Advice for startups on going fully remote: Not so fast

The massive query on each startup CEO’s thoughts proper now: what’s the easiest way to construct now that workplaces are opening up and distant work is elective, not obligatory?

Different types of this query embody: Ought to I convey individuals again to the workplace in any respect? Ought to I permit individuals who have moved away to maintain working from wherever perpetually? Ought to I modify my firm’s hiring insurance policies to permit for a particular % of distant employees, or hold it undefined? Is my business and/or enterprise mannequin really constructed for a majority distant workforce?

Whereas there’s nobody reply or path ahead, there’s definitely lots of debate swirling by means of company Zooms, assembly rooms, convention calls, and work chats. On the one hand, holding office-related overhead and expenditures low permits firms, particularly early stage ventures, to use these funds to engineering, enterprise improvement, gross sales, operations, and expertise retention or recruitment efforts. On the opposite, it’s robust to domesticate and keep a robust company tradition from disparate dwelling rooms, residence workplaces, espresso outlets, vehicles, and closets. Startups—and, frankly, any firm—might lose income or enterprise alternatives, together with present and future employees as a direct consequence.

Startup founders and CEOs contemplating a remote-only future ought to chart their very own path, but it surely’s very important to know what different firms are doing. When you take one factor away from this: don’t leap to remote-only earlier than looking round.

A framework to information the choice

Here’s a framework for how one can assume by means of this choice and talk it in a approach that provides your group readability:

  1. What number of workplaces are you going to have? 1 to three is an efficient quantity for a Collection A or B startup. 
  2. What number of staff might be anticipated to return into one among your workplaces a minimum of at some point per week? 80%? 
  3. How does one earn the flexibility to be one of many 20% who doesn’t have to return in weekly? Is it based mostly on sure sorts of roles, or granted after somebody has demonstrated they’ll create output from a distant location? 
  4. What number of days per week will non-remote group members be inspired or anticipated to return into the workplace?
  5. How typically will your fully distant group members be given a chance to fly into HQ or one other workplace for a bigger offsite—or just, to get to know their colleagues in-person? 
  6. Will you utilize fully distant group members in different international locations? Understand that this does add authorized and different employment points that you simply’ll wish to ensure you’re set as much as deal with.
  7. What are alternatives for development and management for a fully distant worker? What are these alternatives in non-HQ workplaces? A fully distant worker can be much less more likely to be promoted to government management at many organizations earlier than the pandemic. Additional, it was typically troublesome to even be in a administration position as a distant worker. You’ll must assume by means of how this may work at your group—particularly if 80% or extra of your group returns to an workplace.

Placing the query into actual world context

A majority of eligible individuals in U.S. cities, enterprise hubs, and adjoining suburbs appear to be opting for the COVID-19 jab. In Marin County, over 85% of adults have been vaccinated. In New York Metropolis, it’s additionally over 85%. In San Francisco, the quantity is closer to 70%, but it surely’s ticking upward. Different tech hubs like Austin have a methods to go (~36% of adults). The numbers range county by county and enterprise hub by enterprise hub, however the pattern is towards a lot of People and U.S. residents getting vaccinated—opening the door to a whole return to workplace and common life. 

Enormous corporations like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Salesforce, and Google all have clearly acknowledged insurance policies that time to a return to headquarters and hubs with a minimum of 80% of staff onsite.

For employers, the return to work state of affairs is swiftly changing into company-defining. Enormous corporations like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Salesforce (with a must be vaccinated clause), and Google all have clearly acknowledged insurance policies that time to a return to headquarters and hubs with a minimum of 80% of staff onsite. Numerous different organizations are within the technique of deploying contemporary insurance policies mandating {that a} majority of their employees return to in-person work versus permitting a big portion of staff to signal on from rural areas and cities far faraway from hubs. Whereas there’s room for hybrid or partially-remote work choices throughout industries and firm sizes, it’s already clear that huge enterprise is hoping for a majority workforce return to HQ or hubs. 

For CEOs and government groups, particularly, it could be a relieving train to take a look at the books from 2020 and marvel on the financial savings from little-to-no office-related overhead from March to December. Some could be rethinking whether or not to signal one other 10-year lease within the heart of Chicago, Manhattan, San Francisco, or Seattle. Many will assume lengthy and exhausting about how one can steadiness giving staff the liberty to work from wherever if mandatory with bringing a majority of their workforces again to headquarters or workplace hubs across the nation.

