Great company culture, but make it remote

Like many other companies, here at Toaster SF we recently made the decision to go fully remote. Three years on from the pandemic, it felt like we had tried every scenario out there for how we could maintain our great culture.

A year ago we moved out of our permanent stand alone office and into a co-working space. At first, we had the ambition of gathering once a week. Which quickly turned into once a month. And even that seemed to have its challenges. Our original hope was to allow those who preferred to work in an office the opportunity to do so, while also having a space for us to gather as a whole company on a semi-regular basis.

But no matter how much we wanted it to work, the truth of it was that at the end of the day our team preferred working remotely, and because we weren’t seeing a difference in productivity, we were open to the idea. As we just recently made this transition, I've been reflecting on how we have been making it work. And our plans for the future.

My biggest concern in officially declaring ourselves a remote only company, was how we would protect our culture.

I was recently asked while interviewing a candidate what our culture at Toaster was like. To me, our culture is defined by much more than a list of team activities, outings, and small talk between meetings. But rather, it’s about who we are and how we treat each other. Despite spending an enormous amount of our time working, we’re each individuals with our own lives, families, and passions. Celebrating and supporting our employees is what makes our culture unique. A culture that encourages people to show up to work as their individual selves. To feel confident and safe to do so. Making sure this sentiment remained even as we moved to a fully remote environment was my top priority.

To my surprise, going remote nurtured this more than I could have anticipated. It showed our employees that we recognized commuting to an office each day may not be the most productive use of our time, as it takes precious hours away from their families, passions, and ability to do meaningful work. No doubt, making the formal transition to remote working has made our team happier. And this of course makes our work better.

So, at the foundational level, we realized that remote working was actually more in line with our beliefs than not. But it’s still important for us to cultivate connections between our team members, so that we can continue to collaborate and connect on a deeper level. While we’re still experimenting with the exact cadence of things, below are some examples of our favorite activities our team has done together.

  • Virtual Watercolor Class with Workshop SF: Our team participated in a Virtual Watercolor class where we learned how to paint galaxies together. Each team member received a painting kit in the mail, learned some fun new painting skills together, and flexed our creative muscles.
  • Virtual Juneteenth Tour with Unexpected Tours: In celebration of Juneteenth, the team took a virtual tour of historic sites both in Virginia and Texas, enjoyed treat boxes from Black-owned businesses throughout the US, and gained a greater understanding of the importance of Juneteenth in American History.
  • Ocean Beach Clean Up with the Surfrider Foundation: Our team assisted the Surfrider foundation in a beach clean up involving fun competitions of who can find the strangest things or who can collect the most pounds of trash.
  • Volunteer Day at Alemany Farm: For September’s outing, the team met up at the Alemany Farm in San Francisco, the largest agricultural property within the city. The Alemany Farm donates all food grown to those in need in the city. We spent the afternoon turning over flowerbeds, planting the next crops, as well as exploring the gardens within the Farm.
  • Angela Davis Exhibit at OMCA: To celebrate the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month, we spent the afternoon exploring the Oakland Museum’s Angela Davis exhibit where the team learned about the importance of Angela Davis and her life's work in greater detail.
  • Virtual Tea Tasting: Each member of our team received a tea tasting kit, from herbal to black tea, and we were led by a master tea expert in a large range of different tea tastings. Not only did our host guide us through how to steep and enjoy the teas, we also learned a lot of information about enjoying tea throughout different cultures and where tea leaves come from.
  • Wellness Wednesday: Judgment-free group meetings to unwind, discuss mental health topics, and have a short guided meditation by Headspace

As we move forward, we're facing the same challenges I’m sure many others are. For example, how do we onboard new team members in a remote culture and still have them feel a part of the team? How do we facilitate in-person work sessions during critical moments where collaboration is key? We’re still very much learning what works for our team and our company as a whole. But trying things out and asking for feedback often has worked well so far. We’re excited to see where we will be in a year, but at this point we know we’re finding success in flexibility.