4 secrets to a successful digital-first company
The e-commerce giant does not need to resume work. There is also no mixing work. The company has gone completely remote during the pandemic and isn't looking back.
What is work, really?
The easiest job is to trade time and effort for a salary. But is it really that balanced? For as long as we can remember, employees have also committed to living within a short commute from the office—meaning their work determines where they live, socialize and root. Generations are tied to one place simply because of a corporate office lease.
But an interesting thing happened during COVID: The world realized that a centralized physical space isn’t actually a requirement for impactful work. The "office-centric" concept is over. Shopify (where I serve as VP of Employee Experience) is now fully remote - a decision we made in May 2020.
During COVID, many companies have opted for telecommuting. For them, that means working from home while waiting for the ever-changing "return to the office" date. But we asked ourselves, "What if we rebuilt the company so that employees were centered around the lives they wanted, not our office leases? How would we do this while maintaining a universal employee experience?" We chose Seize the opportunity and go all-in on your digital-first work. We eschew an opt-in model where employees can choose to work from home or from the office, which could lead to an unfair playing field in terms of opportunities and seats at the proverbial table. Thanks to these decisions, we are now digital by design.
Here are four elements of a successful digital-first company. (Spoiler alert: It requires more intent than digitizing old office perks.)
Prioritize freedom and flexibility
When I commute, the odds are 50/50 that I'll be home for dinner with my wife and daughter. Every night, I get text messages: "Should we wait for you?" I can't help answering. Since working remotely, in addition to traveling, I eat with my family every day. We're creating new workday traditions at home, like playing board games and helping with homework. Family is my driving force, so this has fundamentally changed my life.
This is the type of freedom remote work unlocks: You can build your life around what powers you. For some of my colleagues, their time away from home or apartment is their motivator - remote work frees up their ability to get into co-working spaces, build social hours throughout the day and even work abroad while traveling Tick off the list.
If your team is used to perks like foosball and free beer in the office, working remotely may seem "boring" at first. But that's only until they find that their lives no longer revolve around their workplace, but around them. Table football is still available, but not in an office building, but in a bar near you. Now, amazing lunch options come from your local deli or Mexican fast food joint. Employees can choose where to live; how they schedule their time; how to design their ideal workspace - right down to the thermostat setting!
To help create the ideal workspace, consider creating an expense account for each employee. We call this a Lifestyle Spending Account, and it allows our team to spend their budget on anything they choose - soundproofing panels for work area soundproofing, community gym memberships, meal delivery subscriptions...with this setup , your employees can choose to tailor benefits to meet their specific needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all office benefit.
When you have a choice of work environment, the option of travel becomes more feasible. We launched a program called Destination90, where employees can travel to a different country for 90 days a year. It's an opportunity to experience new perspectives, stay alive, and engage, which often leads people to do their best work. This summer, my family and I are going to Japan. There we will be immersed in the Japanese language and culture while spending time with the family who live there while I continue to work. Some of my colleagues have ventured to Europe, South America - all over the world. It's not working "abroad", it's just working digitally first.
Continue to value human connections
Remote work frees us from the constraints of physical space, but not each other. The first being digital doesn't mean you shouldn't value the occasional IRL time.
A lot of people will say, "Oh, you mean hybrid, work from home and work in the office." No, I don't mean hybrids. That means your life still revolves around a viable office commute. I don't think mixing is the way forward.
Establish regular IRL hours for meaningful and intentional moments of connection, not just people working next to each other in the office two days a week. We invest in spaces around the world to host these moments. At least twice a year, for a few days at a time, we encourage teams to meet in person, disconnect from screens and connect with each other. We use this time for face-to-face brainstorming, team building, planning, and solving tough problems that we couldn’t do digitally. Recently, I hosted my team in San Francisco. We work hard, we are vulnerable to each other, and we agree on ways to work better together. We then took a boat ride with a local historian to learn about the bay. Our data shows that after these gatherings, our employees continue to report increased trust, belonging, engagement and productivity.
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