COVID has been an unprecedented period, for the world and hx. We've seen that we can function remotely, and that the world doesn't stop when we can't be together. We've also learned a lot about ourselves, and parts of the hx culture that we took for granted previously. It's time to take these learnings, and set them against our goals, so we can build the best framework for us. This page outlines the approach we've settled on, and our rationale.
How work is done
Before describing our approach, we need to define a few things. On top of the work itself, there are different ways to communicate, and different places from which it's possible to get the work done. We didn't think much about this before the pandemic! It's helpful to separate work along these axes, because the "ideal" way to work is likely to differ depending on the bucket into which it falls.
The communication mode - synchronous vs. asynchronous
The first axis is defined by the way the people engaged in the work communicate with each other:
In synchronous work, multiple people participate at the same time, and while one person is communicating, the others are "blocked" from communicating, i.e. they have to wait for that person to stop/complete their communication before they can engage in that specific piece of work. Examples of this are:
- Meetings (physically or VC)
- Phone calls
- Direct Teams messages in "conversation" style
In asynchronous work, communication/information is relayed independently of time; it doesn't require everyone doing the work to be engaged at the same time, and they aren't directly blocked from working (at least on other things, and possibly even on the work in question) while others communicate. Examples of this are:
- Collaboration on a message board
- Teams posts in "message board" style
The location mode - co-located vs. fully remote vs. hybrid
The other important axis is the physical location of where people work. It also doesn't just cover hxers - it includes our clients, partners, and any other third-party with whom we work:
Traditionally, people have co-located to work. This means they've been physically in the same place, irrespective of the collaboration/communication requirements implicit in the work at hand.
In fully remote work, the whole group of people doing the work are decentralised - there is no physical location. Collaboration is handled/enabled using technology.
A hybrid model is used when some participants are co-located and others are remote (both at a company level, but also on specific tasks). In this case, some people may be in the same physical location(s), although this may or may not be relevant, depending on the nature of the work and communication mechanism.
As the pandemic hopefully recedes, some of the tech world is setting firm rules for the "return to the office" (e.g. Apple, Google, Front), and others are going completely the other way (e.g. Facebook, Twitter). hx is generally against extremes and rigid rules. Instead, we use a principles based approach (like we do for most things, including our broader Core Principles). Operational implications of these principles are covered in the Ops Handbook.
There are no right answers in establishing a way of working, and our approach is certain to need regular revisiting and change. There are multiple reasons for this, but two stand out:
- In scaling hx, our focus is on cultural and values alignment over location preference. While we expect some correlations, we can't predict the end state, especially given how much things can change in a short time at a business like ours
- The pandemic has made the world revisit the way it works with fresh eyes. Society is at the very beginning of this exercise: the nature of the results, and time horizon over which they will emerge, is highly unclear!
With that being said:
The nature of hx's work, culture, and hxers in general, means we value face-to-face contact, for both work and social reasons. As a result, we expect a healthy mix of co-located and remote work to dominate hx's way of working for the foreseeable future.
While we believe this is the best solution in the face of mixed preferences, there will be challenges from time to time. In particular, we are very aware of the difficulty in balancing the different job satisfaction and mental health requirements of people who have more extreme preferences for co-located or remote work - this is a hard problem and we plan to invest in addressing it!
Be thoughtful, honest and do the right thing
This is the "super-principle" that guides what we do (and it's arguable that many of the other principles are specific instances of this). When in doubt, you should always check that you/the group in which you are working are acting this way!
The mode is driven by the requirements of the work, and what works best for the team
Our goal is to do the work in the best way possible - now the world is more flexible, we have more variables we can optimise to achieve this. As a result, we should think about what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and the resources (including physical locations and technology) we have at our disposal.
This has many implications, for example, but not limited to the following scenarios:
- There is no need to come into the office to sit on VCs all day, unless that's best for you, and the office has space
- If you are working on async work, especially deep focus work, choose the location that helps you do this best. For some people, this may be at home; however it's not always the case. For example, several hxers work much better in quiet, "focus cave" environments within an office, where positive peer pressure helps mitigate distraction. Remember - be thoughtful, honest and do the right thing, not the default/path of least resistance!
- Use co-located work where it's optimal and practical, for example:
- Doing a detailed brainstorming/whiteboarding session over several hours with colleagues who are located within reasonable distance of each other
- Giving or receiving information that's better handled face-to-face by the parties in question (e.g. because it's very complex, nuanced, or sensitive)
N.B. This doesn't necessarily entail working in an hx Hub - it may make sense to meet in a local coffee shop (respecting privacy and confidentiality considerations of course), or going for a walk with a teammate.
