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Should Startups Prioritize Remote Work?

Bessie LiuFeatures
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Work from home setup. Image Credit: Mikey Harris via Unsplash.

As vaccinations become widely available for many Americans and cities across the country relax pandemic-induced restrictions, startup CEOs are faced with one huge dilemma: what should a company look like in the post-COVID-19 era?

Although there is no clear answer to this question, it is clear a big part of it pivots on remote work. Remote work has allowed early-stage businesses to capitalize on talent across borders and states. On the flip side, studies show that fostering a strong team culture is much simpler in person than online.

The Org spoke to startups and venture capitalists to gauge their opinions on whether early-stage companies should prioritize remote work.

Hire the most productive people

Founding partner of independent venture capital firm Decibel Jon Sakoda believes that early-stage startups have a lot to benefit from remote work.

"For a lot of startups, it makes sense to be remote first because it makes it easier for them to put money into the most productive people as opposed to using the capital for things like office space," Sakoda told The Org. "Many of these jobs are done behind computers, and they can be done from anywhere in the world."

Sakoda is an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, who started his first company in 2001 after leaving a job as a private equity analyst for Goldman Sachs. In 2006, Symantec acquired his business and Sakoda turned to venture capitalism. He led investments for early-stage startups as a general partner at New Enterprise Associates for 12 years before founding Decibel.

As technology becomes more accessible, Sakoda believes it is less difficult to foster and build a strong company culture online. His venture capital firm currently operates entirely remotely and has no plans to open a physical office space.

"When you hire a group of people that share common values and common ideals, that tends to create a great culture," Sakoda says. "We have zoom for video, Slack, Dropbox and G Suite for collaboration -- there are a lot of great tools for being able to share information and collaborate both in real-time and offline."

One startup committed to building tools that enable online workshops to operate seamlessly is Butter. The company was founded in 2020 by Denmark natives Jakob Knutzen and Christopher Holm-Hansen. Knutzen, the CEO, believes being fully remote has allowed his company to access talent worldwide.

"We have people from Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Denmark," Knutzen told The Org. "So having that diversity of thought, gives you a global mindset in terms of your product from day one."

Although accessing global talent has been a massive perk for Butter, Knutzen says his company made mistakes that should be learned from. To establish a strong culture, he believes it is crucial to be intentional about team building and socialization.

"We made the mistake of saying we wanted to be a remote team that spans across the world and all time zones and recruited a person living in Pacific Time,” he says. “We were forcing asynchronous procedures and doing a lot of things for one person who eventually felt disconnected and left the company, so now we're definitely more cautious."

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Butter is designed to make online workshop experiences smoother. Image Source: Butter.

Open policy...for now

The app designed for sneaker lovers, SoleSavy, is hoping to bring some of its employees back into the office, embracing a hybrid workspace over the next few months.

"It's an open policy where anyone can work out of the space we have in the city," SoleSavy COO Adarsh Pallian told The Org. "We are not enforcing anyone to show up. It's basically a drop in as you wish mentality."

Like Butter, SoleSavy began extensively hiring employees during the pandemic's peak and familiarized itself with a remote work environment. Having now gained access to talent across borders, the Canadian startup wants to cultivate a positive work environment.

"I miss meeting people and getting people to come together to build ideas," Pallian said. "I think there's a lot of little details that can get lost in Zoom meetings."

For Pallian, creating opportunities for face-to-face interactions is one of his top priorities in the coming months.

"I think that talking online is nice, but it's not the same as actually hanging out with your team for a few days," Pallian said. "Zoom is good, you get used to it, but I want to try to see what it feels like to be in person and see if anything new comes out of it, if nothing comes out of it then we go back to Zoom meetings."

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Solesavy is an anti-resell sneaker community. Image Source: Solesavy Twitter.

Who is going entirely in person?

Even though many startups and tech companies are embracing either a hybrid or fully remote workplace, many traditional big businesses, including J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, are expecting their employees to be entirely in-person by the end of the year.

In an internal memo shared with all employees, J.P. Morgan's operating committee noted that, "We would fully expect that by early July, all U.S.-based employees will be in the office on a consistent rotational schedule, also subject to our current 50% occupancy cap."

The firm's Chairman Jamie Dimon highlighted in the company's 2020 annual report that although there had been benefits to remote work, the downfalls were more significant.

He noted that not only does remote work slow down decision-making processes, it also "virtually eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity because you don't run into people at the coffee machine, talk with clients in unplanned scenarios, or travel to meet with customers and employees for feedback on your products and services."

Uncertainty and beyond

The advancement of technology has shown employees and companies alike that remote work is entirely feasible and brings many benefits, but there are always limitations.

There is no one size fits all answer to whether or not startups should embrace remote work. With uncertainty ahead, startup founders and CEOs will be forced to evaluate the advantages and weaknesses of both sides, and find what fits best for their team.

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