On Being a Remote-first Company

On Being a Remote-first Company
Jessie de Groot
Jessie de Groot
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SeMI has spent almost its entire life as a company in the pandemic and post-pandemic period (that is, if we dare assume that the days of major Covid disruptions are over!). For us, that was lucky timing. We were never forced to make a rushed transition from on-site to remote work; we were born remote-first.

Like many companies who made that transition, we’ve found that our people are happier and, if anything, more productive. Unlike those legacy companies, we have no intention of switching back—or in our case, just switching—to onsite work.

We believe that the benefits of remote work clearly outweigh any disadvantages. Let’s face it: the old 9–5 workday didn’t work for everyone. Some employees are morning people; others are night owls. Some people love to travel; they’re energized by new sights and sounds and pump that energy into their work.

Most importantly, we’re not just a new company; we’re working in a whole new tech ecosystem. It is a challenge to find people who have solid experience in vector search. By offering remote work, we can recruit from a global talent pool.

Although remote work is right for us, there are still some challenges when it comes to creating a cohesive culture in a small company that is dispersed across several companies and time zones. This begins with trust. If you wish to follow our model, you must ask yourself: Do I really trust my people? For me personally, this is an easy one. My default setting is to assume that people have good intentions. So far, this has certainly been validated by my colleagues here.

Remote work also prioritizes certain characteristics. Team members must be proactive self-starters, and good communicators. We place an emphasis on this during our recruitment process, which includes specific conversations aimed at determining whether candidates will flourish in our culture. We like candidates to have wide-ranging conversations with a lot of colleagues.

As more and more legacy companies push for a return to on-site—or at least hybrid—work, one reason they cite is that remote workers don’t feel as connected to their teams. SeMI believes that it’s just as possible to build a strong team spirit amongst remote workers. But I admit that remote-first companies can’t rely on that spirit to arise organically. For companies like ours, it calls for an intentional strategy.

For us, that looks like weekly coffee one-one-one meetings arranged by a Slack bot. And, every month, we have an all-hands meeting where we introduce new employees. These always include some activity that helps us get to know each other better. At the moment, one of the most enjoyable tasks I have is to plan an in-person company trip where every employee will be in the same place, at the same time, for the first time. The focus of that workation will be on creating social and emotional bonds and building positive team energy. Its location must, for now, remain a bit of a secret but if you check back in from time to time, I’m sure you’ll learn where it will take place. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be in attendance. ;-)

In the meantime, we’ll just note that the consulting giant McKinsey recently released a white paper on the aftermath of “The Great Resignation” that has occurred over the past couple of years. Among workers who changed jobs or are considering a change, better pay and career prospects are, predictably, the top desires. But number three on their wish list is a flexible work arrangement. Among workers who quit during the pandemic, workplace flexibility is the top inducement to return to work. So, a lot of legacy companies will have to adjust their HR policies to extend remote-work options into the post-pandemic period.

Not SeMI though, we’re remote natives and we are enjoying every bit of it!


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