April 6, 2022
How SOUTHWORKS transitioned from being largely office centred to a fully remote-first company
We are always happy to embrace change at SOUTHWORKS – but when we do change something, we like to do it properly. As data-driven engineers, for us that means testing things out to see what works and iterating until we land on the right solution that’s backed up by results. And that’s exactly what we did when we transitioned from being largely office centred to a fully remote-first company…
When we first thought of creating a distributed company, we took the standard approach of mimicking our Headquarters, and the office-experience, so we’d go to a couple of cities, open a few offices, and hire people from there. However, this soon felt weird, as the sense of belonging was being generated towards the Office/City instead of SOUTHWORKS as a whole. Soon after that, as we grew, those outside of the HQ started to feel like “second class citizens”, and we didn’t want that…
That was the design challenge for which we designed an experiment - “Remote Tuesdays” (does what it says on the tin!). The culture change Alejandro and I wanted was centred on delivering a seamless experience to our diverse team that was inclusive and saw us working as One SOUTHWORKS to get us there. That was the raison d'etre for the initiative we introduced back in 2019 to see what would happen if everyone worked remotely for one day a week. We told the team they could work wherever they chose – at their own home, a café, a friend’s house, even the beach or the gym – just not the office.
After a few iterations, the experiment was working great, with positive results in both staff well-being and productivity, which drove many of the practices that we do today like Async Weekly Updates, Town Hall Meetings, Office Hours and such. As we were planning for a refreshed initiative to include Remote Thursdays the first lockdown of 2020 came along - and we told our team that there was no need to come back to the office at all.
Although those experiments began three years ago now, we’d been building towards this since our early days. We’ve always embraced remote working; in fact, because of the global nature of clients, we also made it an important part of our culture. The office had been more of a focal point previously though, and we’ve evolved to support more flexible working practices over the years. Although we still have offices, we now view them more as “collaboration hubs”, and while some of our people prefer working there, most tend to work from home these days. Ultimately, it’s about giving our people the right conditions – work isn’t a location, it’s an activity, so we want them to do it somewhere they can feel connected, creative, and confident.
We’ve seen our team having unprecedented opportunities to move back to their hometowns, or even to dream locations abroad (check out Flor’s story here), seeing more of their families, and improving their quality of life. And because working remotely gives them the flexibility to manage their own work schedules, they’re free to do things like attending medical appointments, getting stuff done at the bank or watching their kids play sports, picking up where they left off once they’re done. Ultimately, this means we’re all much more connected to both our jobs and our lives – the experiment worked, and there’s no way we’re going back now!