For a lot of staff with remote-workable jobs, it’s going to be robust to let the inherent flexibility and freedom of a 5-day WFH schedule go. For others, a return to an workplace will convey a welcome break from wifi bandwidth competitions, digital assembly distractions, and the overall unpredictable cadence of WFH life. A good quantity will push for a hybrid schedule class—dwelling shut sufficient to firm HQs and regional hubs to go in 2, 3, or 4 days per week and WFH the opposite days. 

Startups: Contemplate what others are doing

My recommendation for startup CEOs, particularly: don’t rush to cancel signing a lease or disperse HQs and regional hubs as a result of firms like Coinbase and different essentially remote-first firms are doing it. For one factor, Coinbase’s enterprise mannequin is inherently decentralized as a result of cryptocurrency, and the know-how that powers it, is simply too. It’s tempting to economize on workplace leases, however there’s a purpose firms have been prepared to spend so a lot to get groups collectively in particular person, a minimum of typically.

When you’re going to comply with in an organization’s footsteps on this challenge, I recommend taking a look at Google as a practical instance. Pay explicit consideration to CEO Sundar Pichai’s approach to outlining (on a number of channels together with with a Twitter thread), speaking, and thoughtfully updating the corporate’s return to work coverage. And notice that he left room for 20% of Google’s workforce (27,000+ individuals) to remain distant. Whereas this hybrid coverage offers Googlers new flexibility, requiring staff to return into the workplace a couple of days per week means a lot of the workforce will reside inside commuting distance to an workplace.

You additionally wish to get a hybrid work coverage out to your group now so that you simply don’t abruptly discover that 80% of them can’t simply get to one among your workplaces a couple of days per week.

On that notice, group members which have completely moved to locations like Vermont, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico or Hawaii must be welcomed to remain on. Expertise-oriented insurance policies knowledgeable by the pandemic must be designed to designate distant employees as full group members. There isn’t any must dismiss or disqualify individuals due to their location. However you additionally wish to get a hybrid work coverage out to your group now so that you simply don’t abruptly discover that 80% of them can’t simply get to one among your workplaces a couple of days per week. Make it clear that dwelling someplace additional out is an possibility that’s obtainable, but it surely needs to be mentioned and agreed upon so that it doesn’t exceed 20% of the workforce–or no matter guideline you wish to set.

On a tactical stage: When delivering the brand new or up to date workforce insurance policies, startup CEOs and founders ought to prioritize readability and transparency. An organization’s official announcement must be made in a approach that leaves little-to-no doubt about what the next weeks will entail for employees—particularly individuals being requested to return to the workplace. When you’re going to permit everybody to be eligible for hybrid work schedules, for instance, be upfront about whether or not or not absence from HQ or one other hub a couple of days per week will influence profession development alternatives. When you resolve to go fully distant however assume you could change your coverage inside 6-12 months, inform your employees so they don’t make life selections based mostly on a brief actuality. 

Coming to phrases with an unsure future

Startup CEOs debating whether or not or to not return employees to HQs and hubs ought to remember the fact that whereas the severity of the pandemic’s influence on human life is simple, society will persist—and so will enterprise. Returning to the workplace in a method or one other is a pure extension of that actuality. The workforce was distributed out of necessity when COVID-19 unfold across the globe in early 2020. Due to the wonders of science, together with an increasing number of adults receiving vaccines, we’re ready to convey individuals again to the workplace on a grand scale as early as as we speak. 

No matter rank, each particular person with a desk accumulating mud or a job that after required onsite presence in some type is bracing for an organization replace that can define the trail towards returning to ‘regular’ (in no matter type that takes). Timelines, schedules, and ranges of flexibility will differ from group to group. However I see a majority of firms reopening workplace doorways and welcoming again a majority of their staff by the tip of 2021. 

As Fred Wilson so eloquently put it, there aren’t proper or unsuitable solutions to those questions. That is model new territory. Nonetheless, most startups that we’re speaking to now sound like they’re returning to a hybrid mannequin with a minimum of 80% of the group coming into 1 to three workplaces (or extra if the corporate is bigger) a minimum of 3 days per week. Most are permitting for as much as 20% fully distant staff, however there are some limitations on these roles. 


Mike Ghaffary is a basic accomplice at Canvas Ventures, the place he invests in innovation for shoppers and software program. Beforehand, he was a accomplice at Social Capital, cofounder and VP of enterprise improvement of Stitcher, VP of enterprise and company improvement at Yelp, and director of enterprise improvement at TrialPay.