Since 2020, working remotely has become the norm for many companies, and Proton is not an exception. Over the past year and a half, we’ve successfully transitioned from a small on-site startup into a global remote company. Along the way we’ve had to overcome many challenges.
I’ve been along for the ride, and in this post I’d like to take you through what we’ve done as a company to make remote work a success.
Transparent information flow
It’s a fact of life that communication is always easier in person. When you’re working remotely, all communication with your colleagues is reduced to video calls, emails and Slack messages, which adds a layer of friction to what should be an easy and natural part of the workplace.
At Proton, we consider information flow to be of crucial importance to our success, and have several mechanisms in place to ensure that everyone gets kept in the loop. I’ve found it really useful to have such a transparent culture, especially working remotely. They’ve made those potential points of friction totally smooth.
Open Slack communication. Information can get lost in direct messages or private calls. We get around that by having most of our discussions in public Slack channels rather than in DMs. This way, we make it much easier for team members to keep track of what everyone is working on, contribute to discussions, offer help, give advice, or share an opinion.
Transparent leadership. The company’s leadership team regularly holds “Ask Us Anything” days where anyone can get answers about company issues, large or small. There’s even the option of asking anonymous questions if you’re worried about putting yourself out there.
Weekly summits and workshops. Since communication via chat messages can sometimes be sluggish and unnatural, we organize weekly summits where team members can hop on a group call and discuss recent developments in a certain topic (e.g., backend, frontend, design, machine learning). We also organize workshops where people can teach and learn about certain hot topics. For example, last month, I learned a ton when one of our backend engineers gave a talk on using Pydantic to clean up our code.
Internal wiki and recorded calls. Although we always prefer asking questions and communicating over having a rigid centralized “user manual”, we still maintain an internal wiki for key questions and important company-wide information. We also keep recordings of particularly useful video calls such as demos and workshops, so that we can refer back to them if necessary. I’ve found the demo recordings to be particularly useful for onboarding and better understanding our product and its intricacies.
Flexible working hours
The Proton team is global, spread across North America, Europe, and Asia. With people on different sides of the globe, it could be difficult to synchronize across time zones.
As someone working from Europe, one of my biggest fears was having to stay at work late each day just so I can synchronize my work hours with my US colleagues. But my fears were shortly put to rest when I learned that Proton embraces flexible working hours, letting everyone work comfortably within their time zones. Additionally, the team makes accommodations for our meetings. We try to schedule them when things overlap the most, around 11 to 1 Eastern Time in the US, when it’s not too early for the West Coast or too late for Europe.
This ensures that our team can have a healthy work-life balance even if they live on the opposite side of the planet. Despite living thousands of miles from my manager, we still make it work. Having clear planning and great trust makes it easy to get things done even if we aren’t always available for each other.
Arguably one of the biggest challenges to working remotely is the lack of socialization and hanging out with your colleagues outside of work. The occasional water cooler chat or group lunch can do wonders for team bonding, and this doesn’t happen naturally when everyone is working from home.
But we still manage to make time for our colleagues, getting acquainted with each other through voluntary social events and fun activities. Even though I’ve only met a couple of my colleagues in person, I still feel like I know my whole team very well.
Some of the social activities we organize include:
Team lunch. Once a month, we organize an informal group call where we can talk about random non-work related topics with our colleagues. This is a great opportunity to get to know people in a group environment.
Book club. Once a month, we organize a book club meeting where we agree to read a certain book and discuss it together. This is a great way to read interesting books, and have someone to discuss them with.
Trivia quizzes. Once in a while we organize trivia quizzes where we split into several teams and compete for the ultimate glory. Another great opportunity for team bonding, as well as flexing our trivia muscles.
Social workshops. In addition to the more technical and work-related workshops, we also organize more relaxed social workshops focused on learning certain soft skills such as writing or telling stories. These workshops are a great way to improve non-technical skills while also having fun with colleagues, getting to know them better.
1-on-1 coffee breaks. People are encouraged to hop on random 1-on-1 video calls with each other and take a short break from the usual tasks. One of our engineers showed me how to knit, and another taught me how to bake a mean baguette!
No meeting Friday!
Everyone needs a break once in a while! We know that too many meetings can distract from getting actual work done, and for that reason, each month we organize a “No meeting Friday”.
On these Fridays, all internal meetings are canceled: there are no daily standups, no interviews, no contractor meetings, and no client meetings (unless absolutely necessary). We also try to keep Slack activity to a minimum, so everyone can get “in the zone” and work with minimal distractions.
These no meeting Fridays are super useful for churning through bigger, more complicated tasks, and are by far the most loved events among our team members. They absolutely prove the saying that sometimes, less is more.
It’s definitely been a wild ride as our company has grown in the midst of the pandemic. But what was once a constraint has now become a superpower. I’ve really appreciated how everyone has come together, experimented, and came up with a bunch of great ideas to make remote a success. I love our no meeting Fridays and can’t get enough of our super transparent culture. I never feel like I’m missing out. It all goes to show, if you put in the work, you can make remote work, well, work.