Smartcar is now a remote-first company

Jackie Leary

People & Operations Associate

Why we decided to be a remote-first company

Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Around this time last year, we started hearing subtle mentions of a new virus called COVID-19 spreading in various places around the world. What we didn’t know was that in a matter of weeks, life as we knew it would change forever. When Smartcar started working from home in March, many of us thought we would be back in the office by June. When that didn’t happen, we optimistically thought: “Perhaps October!”

After a year filled with the uncertainty and instability of constantly extending our temporary work-from-home situation, we decided that it was time to make a call on what our work scenario would look like in the long term.

Getting the team’s feedback

In December, we sent out a company-wide survey to gauge the team’s thoughts and feedback on how remote work was going for them and which type of work model they would prefer in a post-COVID world.

Here is what we found:

  • 🏢 95% of the team wanted to see Smartcar become either fully remote or adopt some sort of hybrid option. (Most team members defined “hybrid” as meeting up around once a month or less.)
  • 🚘 Before the pandemic, 81% of the team had commuted to work by car, and 50% had a commute between 40 and 90 minutes each way.
  • 💻 100% of the team felt more productive working from home. The two most prominent reasons were saved commute time and fewer distractions.
  • 🤝 88% of the team felt like they could effectively collaborate with others while working from home. The most frequently mentioned collaboration tools were our CEO’s weekly office hours, bi-weekly virtual coffee meetings via Donut, written communication via Slack, video chats via Google Meet, shared document editing via Google Docs, and project management via Asana.
  • 🤗 93% of all respondents felt like they were part of the team. The most prominent reasons were friendly, easy-to-work-with co-workers, regular team lunches, quarterly offsites, virtual coffee meetings, and daily standups.

When reflecting back on 2020, the results were clear. Smartcar’s productivity levels had been at an all-time high, and we’ve had one of our most successful years to date. After hearing the team’s feedback, it was an easy decision to make Smartcar a remote-first company.

What is remote-first?

At Smartcar, “remote-first” means that our team members can live anywhere in Northern California and will be working from home full-time. Once it is safe to do so, we will meet up twice a year for an in-person All Hands meeting followed by an offsite.

Keep on reading to learn how Smartcar is adapting to the world of remote work!

How we are adapting to the world of remote work

WFH stipends & reimbursements

Room with two standing desks, two monitors, keyboards, and mice, two office chairs, and a standing mat.

In March of last year, many of us thought we would be back in the office within a matter of weeks. Most of us didn’t put much effort into setting up a designated workspace, quickly realizing that working from our couches and beds were culprits of our worsening back pain and poor sleeping habits.

To help ease the transition to remote work, we gave everyone the option to come by the office and bring their monitor, desk accessories, and office chair back home. We also introduced a one-time stipend for all team members to use on standing desks, lighting, keyboards, webcams, or anything else to help make work-from-home life more comfortable and productive. Finally, we announced a cell phone and internet reimbursement policy to ensure that everyone has access to fast and reliable service.

Team bonding activities

Screenshot of a Google Meet video call with 15 team members on camera, each one dressed up with a headdress and a stuffed animal in their arm.

Offsites

If you’ve read some of our past Culture blog posts, you’re probably familiar with Smartcar’s regard for team bonding and company-wide offsites. In pre-COVID times, we organized fun team outings every quarter, from scavenger hunts to bubble soccer and go-kart racing. Ever since we started working from home, we’ve hosted all of our quarterly offsites online.

Here is an example schedule from our latest offsite:

Once it is safe to do so, we will gather twice a year for an in-person All Hands meeting and offsite. Everyone will be reimbursed for their mileage as they make their way to the event venue, where we can reunite, celebrate our successes, and get to know each other in person.

Other activities

In addition to our offsites, we always strive to think of new ideas and activities to organize. For example, we host:

  • Bi-weekly virtual coffee meetings via Donut, which automatically pairs team members up at random
  • Quarterly department-specific virtual lunches with reimbursed meals
  • Watercooler talks every Friday, where the team can relax, unwind, and chat about their hobbies, weekend plans, etc.
  • Spontaneous activities, such as a chess tournament in honor of our obsession with The Queen’s Gambit. We even had Matthew and Russell Dennis, who play Matt and Mike in the show, stop by for a meet & greet!

Productivity tools

A desk with a cup, papers, and a person's hand writing on one of the papers with a pen.

In our remote work survey, all team members mentioned that they felt more productive working from home than in the office. However, many team members also noted that long-term strategy meetings and brainstorming sessions were more difficult to conduct in a remote work environment. To help mitigate this challenge, we started using Whimsical, a collaborative mind-mapping and brainstorming tool. And this is only the first of many steps we’ll take to help the team stay productive.

As we adapt to the new normal, Smartcar is excited to be a remote-first workplace. We believe that our team will benefit from the flexibility of working from home while feeling included and connected to Smartcar’s mission and product.

Feel free to reach out to share your own ideas on keeping your team engaged in a remote workspace. I’d love to hear your thoughts!