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Going Distributed: 5 Learnings from Creative Market’s CEO After Pivoting to 100% Remote

While moving an entire company to be 100% remote is not something every company would elect to do–it is a strategic business decision that comes with careful consideration, planning, and challenges along the way that can lead to a world of benefits. While some leaders may focus on the things they will miss or lose out on by making this pivot, companies who are on the other side of going distributed are uncovering significant benefits, most of which they did not anticipate. 

Creative Market’s CEO, Chris Winn, shared with us his key learnings during their team’s transition to going 100% remote.  

Creating a consistent employee experience

Before making the pivot and going “all in” with remote work, Creative Market’s workforce had competing work cultures.  Half the company was working in the office located in San Francisco and the other half of the employees were remote. Making the strategic decision to go “all in” on being distributed made way for an increased level of understanding and empathy across all departments, roles, regions, and levels of seniority. Chris noted that there are far less differences in the employee experience when everyone is on the same playing field.

With this, teams are more thoughtful on how meetings are planned, especially considering time zones, and more agile when things come up, because they can at any time. It becomes a part of the work dynamic to put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues because you would hope others would do the same for you.

Being intentional becomes second nature

Companies may often feel they can better support employee productivity and motivation by being in the office and cite that company culture and productivity work hand-in-hand. Creative Market found an increased sense of intentionality within the company with time, communication, planning, and how they lead their teams as the result of becoming distributed.

An example of this would be training all employees on how to lead effective meetings. With a mutual consideration for each other’s time, setting up meetings required careful planning by identifying the meeting’s goal, agenda, and action items with key stakeholders. Winn explains how learning this skill set has allowed for people to find a balance between speed and transparency in order to make better decisions more efficiently.

Over-communication happens naturally

In order to support a distributed team, companies need to take a thoughtful approach to both cultivating and fostering a culture of openness and transparency. A significant part of the transition for Creative Market was ensuring that lines of communication — especially with people’s managers and respective teams — were open so that everyone could provide feedback on their employee experience in real time. Once this became more widely adopted, over-communication naturally took place all the time and helped to increase transparency at all levels. Winn urges companies to encourage and welcome this change, especially in the absence of being an office.

While some people may miss out on moments that allow them to turn over and ask their coworker a question, there are ways to remotely re-create those off the cuff conversations. One way to approach this is for companies to not feel bound by calendar invites or grabbing time to simply ask questions or have ad hoc conversations. Teams should feel empowered to have and create ‘space’ for ad hoc conversations in the same way they used to, they just might need to utilize different mediums. Picking up the phone to talk through something with a colleague, big or small, can keep people feeling just as connected as they would have been in an office setting.

Find solutions together

With any type of shift in business, leadership can’t anticipate everything, despite their best efforts. Problems will arise and while things won’t always be perfect, the most effective  leadership teams acknowledge the pain points and provide support when things get rocky. By creating a work culture where the team can be candid and flag things that are not working well, management and operational teams can acknowledge the challenges, navigate change, and begin to dig deeper towards implementing  a solution that works for everyone.

Human connection isn’t lost

Going distributed does not mean that in-person connection is not important or no longer needed. Developing rapport in-person has a significant influence over the relationships people can have virtually. Getting a better understanding of who your remote colleagues are, especially in person, only helps to further strengthen bonds and working relationships. For teams who are transitioning from being in-office, already having these connections is an advantage that will help make the transition smoother. 

What teams might find more surprising is that, despite the distance that might physically separate them, employees feel more connected to their colleagues being distributed, even with international colleagues, than they did being in-office. People are able to partner cross-functionally with colleagues that they might otherwise not have gotten to work with before. Being distributed can make people feel not so far–just a phone call or a Slack message away.