Building in Public

Designing remote-first startup teams

June 16, 2021

We hosted an AMA with one of our advisors, Sarah Flaherty, on building remote startup teams. In this post, we're sharing a few key tactics and learnings for early stage leadership teams that are thinking through how to design an effective remote culture and hire for their People org.

Sarah's the Head of People at fintech startup, Orum. She was previously a Business Partner at Capsule, Northwestern Mutual, and Learnvest. Orum is growing quickly — they now have 50 employees, though at the time of this interview they were a team of 30. They recently announced their Series A raise.

Solving the water cooler problem in a remote first company

"We're testing tools to solve what we've called our 'water cooler' problem — the interaction that you used to have when you literally bumped into someone who you wouldn't otherwise engage with when you're getting a cup of coffee. We're trying to not rely on the things we've all been relying on for the past year (i.e., Zoom, email, and Slack) and think about how we can incorporate other tools and ways of communication."

Designing deep work days

"One thing we're doing that is quite popular is establishing 'deep work days.' Every other Wednesday, we have completely internal, meeting-free days. The idea behind this is that it’s the opposite of a meeting; you have this day reserved for you to do deep thinking, to turn off email and Slack and really focus on getting something done that you need to get done. It's forced us to be really thoughtful about how we’re planning our time and the intentions we have when we set meetings."

Calling group meetings

"We articulate expectations around meetings that include three or more people. There needs to be a clear objective for the meeting. You have to be able to answer the question: why are you calling this group of people together? Whoever calls the meeting starts the meeting by saying 'I brought us together to achieve x or to make a decision about y.' I also think it's fair to ask your team and anyone who attends a meeting to ask that question if it's not clear."

Building out your People & Talent org

"A role you hear a lot about at an early stage company is recruiting or talent acquisition. In fact, many founders bring on a recruiter or a Head of Talent Acquisition before they bring on a Head of People. And that's not surprising because the first objective you’re probably thinking about as a founder is: how do I build my team?"

Prioritizing employee onboarding

"We made the decision to hire a People Operations Manager pretty early on. It’s another early investment in the people function. We’re making OKRs on developing a stronger orientation program because we feel that we've really got to double down on those early days to make sure folks understand our remote work and communication philosophies, and that they're embedded into our culture from day one."

Strategizing with Business Partners 

"As a business partner, I was assigned to work with a leader or specific set of leaders or teams within the business. It's one of my favorite roles in the HR world, or people operations world, because as a business partner, you’re really there to support specific leaders and be able to do a deep dive. Business partners should be able to answer questions about OKRs and strategy. They can help set strategy and fundamentally support leaders in thinking about how best to use their talent to hit their OKRs or achieve their goals." 

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