced to a new teammate every other Wednesday via Slack. Or, they can be the company DJ for two hours by creating a playlist in Spotify and live streaming over JQBX. There’s more, but you get the drift … joining Chronosphere means making new forever friends and colleagues like in the past.

Zoom fatigue: It’s real! We spend so much time on Zoom with family and friends (as the pandemic has forced many of us to do), that when we add even more time on camera for work, it can be exhausting. ot everything has to be on camera – sometimes a simple phone call or Slack message does the trick! Our Engineering team has even implemented meeting-free Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as rotating “Fri-yay” days off to combat the fatigue. When we do meet, we want to keep our interactions exciting and productive, so we’re definitely open to mixing it up!

Taking PTO: Working from home, it’s easier than ever to skip time off. But wearing jammies vs. khakis everyday is not a substitute for unplugging from work for a day or ten. According to a 2020 survey by the Robert Half Staffing agency, sevenin ten remote workers aren’t taking weekends off and they’re letting workdays bleed well beyond eight hours. And a third of remote workers said they are planning to take less time off. Let’s not be those people! Chronosphere offers a flexible time off plan, which means we want employees to take some time for themselves. We’ve also been known to change things up when we sense Chronospherians need a chance to exhale – like last summer, when things were extremely hectic, everyone took off one Friday a month. 

Diversity and inclusion: We take the challenge of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace seriously – whether virtual or in-person. To hold ourselves accountable to this philosophy, we have set concrete diversity goals for Chronosphere’s makeup: By the end of the year, no single gender group will comprise more than seventy percent, and no single ethnicity group will make up more than fifty-two percent.

Self care: We care about our employees’ mental and physical health, and help however we can. For example, we use a program called Modern Health to provide support through coaching, licensed therapy sessions, meditation, and resource kits. The suggestion to use this remote-friendly and highly-accessible program came directly from our employees, and it has been especially helpful in coping with the unusual and stressful events that happened this past year.

What about the coffee and snacks???: We haven’t forgotten about break rooms with healthy snacks, fridges full of drinks, coffee machines, and custom lunch delivery services. While we can’t be there to physically restock the office pantry, we can help offset the pain of missing the breakroom. With that in mind, we created the Chronosphere Cares program, which helps our all-remote workforce by providing a per diem stipend to cover lunch and snacks during the work day.

Office setup: We know everyone isn’t set up with all the equipment to work remotely on day one. With that in mind, our Chronosphere Cares program provides employees with a WFH office setup budget to make employees’ home-office setups as comfortable and productive as possible.

Being a top notch, remote-first company is important to us, and it’s a project in motion. We’re continuing to learn new techniques to help make life better for our remote workforce. We love showing our future workforce how awesome the Chronosphere experience is, so we’re sure we’ll be adding to this enticing list as time goes on – stay tuned! 

There’s also a ton to learn about our company itself. To mark our two-year anniversary, our co-founder and CEO, Martin Mao, wrote a fun blog on Chronosphere’s origin story, in which he explains what it’s like to be a “born-in-the-pandemic” cloud-native startup in a white hot market space. Go ahead and give it a read.

Other resources you may be interested in

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