My first meeting with Clark Valberg, the CEO of digital product-design platform InVision*, took place in a New York City coffee shop. So did the next meeting. And the next several meetings after that. We never met at an office, because InVision didn’t have any–and still doesn’t. Fully 100% of its employees work remotely.
At first, I wondered if this was a business risk (as in, can a company really work and scale without an office?). But I quickly discovered that 1) the company was definitely functioning and growing, and 2) its remote-work arrangement was actually paying big dividends. The main benefit wasn’t that InVision didn’t have to pay for office space—which is of course a plus. More important was that InVision could hire the best talent without regard to where those employees lived. There are great executives, leaders and individual contributors all over the world, and companies like InVision can access all that top talent—not just people who choose to live in tech hubs like Silicon Valley, New York or Austin.
What’s more, employees appreciate the greater work-life balance an all-remote arrangement offers, since no one has to endure a lengthy commute to the office. This also makes InVision more attractive to prospective hires.
InVision now boasts more than 850 employees and big-name customers including Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix and Slack. And according to the company’s chief people officer, Mark Frein, more and more companies are considering chucking their physical offices and following InVision’s lead. I spoke with Mark recently about the key lessons InVision’s remote-work model holds for other companies considering going that route. Here are his top insights.
If you’re going remote, go all in
It’s a non-traditional viewpoint, but Frein believes there are big advantages to making remote work an all-or-nothing proposition–at least for companies considering remote work from the get-go. It’s not the right arrangement for all companies, he says. But for companies that think it’s the right model, they should go all in and have no physical offices at all.
Having a hybrid model, in which some people work remotely and others—usually top executives—work from an office can foster a “haves vs. have-nots” problem, according to Frein, who works remotely from his home office in Austin, Texas. When a company has a main office as well as a cohort of remote workers, employees who work at headquarters might feel closer to the action, and telecommuters might feel left out. “A dedicated remote model democratizes the workplace,” Frein says.
For the 70% of global employees who telecommute at least once weekly, this is surprising advice. But the all-remote model works for InVision partly because the setup reinforces the company’s core value proposition: Its product helps teams design digital products collaboratively, across different functions and locations.
Set the ground rules—and use technology
InVision’s “office hours”, during which most meetings take place, are 10 am to 6 pm Eastern Time. InVisioners are expected to be available during this period. And since no one is meeting in person, employees rely on team-collaboration tool Slack and video-conferencing app Zoom to communicate. Traditional email ranks a distant third. Consolidating communications to a few platforms is simpler and keeps the team well-synced, Frein says.
InVisioners use those tools effectively so that they become invisible. Employees are careful to set their Slack status to reflect whether they’re “in”, just like setting an out-of-office message in Microsoft Outloook. In addition, each InVisioner knows to login to Zoom on his or her own, even if that person in the same room as another InVisioner.
And InVisioners are expected to come to Zoom camera ready– though there’s certainly no dress code and most people stay casual. “Ghosting” a meeting, or just calling in on the phone while other participants are on video, is discouraged. It’s important to “be willing to step through the screen” and communicate actively, Frein says.
That also means rethinking the role of in-real-life, or IRL, meetings. InVision hosts a week-long live meeting for the entire company annually, as well as team-specific meetings. But InVisioners learn not to use live meetings as a crutch. The goal of these get-togethers is more about bonding and engagement with co-workers, Frein says; the real work of the company is still getting done remotely. Sometimes that even leads to events like holiday happy hours held over video chat.
Invest big in employee onboarding
At most jobs, you spend your first day at work in a windowless beige room watching HR videos and signing paperwork. Then you leave to start your fun job elsewhere. Not so at InVision. “Here, we’re in your house on day one. (During video meetings), I can see cats and dogs and pictures of your kids. If your spouse walks by, bring them over to the screen and introduce them!” says Frein. “This is your new reality, your workplace. You’ve let us into your home, and we want to get to know you.”
InVision hires people in cohorts who onboard in groups every two weeks. Using the company’s proprietary onboarding program Xenia — Greek for “host”–InVision aims to “create an experience in the first week that’s not standard onboarding,” says Frein. Together all new employees use the InVision tool to build something, which “gets them deep into the product to understand our customers.” By practicing communicating digitally early on, InVisioners can prepare for an all-remote work style.
“We really invest in onboarding and build it the way we want employees to work and collaborate,” says Frein. “If you model [those behaviors] right away, it re-trains people’s expectations.”
Hire people with great EQ
InVision tries to hire people with great communications skills and a high emotional quotient, or EQ. That’s because the company’s remote-work model means there are few opportunities for in-person interaction, where it’s easier to read a person’s mood or reaction to a specific situation. There are also fewer serendipitous moments with co-workers, like dropping by their office and noticing a new photo on their desk, or running into them in the lunchroom. InVision wants employees who can fully leverage technology to capitalize on virtual interactions, and make the most of them.
This antennae-out orientation extends to Frein’s HR team. “Traditionally HR is more reactive: people will come to your office to discuss something,” says Frein. Instead, his team leverages technology like CultureAmp to track employee engagement. His team learns how employees and teams are doing via data, and then follow up with direct communication.
Work-life balance is key
Virtual work isn’t all sunshine, of course. Remote workers are more prone to loneliness and burnout – which is why InVision encourages employees to use the flexibility remote work offers them. Every InVisioner gets a home-office stipend and coffee-shop vouchers to encourage them to work in other locales some of the time. “It helps us refresh, recharge, be around (other) people a bit,” says Frein. The company also offers unlimited vacation and encourages personal-interest Slack channels for employees to connect over non-work interests.
People think remote work targets millennial employees, but that’s only part of the story. Millennials like remote work because they prioritize work-life balance, according to Frein. In addition, employees with families or caregiving duties often use remote work to better balance those responsibilities. They can work for a respected company that provides them with career challenges, while living somewhere where they can afford a home, raise a family and have more free time.
Or, they can have no home whatsoever: One employee in the firm’s communications group moved out of her apartment in San Francisco last year, put most of her belongings in storage and then traveled the world while working at the company. She stayed mainly in Airbnbs and did her work during the day. She’s not the only one: InVision even has a #nomad-lif Slack channel where employees with similar setups can swap lifestyle stories and tips.
Frein’s own routine is also instructive. He wakes up at 6:45, cooks his daughter breakfast and takes her to school. After chatting up the teachers, he exercises at the nearby community center, then returns home to start work around 9 am. Sometimes he works poolside in his backyard. Frein pauses at 3:30pm to greet his daughter returning from school. Then it’s back to work until he’s ready to cook the family dinner. He wraps up his workday after his kids’ bedtime before relaxing with his wife. Recently they’ve started a new ritual: Friday lunches together.
Remote work at InVision allows Frein to “find a rhythm in my day that I’ve never found in an office environment,” he says. “I never feel that I’m supposed to work somewhere that doesn’t have me at my best. Opportunities to make one’s life integrated in meaningful ways – that’s what remote work allows.” You can’t beat that.