Fog Creek

Maintaining Company Culture in a Distributed World – Part 1

If you’re reading this blog, odds are that you’re familiar with Fog Creek Software and our founders, Michael Pryor & Joel Spolsky. They hypothesized that the world’s best developers, if given an exceptional working environment, would create the highest quality products. This idea – above all else – is the foundation upon which Fog Creek was built.

Hiring the Best Developers

Back in 2000, Fog Creek’s inaugural year, an exceptional working environment was pretty easy to define. It was, simply, what other companies were not:

  1. Communal – Fog Creek borrowed from the values of an Israeli kibbutz to foster a feeling of ownership and loyalty. We ate lunch together every day, and at the end of every year, the company’s profits were split and shared among the employeesthe_old_days
  2. Supportive – we stressed an 8 hour workday to ensure our employee’s quality of life, did everything we could to make the office environment as comfortable as possible, and advocated open/transparent communication among co-workers
  3. FUN! – Fog Creek has always valued the social aspect of working life – we have beer bashes, game nights, major holiday parties, daycations to the beach, etc.

You can imagine that, as a company famous for these values (not to mention the opportunity to work with really smart co-workers and take part in our other awesome benefits), it was never hard to find talent. Every time we posted a listing, or Joel tweeted “We’re hiring!” we’d find ourselves with an absolute flood of resumes – we weren’t complaining!

Nearly fifteen years later, however, the landscape has changed. While we still meet more talented candidates than we can reasonably hire, we’re no longer the only player in the great-place-to-work game, and competition for hiring the smartest developers has become significantly more fierce across industries and locations. Massive changes in the landscape may create panic in some companies. At Fog Creek, however, we live to solve challenging problems. Besides, we’ve overcome way worse!

And so we’ve taken this opportunity to grow and adapt to our new, more competitive environment. Our first and biggest initiative: allowing remote employees to join our ranks.

Going Remote

In May of 2013, after 13 years of being totally New York-centric, Fog Creek opened its doors to remote employees. 20 months later, half our employees (totalling 23) work remotely. Of those 23, 7 are longtime Creekers – some of whom worked on version 1 of our very first product – who left the city for a variety of personal reasons. Allowing them to go remote meant we didn’t lose the giant wealth of knowledge they would’ve otherwise taken with them when they left. The remaining 16 were hired remotely and have never worked at HQ. To be clear – we didn’t hire these employees because they were remote. We hired them because they were smart, got things done, and were the best candidates for the job. We see these hires as evidence that there is a wealth of talent outside New York which we weren’t accessing when we only hired people in, or willing to relocate to, the city.

Maintaining Company Culture

So 20 months in, you might ask – What’s your process? How do we take a culture that’s always existed in a small, tight-knit office, and make it work in this larger, geographical expanse in which we now exist?

First and foremost, we work under the creed that all our employees – remote and onsite – are treated like first-class citizens. No Creeker left behind! This manifests in a few ways. Here are a few of the mains:

  1. We make sure our employees’ workspaces jive, in and out of HQ. Fog Creek has a long standing tradition of prioritizing dev happiness, regardless of cost. That means providing Creekers with things like comfortable workstations, great headsets, and private offices. These items have always been cornerstones of Fog Creek’s office set up, and we’ve carried that over to our remote team. Once hired, we send each of our remote employees a Steelcase standing desk, an Aeron chair, and headphones that are just like the ones we have in New York.
  2. We published a set of guidelines and requirements for remote employees to make clear workflow and productivity expectations – which includes things like having a working internet setup (obviously) and an office with a door where you can work without interruption.
  3. It’s widely known that Creekers aren’t huge fans of meetings. However, when half your company is remote, you have to engage in this longstanding ritual more often than maybe you’d like. When these come about, and remote employees are involved, each Creeker jumps into a Google Hangout so all participants are on equal footing.
  4. Birthday cake! Birthday cake? Yes, birthday cake! At HQ, each employee gets a cake of their choice on his/her birthday. These typically come from ocakedeliveryserviceur caterer, though more recently we’ve even gone so far as to acquiesce to even more obscure choices (kitty litter cake, anyone?). For our remote employees, we find local bakeries and send birthday treats to their office, aka their home. It may seem small, but it’s been a huge part of making our remote employees feel loved and considered. Everyone likes cake!

Of the 3 aforementioned defining characteristics that make Fog Creek an exceptional place to work (communal, supportive & fun) the 4 steps above speak to the first 2. But what about the third? What about the Fun? Well… go read Part 2.