Metal Toad launches Remote-First Work Policy

“If you want the best talent, limiting yourself to the talent that’s available in a single city (let alone a single country) is shooting yourself in the foot. Remote work being the default has always made a lot of sense for GitHub, because it meant we could ensure our product worked for teams regardless of where people were located.”
—Coby Chapple, Product Designer, GitHub

I'm pleased to announce that as of today, Metal Toad has a remote-first working policy. We're optimizing our collective efforts around the freedom to work in the best places for our employees, enhancing our ability to recruit and retain talent, and freeing up money that is traditionally locked up in long term lease agreements. Remote-first doesn't mean remote-only, and we will continue to offer access to co-working spaces, and ensure safe and healthy environments for our employees regardless of where they happen to be working.

This change has been a long time in the making. Many companies that shape our ideals of a great technology culture (such as GitHub, InVision, Aha, and others) have found well publicized success with remote-first philosophies. After years of flexible work environments and work-from-home Fridays, we decided to go fully remote-first for all employees.

Remote-first is a strategy

The trends in remote working policies are clearly positive - not just on company profit margins, but also on employee productivity and retention. A global study by IWG of 18,000 companies found that over 53% of respondents worked remotely at least half the week. In the same study, management reported the following reasons for remote working policies:

  • Business growth (89% - up from 67% in 2016)
  • Competitiveness (87% up from only 59% in 2014)
  • Productivity (82% up from 75% in 2013)
  • Attracting and retaining top talent (80% - up from 64% in 2016)
  • Profit maximisation (83%)

Remote-first is a moral choice

Beyond retention, productivity, and profits, there is a personal, moral reason that drives our choice to be remote-first. When I was appointed to the Workforce and Talent Development Board for the State of Oregon, my intention was to explore how access to technology careers can be extended to talent from disadvantaged backgrounds and locations. With a leadership team committed to diversity and inclusion across the board, accountability with recruitment and pay practices, I'm hoping that an engaging remote-first philosophy, with co-working space options, will improve access to jobs at Metal Toad and serve as an experiment for other companies to learn from.

"Work/family conflict scholars and other telecommuting advocates are correct that new technology has the potential to advance women's workplace equality. That potential, however, is not inherent in the technology itself. Technology will not move the workplace automatically toward greater equality without some type of external control on how the technology is implemented." -Professor Michelle A. Travist, Stanford Law School

How To Become Remote-First

Disclaimer

We are blessed with having years of remote experience under our belt already, simply because we are a professional services firm. For example, we've had clients on every continent and worked across timezones with employees and contractors. I respect that, without the external-facing forces of being a services firm, switching to remote-first will be a more difficult accomplishment for internal-only teams.

Concern #1: Innovation occurs in person, not remotely

As a CTO, I've heard this bizarre prescription for innovation several times (usually from leaders that have a poor history of innovation). Innovation is commonly cited reason for the pullback of remote working by Yahoo, IBM, and Reddit.

Solution #1: Innovation happens in the mind. Social interactions may ignite an innovative idea - and so might not having 10 hours of stressful commute every week. For that matter, 10 hours of stressful commute may also ignite an innovative idea! See the problem? Demanding that innovation occur in office #593 of the fifth floor of building 2B (aka using this argument against remote working) is a lazy approach to improve innovation. The right way to increase the value of innovation in a business is to reduce anxiety about financial stability, increase honest communication through trust, and adopting principles of systematic flow.

Concern #2: When the cats are away the mice will play

There is a not-irrational concern that without proper supervision, quality standards will drop and misbehavior will increase.

Solution #2: If supervision is all that is prohibiting poor behavior, you've likely got poor managers or the wrong people on the bus. Beyond the wrong-people response to this concern, there is plenty of data that indicates that employees are more engaged, retained, and productive when we respect their choices for their right working conditions.

Concern #3: "Hard work" is measured by time in a chair or standing on the floor

Normally, when managers do not understand what success looks like for a given role, they fall back to "butt in chair" thinking. In the worst case, they promote people based on how much time they put in.

Solution #3: Time is *almost* the right unit when appraising employee performance. Time is only an effective measure of anything in business when it measures cycle times ("deploys per hour", "duration of tasks in stage", "time to close", etc). This is the very definition of productivity. Time struggling at a keyboard or sitting in a chair may be interesting, but carries little meaning when understanding consistent financial performance of a business.

Best Practices

Best Practice #1: Remote-first, not Remote-only

The idea is to improve productivity, retention, and recruitment; not to drive facilities costs to absolute zero. Employees may elect to work from a shared office space, a client's office, or even our own offices should we want to open a new one. The idea is that the business is optimized for remote experiences as the default, then builds from there.

Best Practice #2: Avoid in-office lopsidedness

Even when remote-first, it is difficult to engage in a meeting when five people are in a space and you are the only one remote. Many companies encourage employees and leaders to dial-in and act as-if they are remote, even when they are not, to improve the overall engagement in meetings.

Best Practice #3: Emphasize results as cycle times, not just time in chairs

Although most of the software development cycle is currently measured in cycles (points per sprint, time in stage, etc), other business disciplines are not yet on the bandwagon. I believe all business functions can be measured this way — and for a remote-first environment to thrive, results simply cannot be measured by 8am-5pm performance thinking.

Looking Ahead

We will keep you updated on our shift to remote-first, with an eye towards our goals of improved productivity, retention, and inclusion. Stay tuned.

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About the Author

Tony Rost, Chief Technology Officer

Tony believes that customers' technology problems can be solved with deep respect, sound data, strong process, and adventurous teams. He uses data-driven methods to improve all stages of the development lifecycle – from design, to beta, to final deployment. With numerous ties to the open-source community, Tony also works to solve client problems faster and more effectively with well-tested open-source solutions.

Several dozen products have shipped under his guidance over the past 14 years: collaborative internal sites at Nike, social networking integrations with Adidas, server-monitoring websites at Hewlett Packard, open source contributions to Drupal, entertainment sites such as The Emmys, community sites such as FearNET, and HTML5 apps for tablets and Smart TVs.

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