Lessons in remote working

In March, with Covid-19 sweeping the city, NY-based startup MikMak shut its office. Months later, founder and CEO Rachel Tipograph announced a plan that would let her staff live and work anywhere in the US, indefinitely. Here, she explains why.
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MikMak recently closed a major round of funding. And as part of the due diligence process, my new investors requested an in-person meeting. We had spent hundreds of hours on Zoom together, but they’d not met me in real life and they were writing a very large cheque. They're based in Boston and I'm here in New York, so they rented a hotel conference room in Greenwich, Connecticut. Me and my head of finance, Greg, went. We wore masks and brought hand sanitiser. We were in this huge conference room that could probably fit 30 people, but there were just five of us, six feet apart, for a six-hour work session. It was so uncomfortable. That was the moment it all crystallised for me. 

We're growing like crazy. Our revenue has grown 70% since the week of 9 March. We’re one of the only companies that's growing in New York right now – and we've proven we can work in the cloud, which is a privilege. Not everyone can do that. I asked myself, ‘How is this all going to play out? Do I really believe we're going to be returning to the office in the foreseeable future?’ And, man, I’m spending so much money on our Soho rent right now. I’d much rather reallocate that to invest in my employees and in their professional development.

The reality is, the office as we all used to know it is just a place for distraction. It’s not a place to do meaningful, deep work. To do meaningful, deep work, you need a quiet space. And if you ever surveyed anyone and asked, ‘When you need to get a big project done, what do you do?', they’ll either tell you they're doing it late at night, on the weekends, or they come to the office early before anyone shows up.

It's a privilege and a luxury to be able to work for a company that allows you to have as much autonomy over your own time and your own location. That’s the new value exchange with employees. It's not a ping-pong table. It's not free snacks in the office. It's saying, be the person who designs your happiness. Have as much control over your own life. And redefine what it means to have work-life balance. Because the reality is that the average commute in the US is two hours every day. So, with this new time back, what do you want to do with it? What do you want your life to look like?

‘Culture is not your office branding. Culture is not the swag that you're giving employees. Culture is how you treat your employees and how they treat everyone else.’

The big change with remote work is going from synchronous work to asynchronous. You need policies in place. What’s the expectation in communication turnaround? What hours must the entire team overlap? Which channels are appropriate for which types of conversations? What does a meeting now mean? But once you figure all of that out and everyone respects it, go live wherever you want. Our office is in Manhattan. New York City is a very expensive place to live and it's not an enjoyable experience to spend your entire day in your little box. If my employees don't want to stay in their little box and they want to move to the Catskill Mountains or Nashville or back home with their parents in Montana, why not? Be happy. If you want a different cost of living, go for it.

My team has doubled since March – and by the end of the year it will have tripled. And the reality is, the New York talent pool in enterprise software, which is what we are, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people look like me. They have my background. We have a pretty diverse makeup of the company. But, to be honest, the leadership team is half female, half male – yet everyone is white, and that's not something I'm proud of. I want to be able to recruit from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia. And this allows us to do that.

Here’s one of the things I've learned over the past six months: culture is not your office branding. Culture is not your team happy hour. Culture is not the swag that you're giving employees. Culture is how you treat your employees and how they treat everyone else. It's about the actions that people take. And, in a remote world, actions really matter.

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