Coinbase rose to popularity as the easiest and most user-friendly way to buy cryptocurrency. In the process of that, they built a team of crypto pros and amazing talent that is set to transition to being a remote-first company this year. What that means and how the transition is going we are going to hear from Daisy Linden, the Director of Employee Experience at Coinbase.
"We found that being remote wasn't slowing us down"
Hey Daisy, thanks for having this talk with us! You are the Director of Employee Experience at Coinbase, which are currently transitioning to becoming a remote-first company. Can you tell us more about your role, to start things off?
Our team includes key pieces of the employee journey, like Workplace Operations and our Belonging, Inclusion, and Diversity team; on top of that, we drive high-leverage projects (like our work to become a remote-first company), and serve as a strategic partner to leaders across the People Team and the company.
Everything we do, drive, and recommend is in service of making Coinbase the best crypto company to work for. My role focuses on stewarding our transition to remote-first, so I help many of our newly formed cross-functional teams answer the biggest questions about what needs to change to be a remote-first company, and then help operationalize those changes.
Coinbase very recently announced this transition to remote-first. What was the deciding factor to go this route? Why didn’t it happen before that?
We actually announced in May that we'd be going in this direction. Prior to the pandemic, we were more of a "remote by exception" company. Our Executive Team found, after working from home (alongside the entire company) for a few months, that being remote wasn't slowing us down or making us less productive, and it shifted their perspective on remote work.
Once the possibility emerged, other natural benefits, like drawing from a much greater talent pool, convinced us that it was time to make a shift. If our hands hadn’t been forced by the pandemic, we probably would have continued to be a “remote by exception” company for some time. I think this is a great example of us making the most of a tough moment.
What has changed since that announcement?
After putting that stake in the ground, we've spent the last six months defining and answering the big questions about what it means to transform Coinbase into a remote-first company. These range from the logistical ("where can our employees live and what will we pay them?") to the operational ("what new tools do we need to support us in being remote-first?") to the cultural ("how do we collaborate when we're remote?").
For each one of those questions, we stood up a cross-functional team of subject matter experts who worked to define a point of view on how we should proceed. Their proposals were driven by their own expertise, and by actively engaging employees to weigh in and offer their lived experiences.
"We recognize that we need to reduce the amount of meetings"
How does remote work happen at Coinbase today? What is changing with the goal of being “remote-first”?
In part, the difference is between “all-remote” and “remote-first.” Today, except for the small number of people who need to be in the office to perform their roles or because they have untenable work from home set-ups, we’re essentially “all-remote.” In some ways, this is easier than it will be when more of us can return to the office, because we’re not grappling with the challenges that come along with being a hybrid-remote company—we don’t have people getting on video calls where some join from a conference room and others join from home.
So for now, we’re working to make this “all-remote” experience more effective, efficient, and sustainable for employees. That means doing things like implementing best practices for when to have a meeting vs. work asynchronously, ensuring we’re not asking people to join meetings at unreasonable times, and making sure that our employees continue to connect with one another as people.
When we all have full latitude to return to our offices, things will get more complicated: Embracing remote-first means even though some of us will be physically co-located, we’ll need to work in a way that doesn’t disadvantage anyone who isn’t in an office.
That has implications that span from performance—measuring outputs instead of inputs—to meeting attendance—everyone joining from their own machine—to workplace experience—ensuring an equitable employee experience, no matter where you work.
What are the big challenges you have experienced with this? Which challenges do you anticipate?
I think we’ve experienced similar challenges to other companies making this transition: Without physical boundaries between work and home life, the two can easily blur together, which is a recipe for burnout. We’re combatting this by piloting regular synchronized “days of rest” where the entire company takes a breath, by implementing best practices that help people to be more empathetic about timezones and calendars, and by providing resources for employees to create healthy boundaries.
Another challenge is around connection: A significant proportion of our employees have joined us since we went all-remote, and it’s hard to build relationships with your colleagues when you’ve never met them! We’re experimenting with a few things to support employees here, including piloting an incentive where they can expense lunch to take the time and get to know a colleague. I think these two challenges will continue to be top-of-mind for us, and for other companies making this transition.
How does communication (both sync and async) happen at Coinbase today? What will change?
One way we’re fortunate is that we were already a very written culture before moving to a remote-first stance. So this skill of clear communication, especially clear written communication, has served us well over the last six months.
Going forward, we recognize that to work sustainably as a remote-first company, we probably need to decrease the number of meetings that we’re all in. Our first step toward that is building best practices around the meetings we do have, which we think will help us be more thoughtful with the synchronous time we spend together. Eventually, we’ll aim to increase asynchronous communication, and decrease synchronous communication.
How are you overcoming timezones? Is your hiring strategy going to become increasingly more global?
We are definitely looking to expand our geographic talent pool—this was one of our primary reasons for opting for a remote-first stance. So we do need to be thoughtful about time zones. Part of that is about hiring and sustaining a global workforce, but also because even within North America, a three hour time difference can be pretty painful, if we’re not thoughtful about how many meetings we schedule, and when.
Part of the solution will be decreasing the number of meetings we have, and increasing good documentation practices. A longer-term angle we’re exploring is building centers of excellence in each geographic area so that the need for pan-global synchronous work is less.
What are you doing to keep up socialization and prevent isolation of your people?
It’s important to remember that the isolation we all sometimes feel isn’t just because we’re remote, but because many of us haven’t seen friends or family in months. We believe this will be MUCH easier to solve once we can gather in person, which we plan to do as a company and as teams when it’s safe. Those in-person moments will build the foundation that is much easier to maintain from behind a screen.
Our Workplace Experience team does an amazing job scheduling social events. We’ve also found that some of our in-person social rituals work better now that we’re remote: We have a series called Coinbase Matters, in which an employee gives a short presentation on something that matters to them. It can be serious, funny, related to work, or not. We used to run these events separately in San Francisco and Portland, but now that we’re remote, we do them over Google Meet, have merged the two events, and invited the entire company.
But socialization is also about the small moments in the flow of work—starting a meeting by checking in with your colleagues, making sure 1:1s don’t fall off the calendar, and ensuring that social Slack channels are vibrant communities.
"The vast majority of employees will continue to work from home"
What has been the feedback on this transition so far?
We’ve taken a very transparent approach, internally and externally. That means we announced this decision before we had many of the logistics figured out! Our employees really appreciate this transparency, especially when we acknowledge that we don’t yet have all the answers.
While there are some people who really do miss coming into the office every day, in our last poll, the vast majority of employees expect to continue to work from home some or all of the time. We take that as a vote of confidence that we’ll successfully make this transition, and continue to create a great employee experience, regardless of where employees are physically.
If you could give one piece of advice to all businesses which were forced to become remote organizations in the past few months, what would it be?
Because we were forced into a universal-remote stance so quickly, I think it’s easy to assume companies can make other transitions just as fast. For companies that are taking this opportunity to shift the way they enable remote work, the reality is that this is an iterative, evolutionary process. It’s important to both recognize this, and to set that expectation with your employees and leaders. Be patient, bring employees along, and don’t try to solve everything all at once. We’re all figuring this out together.
Where can we find out more about yourself and Coinbase?
Keep an eye on the Coinbase blog for an upcoming series of posts about our transition, and if what you’ve read here or there sounds interesting to you, check out our careers page—we’re growing many of our teams, including Employee Experience.