Are co-located teams more productive than remote ones? It’s really hard to say. In 2020, most founders abandoned their headquarters and moved to a distributed model – leaning into hiring great talent from just about anywhere with reasonable time zone alignment. But 2+ years into a remote first strategy, I hear more often than before how critical IRL work is from founders. Some have opted to return 100% back to the office, others have set up hubs of teams across the world, and most are spending more dollars than ever before on travel and frequent off-sites….sometimes on top of paying rent. Remote teams can be costly, both in dollars and potential loss of productivity (ramping a new hire, establishing team culture, live brainstorming, etc). But a strict co-location policy is costly as well. We know great talent is distributed. And top performers who’ve appreciated the flexibility may not be willing to return to an office. Across our portfolio, there are 2 creative solutions to the IRL vs remote debate that I wanted to share with our Cherubic community if you are currently wrestling with this tension as well.
Every day from 1-4pm the entire company blocks off time for collaboration hours. During collaboration hours, there are no external meetings allowed and everyone must be available for their teammates. For co-located teams it means everyone must be in the office from 1-4pm, but can work from home beforehand and after, if desired. For distributed teams, the entire company needs to be online and available – personal appointments should be booked around this window as should external meetings with clients/vendors/investors/candidates etc. Collaboration hours bring the entire company together, daily, for 3 consecutive hours – whichever 3 hours you choose.
For co-located teams, this is a particularly valuable strategy as employees find it frustrating when they go into the office and their colleagues decide to stay home that day. Even founders are irritated when this happens – one told me “I am the CEO, and I am the only one in the office today, everyone else is working from home.” For remote teams, it’s not a perfect solution, however, it sets important boundaries and consolidates your team’s attention. You can make announcements on slack that people are likely to read in real time, problem solve quickly with a phone call, and create space for long brainstorm sessions on zoom that otherwise are impossible to book across 3+ people’s calendars, especially if it’s longer than 30 minutes. Collaboration hours manufacture some of the serendipity and efficiencies of IRL work while still reaping the benefits of remote work (potentially happier employees, broader talent pool etc).
Employees can work from anywhere, but executives must work from HQ. One founder shared that they hire anywhere in the US, but executives must work from the same city. Given the importance of this groups’ chemistry, and the frequency in which they meet, I found this strategy interesting. Founders with remote exec teams invest in more travel because meeting in real life 4x a year with this group of people simply isn’t enough. And the opportunity cost of misalignment with your exec team is extremely high. Co-locating with your 3-4 top executives saves you money (less travel), time (less calendar tag), and runway (more alignment —> more output —> more investors dollars). This may mean you miss out on an A+ CMO candidate who won’t move, but it’s an intentional trade off that may be worth making if you’ve experienced frequent tension with your exec team that resolves when you meet in person.
There’s no right answer here! But hope the above solutions provide you with additional options to consider as you build and scale your teams.