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Why Courier is Now Remote-first

Last fall, we published a post on how despite the ongoing impact of Covid-19, Courier would remain committed to keeping our office in San Francisco and focusing our hiring efforts on local talent in the Bay Area. As the company has evolved, we’ve decided to shift our approach to a remote-first model. Although we had good reasons to choose not to go remote earlier, this eventual change in mindset led to several new initiatives during the hiring process and to maintain company culture in a remote-first environment. This blog post will highlight some of these initiatives and why we chose them.

Why weren’t we already remote?

There were a few reasons we didn’t move to remote-first sooner. Firstly, we believed it would be easier and quicker to onboard new employees in-person vs. remote. When you’re a small team, every single hire changes the entire dynamic of the company so it’s really important to make sure they have a great understanding of the company’s culture, strategy, product, tools, and customers. People generally tend to be less hesitant to ask questions when they see people in-person than over Slack, especially if they’ve never met them before. When speed is critical, poor communication can become a bottleneck and we thought focusing on in-person hires would shorten the onboarding process. Secondly, we believed that certain kinds of collaboration were not feasible in a remote environment - especially in scenarios that call for creativity and quick decisions such as product design, marketing campaign construction, and deal strategy. Third, we also believed that maintaining a physical presence as an early-stage startup would actually serve as a differentiator since we saw many other similar startups shift to remote-only and we had a handful of people join the team citing our office and the in-person experience we offered as motivating factors. We believed there were many other similar candidates who specifically sought out an in-person experience after over a year of remote-only work and we would be well-positioned to compete for their talent.

We’ve since learned that, while these assumptions were not completely unfounded, we overestimated the negative impact of shifting to remote-first. We had also always intended to eventually hire outside of the Bay Area as the company grew, but after another year of learning about the benefits of remote vs. in-person work, we decided to rapidly accelerate our timeline and immediately shift to a remote-first approach.

There were two primary factors that led to our decision. The first is that even though we were ostensibly an in-person company, after March 2020, we never mandated office attendance even after many of the in-person restrictions were no longer legally enforced. The result was that we had many employees who, while based in the Bay Area, rarely came in person and who had onboarded and operated 100% remote since the day they joined. We found that they were just as effective as employees who were coming in regularly and we had not sacrificed any operational velocity or our existing company culture. Second, we also found that even though there were candidates who did indeed appreciate our commitment to maintaining a physical presence, there were many more who wanted the flexibility afforded by remote work. By shifting to a remote-first approach, we could actually offer an attractive work environment to both of those types of candidates and, after experimenting with this approach for a few of our open roles, we saw a large increase in our inbound talent pipeline for those roles. We simply could not move fast enough on hiring if we focused only on Bay Area talent. So if we had nothing to lose and lots to gain, it seemed like shifting to remote-first was a pretty obvious decision.

Compensation and leveling philosophy

Of course, shifting to remote-first isn’t as simple as making an announcement and writing a post - we had to consider the long-term impact this would have on the company and how best we could support the growing percentage of our team that would be permanently remote. Firstly, we had to decide how we would compensate remote employees. We’ll be writing a separate post detailing our compensation and leveling philosophy, but ultimately, we decided it made the most sense to pay everyone the same amount regardless of where they were based (within the U.S.) and to make compensation and leveling information completely transparent internally and in all external job postings. This would be the fairest approach for all team members and would minimize the associated administrative overhead while also making expectations clear to any prospective candidates.

Cultural and communication expectations

We also decided to make our cultural and communication expectations more explicit in the recruiting and onboarding process for new hires. Some examples of the kind of communication behavior we now explicitly outline for all employees include: preferring public Slack channels to DMs, encouraging asynchronous communication over synchronous, and sharing notes from in-person meetings with context in Slack. We also introduced a handful of new ongoing company activities to help remote employees get to know everyone on the team such as monthly virtual hangouts (escape rooms, games, etc.), quarterly in-person events where we bring the entire team in for some fun, and starting new employees in cohorts when possible instead of by themselves and encouraging them to come in-person for at least a few days in their first few weeks (travel expenses all covered by Courier).

Reviews for new hires

Lastly, in an effort to help us better identify how we as a company could support new employees when they first join, we are instituting a 30 day review process for all new hires when they hit 30 days from their start date. Instead of focusing exclusively on performance indicators as most review processes do, we are going to be emphasizing behavioral indicators of success at Courier via peer reviews. Some examples of indicators that we believe will be correlated with success are “proactively asking questions”, “offering feedback”, “taking ownership”, and “proactively suggesting improvements”. The goal of this process is to help reinforce the work philosophy at Courier for new hires (and reviewers - they’ll have to be on the lookout for these behaviors) and help us think about what we should be looking for in the hiring process to make sure there is a mutual great fit with all candidates.

The impact of this decision

Since we announced this change to the team a few months ago, we’ve seen a largely positive reaction. Ultimately, this change allowed existing team members more flexibility since they can now live anywhere in the U.S. without any changes to their compensation or they can keep coming into the office as they already were. We’ve also noticed a significant increase in our inbound talent pipeline across all roles from candidates who want a primarily remote experience. It’s worth noting that even among the non Bay Area hires we’ve made, they’ve all come and visited at least once already and our Head of Developer Relations, Nočnica, who is based in Portland, actually cited her experience having lunch with the team in the office during the interview process as a primary factor in her decision to join Courier. We’re excited to see that this has been received well by our existing team members and potential candidates alike and will be continuing to think of improvements we can make to build a world-class workplace at Courier.

If you’re interested in learning more about opportunities at Courier, check out our open roles here.

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