In mid-March 2020, as most companies around the world were scrambling to help their people adjust to remote work, the 14 Oranges team didn’t skip a beat.
More than a decade earlier when we launched the company, we followed in the footsteps of Automattic, operating without an office. Automattic, who runs the digital publishing platform WordPress, used a model of a fully dispersed team from its inception. Founder, Matt Mullenweg, chose to build a remote workforce from the outset, preferring to find the best engineers and designers from around the globe, instead of being restricted by proximity.
Remote work allowed us to keep costs low as we grew. We were able to afford and attract more experienced senior talent. Because remote work was more of an anomaly in 2009, the benefits of working from home–being closer to family, avoiding the need to hire childcare, and just generally having more flexibility–were a major perk for early hires.
So as other companies struggled in 2020, we actually went back to our roots, again embracing fully remote work.
Developing and Maintaining Culture
We knew that with a remote workforce, we needed to be more intentional about building our culture. Over the years, 14 Oranges has embraced the following activities to help build our culture and ensure team members feel connected.
- In-Person Meetups
Again following Automattic’s approach, from 2009 to 2014, we hosted monthly meetups at restaurants or spent time together having barbecues with the whole team at Sylvain’s or Dan’s house. These meetups allowed people to get to know each other in a more social setting and deepen their connections.
- Hybrid Work
In 2014, 14 Oranges acquired Delta Business Services and they had a small office. There was a shift to hybrid work as office space became available, but many employees continued to work remotely. We knew that making office attendance mandatory wouldn’t work for the company–our employees valued the flexibility that came with working at 14 Oranges and we didn’t want to take that away.
- In-Person Onboarding
New hires were encouraged to spend their first six months at 14 Oranges in the office. This policy allowed for real-time communication and feedback and helped us build a solid foundation with new team members. Of course, there was still flexibility here too.
- “Work from Work” Days
Regular “work from work” days meant that the whole team could come together for important planning meetings and social time.
- Leveraging Video Conferencing
Even though in the depths of the pandemic, video calls started to feel tiring, ultimately I think they do help forge connections amongst team members and clients. So we try as much as possible to use video (as opposed to audio only) if meeting in person isn’t an option. We consistently have a Bi-Weekly company meeting where we share updates on work and other interesting topics.
- Making Sure It’s Not All Business All the Time
Social conversation–like the kind of conversation that would typically take place next to the coffee machine, in the elevator or during a work lunch hour–is welcomed at the beginning and end of our meetings. Learning about what people did over the weekend, about their families, and what their interests are outside of work happens naturally in an office and also happens if you make space for it on calls.
Shifting to a New World of Work
On Wednesday March 11, 2020, we had just started to unpack the boxes in a new office in Airport Executive Park in Richmond, British Columbia to continue our hybrid work model.
The very next morning, mid-cubicle installation, the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. That Friday was the last time anyone went to our barely-used new office before it was shut down for what we thought to be a few weeks.
Of course, a few weeks turned into two months, six months, a year and then more than two years. Eventually we polled the team to see if they wanted to work remotely indefinitely. The response was clear. It no longer seemed worth paying the lease on an office that never fully felt like home in the first place.
A New Office for the Future
It’s interesting that we have come nearly full circle over a decade after launching to embrace a remote-first model of work again. But with a 2023 update of course.
We let go of our office space in Richmond and on May 15, 2023, we called Spaces (a new Regus brand) just outside of downtown Vancouver, our new home. The majority of the team will continue to work remotely, but will now have access to a more central space to meet together in person. Additionally, as part of our Spaces membership, 14 Oranges employees have access to any of the Spaces/Regus workspaces across Canada and the world.
14 Oranges looks forward to hosting current and future clients in this easily accessible (it’s on the Skytrain route) and modern space. It offers the perfect mix of virtual and physical options to take 14 Oranges into our next decade of innovation and growth.
Sylvain Marcotte is CEO and President of 14 Oranges.