At Copper we’ve made the decision to embrace distributed working.
The discussion around the need for a physical office space and the resolve to forgo the now somewhat antiquated, pre-pandemic model of the workday structure wasn’t that hard to conclude — but proactively shaping the new way of working becomes more of a puzzle to piece together. What has become clear is that simply copying an office-centric approach to our new distributed setup won’t work in the long term.
I’m in awe of the new possibilities that reinventing the old model of working brings to building amazing companies. I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity to build great startups from the ground up, with the ability to scale from the get-go. After all, we’re knowledge workers and we’ve chosen to work in startup environments because we want to make an impact.
However, one of the major structural issues startups have always faced is how to scale. Scaling effectively becomes an issue because, well, let’s just face it: Many startups simply don’t run optimally. Between the chaos of communication breakdowns and ineffective goal setting, leaders have ended up relying on osmosis for scale, for decades.
The office was perfect for this type of setup. In an office, leaders have the ability to hide behind the fact that the right processes may not have been set to enable employees, to manage them, and to create a repeatable process of incremental improvements for their area of expertise. For me, the problem exposes a real challenge with distributed working: leadership.
Building blocks for a successful distributed workforce
In our evolving work structure, we now need to work in very different, proactive ways — and it begins with leadership. In an office, we can sometimes rely on situational leadership (we see something and we act), but it isn’t as easy when our employees are distributed across regions and time zones.
We also have to think very carefully and a bit differently when hiring your team; remote or distributed working isn’t for everyone. In a startup, we have to optimize for people who want to make an impact. We set the bar for talent very high.
Meetings are another area that we can think through mindfully. Let’s think about the operating cadence that we design for our teams. Meetings in a synchronous work setting are very different from meetings and operating cadences of asynchronous work. One-on-ones, check-in status meetings, team-building, recurring meetings … which types of meetings are starting to feel antiquated? Are they hindering our sparks of innovation in any way? What’s the right balance?
And then we arrive at decision making. The distributed work model actually opens up vast opportunities to empower teams more. Enabling autonomy and accountability at both the individual and team level sets a momentum for the fast track to growth. (If you’re interested in how decisions can be made by teams, this article sets a strong foundation).
When we begin to deconstruct — and reinvent — the operational areas like operating cadence, meetings, decision making and communication it quickly becomes clear that there isn’t one right way to evolve the traditional structure.
It’s not just about asynchronous vs synchronous work; it’s about culture. And discussions about the culture we want to be part of.
Creating a supportive company culture for a new work model
I want to build a culture where the best people can do their best work in a supportive environment working on the biggest ideas. The opportunities that we have ahead of us to build companies that are equipped to scale and make an impact at the global level have never been greater.
Perhaps after all the hardship the pandemic has caused we can take some learnings away that help us to shape a better future for all of us. One where people from all walks of life have access to the opportunities that technology can create.