Why We Switched to Distributed Work at CodeHS
About a year or so ago, we switched CodeHS to be a fully distributed company. This means we changed our policies and went to supporting it fully. We had supported it partially in the past, with a few people not in our San Francisco office, but it was quite another thing to switch to support it fully.
Now today, we have a team that works in 12 cities across 10 states across 4 timezones. And it works pretty well! There are definitely tradeoffs, but I’ll share in this post a bit of what distributed work means at CodeHS and why we switched.
Why distributed work?
We announced this change in a weekly team meeting, and I shared the reasons with the team then. Here was what we said:
- We already have people who work in different locations, same opportunities and expectations across the team is good
- People want this flexibility
- We want people to continue to work with us even if they live somewhere else
- Education is local, we’ll have surprising benefits with people in different places
- There are great people all over
We already have people who work in different locations, same opportunities and expectations across the team is good
So that is the quick version. I can expand on each of those. We had just started to have people in different locations with a few people not in San Francisco. But there was a big difference between being in the San Francisco office and being somewhere else. There was the San Francisco team and the remote team. And that was not a good setup. This means even things like the way we ran meetings or shared information was not set up evenly, and there was a strong disadvantage to being outside of the main office.
People want this flexibility
As we started to have anyone not working in San Francisco, it naturally opened up the discussion about working from home. People across our team wanted the flexibility to work from home. People wanted variations of it, but people wanted to work from home and work from other locations.
We want people to continue to work with us even if they live somewhere else
For many people, often a big life change means you are forced to switch jobs by necessity. Which in many instances is a shame if you like working there and the company likes working with you. But most places just aren’t set up to support it. We had a few people who wanted to make a move out of San Francisco, but also wanted to keep working with us. Making this explicit was helpful to let people know they could move and continue to work with us.
Education is local, we’ll have surprising benefits with people in different places
This one is industry specific, but education is pretty fragmented and local and we wanted to use having people in many locations as a way to get more involved locally, in terms of running events, visiting schools, and meeting people in person. It’s great to meet customers in person, and having people located in many places means not every in-person meeting is a flight across the country.
There are great people all over
While there are lots of great people to hire in San Francisco, most of the people in the world don’t live in San Francisco. While that is obvious, opening up to remote work, even just within the US, opens up the candidate pool a lot. For job applications that we post that allow distributed work, we are able to get many more qualified candidates applying.
What does distributed work look like for us?
Here’s a quick overview of what distributed work looks like for us at CodeHS. There is a lot more to it, but this gives a quick sense.
When do people work?
We have people working across US timezones (and sometimes Hawaii). Some people start early, some people start later. We are pretty flexible on hours, but there are expectations on communicating hours to your manager. Also, this varies based on role — for customer facing positions we do want people to be online during main business hours. Some people adjust one way or the other out of preference, or to try to maximize overlap time.
Where do people work?
We have people who work in a CodeHS office, in coworking spaces, and work from home. Our main office is currently in San Francisco, and people in San Francisco work there and from home. For people who prefer coworking spaces we set them up with that. Others work from home. Some people change their locations or work from coffeeshops, or work from different locations. However, we do set expectations on creating a productive work setup if it’s not a standard office.
There’s a lot more to share, but a few other notable things. One is that for all meetings we run them as video calls using Zoom, and everyone joins individually on Zoom, even if they are in the same room. We do lots of video calls. We use lots of different software tools to help with collaboration. We also bring people in person a couple times a year for team events.
So that is a quick overview of why we switched to distributed work at CodeHS.
Resources — while there are still some resources on the web around distributed work, there really aren’t that many yet. We did read and buy everyone the book Remote, which was helpful in helping us think about the decision.