Our 110-person company is going fully remote. This is how we came to the decision.
Last year, Siege Media, a content marketing agency, had three offices in San Diego, Austin and New York City.
This month, we decided to let our New York and Austin leases lapse, and maintain a very small office in San Diego, primarily for training, video shoots and occasional co-working.
Effectively, we’ve fully embraced going 100% remote.
It was a hard decision to go fully remote, but we’re strongly confident it’s the right one. In case it helps others, I wanted to walk through how we ended up landing on that decision.
Team makeup, March 2021
At Siege, we’ve always been a remote-friendly company. Pre-COVID, we encouraged people to work from home as much as three times a week. We also had several remoters on staff.
When the pandemic hit, we decided to accelerate remote hiring. Additionally, most of our New York City team left the city, leaving us primarily with San Diego and Austin as bases.
As we started approaching the end of our Austin lease in June 2021, I started looking more deeply at how our team wanted to work, and how they’d each classify in our current team makeup.
As you can see, we already had a predominantly remote workforce.
From there, we polled our Austin and San Diego teammates to ask how they’d like to return to work in the office, when possible. We gave them the option to work from home permanently if they wanted to.
Blue in the below graphs also represent “I want to work from home”, just as it does above.
In considering the above data, it made sense to pool the people who wanted to go full-time remote into our other remoters. This is that outcome.
As you can see, those numbers now strongly support a remote-first company.
But we can push the data further, and also include people who responded “I’d like to go in one time per week.” Effectively, this represents people who are not passionate about working from the office, but that may also benefit from occasional meetups in person.
Clearly, we are now very remote-first.
Looking at the above pie, it’s hard to justify offices if we are putting the preferences of our team first. And that’s what we will always do.
Pushing things further, we can look at our data that says “I’d like to go in the office 3x+/week” and isolate that versus others.
This group is effectively the ones telling us that they may not love a remote-first setup.
That part of our pie is small. At this point, the math hits you in the face.
In moving to fully remote, I hate not having the ideal setup for this group. Ironically, I was in this group before I had a newborn.
I hope we can solve for these needs by giving them great team meeting opportunities in-person and potentially adding options like coworking stipends down the line.
To go upmarket, your hiring must too
In reviewing the data, it’s obvious most of our team wants to work from home full time.
Of course, that is just one part of the consideration set — we also must ask ourselves what is good for the long-term benefit of the company, as that will also benefit our people. This also clearly pointed towards going 100% remote.
In the past few years, we’ve continued to move upmarket as an agency. We’re lucky to be attracting some world-class clients.
To continue delivering great work for these clients, we must do a few things:
- Retain the best of the best
- Hire the best of the best
On average, the best of the best is more experienced. Additionally, they deserve better pay and more benefits.
The data is showing that experienced people on average, value work from home more. Therefore, to attract and retain them, we have to give them that benefit.
Contributing to our ability to accomplish that, our office leases and associated expenses accounted for $400,000 in total overhead in 2020.
That is a huge amount of capital that could go into salary ranges and benefits that will make us competitive in hiring and retaining the absolute cream of the crop, to support our cream of the crop clients.
Our hiring focus favors remote work
At Siege, two positions make up the majority of our workforce: Graphic Designers and Content Marketing Specialists.
It isn’t realistic to find a huge number of world-class people in both of these cities for both of these positions, especially as they each become more competitive.
Hiring designers across the United States has been a particular need in order to grow, although content marketing is almost as difficult.
For other companies that may have a more balanced workforce with only a handful of titles in each position, it’s very possible isolating to one or two cities could be possible.
For a company with goals to grow and a few roles in focus, the remote route makes far too much sense to make sure we can hire at the volume and quality we want.
Hybrid workplaces = disadvantaged remoters
Pre-COVID, we had a solid number of remote workers.
Despite our best efforts, it was unquestionable that people in office had an advantage in career progression over their remote peers. Logically, this did make some sense for managing people in-person, but did not make Siege an attractive place for motivated remote teammates.
Worse, remoters had a more difficult time building bonds with teammates, since in-person relationships were far easier and familiar to do when your coworker is sitting next to you.
By moving fully remote, we effectively level the playing field, both in their ability to build workplace relationships, and also advance their careers.
We do plan to still meet in-person with frequency in Austin and San Diego, so I’d be deceiving myself to believe none of that bias remains.
But I’m hopeful the worst bits of it will be put in our rearview, and those worst bits will also shrink over time as well as our net-remote team grows.
What roles are you hiring for?
As part of our survey feedback above, it’s worth re-referencing the type of roles we have open most often — creatives. These are heads-down roles.
On another going-remote announcement I saw, someone shared this in the comments, which resonated strongly with me:
“It’s a wonderful thing when employees are not only well matched to their role but also to their work environment.”
Our roles are heads-down, so we should give our team heads-down work environments.
If your company has a huge sales team or requires heavy in-person collaboration, being fully remote may not map to your roles.
At Siege, we do a lot of collaboration in content reviews, but writers execute their piece of the equation, then hand off to designers who do the same. Not always does that require heavy back and forth.
Hybrid workplaces = fragmented strategy
In considering this decision, I ran the idea by the GrowthComet agency training group and got this great feedback from Dev Basu, who runs his own remote agency.
It’s a great point. Focus is everything. Those who try to do many things, fail to do much at all. Just as hybrid created disadvantaged teammates previously, everything we do must be done in a mixed fashion in supporting both remote teammates and in-person ones.
- Team training
- Culture development
- New hire onboarding
- Client calls
- Holiday parties
This naturally creates more overhead to do the same things. This in turn inevitably leads to some mediocrity in some elements, or things that fall through the cracks, or more costs to do things twice in different ways.
All bad things.
Hiring has positioning, too
Our job descriptions used to look like this.
If I’m a potential hire, I’m confused. Is this a remote company or a hybrid one? If I’m a remoter, will I be seen as a second-best option to those in San Diego and Austin?
Additionally, it’s fair to say that it’s not just business that has positioning benefits, hiring does too. Companies become known for where and how they hire. Good examples of this are Buffer and GitHub, which are both prominently known for hiring remotely.
We’d love to become known as one of these companies and benefit from that. This blog post might be one potential starting point to doing so. :)
Don’t make decisions on existing leases
A theory I have is that many companies are deciding to go hybrid simply because they still have leases they are paying for and can’t get out of.
If we had a government allowance to break leases, my hypothesis is that a significant amount more would do that given the clear demand from workers to work remote.
We were somewhat faced with that same challenge. Our Austin lease expires on June 31st. However, our far more significant San Diego lease expires January 31st, 2023.
We could have met in the middle, and let Austin lapse and retained our San Diego office in its previous form. However, we’d be further disadvantaged as a company doing multiple things in an average fashion.
For this reason, we’re playing the long game and making the jump to 100% remote, despite still having the costs of our San Diego office until 2023. At our size, we have to make multi-year moves and transition to new ways of working over several quarters.
This is a multi-year bet we hope to benefit from, and if it means we have to pay that significant rent for another year and a half to make sure we make the correct long-term play, so be it.
In-person matters, and we’ll invest in it
I am not a remote-or-nothing person. This is not one-size fits all, and is one reason I thought writing this post might be helpful for someone else.
In another scenario for another company, I would fully endorse hiring in-office and maintaining a physical footprint, although I would still encourage work from home flexibility even in that scenario.
We plan to use the cost offsets from office leases to bring people together at Siege. That, in addition to reinvesting in benefits and salary ranges to deliver great work for our clients is where we expect to spend these savings.
It’s possible we’ll see some temporary bottom-line benefit from this cost reduction, but to focus on that is short-sighted.
We’re far more interested in the longer-term benefit we achieve by building a better workplace through giving people the working environment they want, and paying them better than when they were sitting in an office.
That’s the true win we’re building towards as a 100% remote company.