There will be events where everyone's needs can't be met. In such such cases, it's likely we'll need to compromise, and consider rotating location modes - in a hybrid world, a positive attitude to compromise will be critical to a happy team.
The key point to emphasise is that the mode is a function of the work and team, not the other way around.
Honour your commitments
The increased flexibility that a hybrid model affords us only works effectively if we keep our promises. This is particularly important on occasions we elect to co-locate, because our approach to remote work means the presence of single remote participant could change the entire mechanism of work.
Last-minute changes, ineffective/unambiguous communication and lack of consideration for other people are in general poor, "un-hx" behaviours, but they are especially damaging to a hybrid way of working: they can lead to wasted time, tension between teammates, and have very significant, unexpected knock-on consequences.
A hybrid model requires more planning - be sure to allow for this in your work. Do not let laziness, poor planning or operational failure get in the way of doing the right thing!
Note that this doesn't mean that you can't change your mind about where you are going to work and how - it's about being thoughtful of the impact to your colleagues and their plans. For example , popping into the office on a meeting-free day when you originally didn't plan to, so you can be around your teammates and encourage a little serendipitous conversation is encouraged, as long as it doesn't affect others.
Remote participants (hxers or otherwise) are first-class citizens
Running a hybrid model doesn't mean that we run mixed modality meetings. There's lots of evidence to show that in such circumstances, when a critical mass of people are co-located and engage "IRL", remote participants miss out. Everyone gets takes equal priority at hx, irrespective of where they are - to ensure this we need to be "remote-first" in many aspects of our business.
We run almost all our hybrid meetings in "remote mode" - even a single remote colleague means everyone treats the call as a VC and engages as if they were remote, even if they are sitting next to each other.
Note that there may be exceptions to this rule - for example, "broadcast meetings" where a small group of people are presenting and the rest of the group is the audience, with negligible bi-directional communication (like Show and Tell) may be run in mixed mode. However this is only the case if we can ensure that remote participants can receive an experience as good, or better, than if the meeting were run in remote mode.
Making all of this work will require improvements to our processes and tooling - we are actively working on this, and plan to invest significantly in the state of the art for all hxers.
Changing how we work doesn't change our goals or what we care about
This should be obvious, but it's worth stating explicitly. Some people and companies are interpreting a shift away from 100% co-located work as a shift towards, 100% remote, async work with a focus only on observing work output, and less emphasis on relationships, personal engagement and sync collaboration. We know there will be many companies that default to a perspective that approximates to "anything goes as long as you get the work done". This is not hx's view. (We also don't believe that many companies will stick to such a system in the long-term!).
We've adopted a hybrid model because we believe it's the best way of achieving our ambitions following the data and feedback we've collected during the pandemic. It does not mark a change to our ambition, or what matters at hx!
We are here to be the best versions of ourselves, and to make hx the best it can be. The means that we continue to set the bar as high as we can possibly achieve by working at our best; this is par for the course at any high-growth business, and we want hx to outperform even among this cohort.
We still focus on the same things we always have - smarts, commitment, hard work and great communication. In particular, we will not be just focusing on what you deliver; how much you care, and how hard you try, and how often you give the "hx extra" will continue to matter materially. If we do this, the score takes care of itself.
Balance flexibility with predictability and great communication
All three of these concepts are tightly coupled. Randomness is a huge productivity crusher, at an individual level, but especially at a team level - it adds logistical and cognitive overhead to communications, which is material when summed across the team. We want to minimise this.
So, everyone at hx should have a plan and communicate it - this usually takes the form of a standard schedule for where you expect you’ll work, aligned with your team’s planning cycle (usually weekly or fortnightly). While we are always very flexible within any given cycle, having a plan makes a huge difference to our ability, and the effort required, to coordinate with each other to get things done.
We know that different roles will have an inherently different balance, and flexibility requirements (for example, salespeople will be heavily customer-led, and therefore likely to have a more variable schedule than, for example, a principal engineer working on a deep individual project).
It matters much less what your schedule is - it’s more important that you have one, it’s extremely well communicated (particularly in your calendar), and that you stick to it unless you have a good reason to change it!
With that being said, hx has always had a very flexible approach to schedules, and our definition of “good reason” is broad: if you can be as productive or more by moving things around, communicate it, and avoid inconveniencing your teammates unless absolutely necessary, most things are acceptable.
Implications and Expectations
What does this mean in reality? We hope that the resulting working patterns and practices that we follow will feel familiar to existing hxers, and be easy to adopt for new joiners. The principles above should suffice to guide most decisions, but there are some topics which benefit from specific elaboration.
The role of an office is different in a remote-hybrid world to one that's predominantly co-located. Following detailed research, and surveying of the team, we’ve seen while some hxers want to remain office-based for most of their week, the majority expect to use the office for collaboration, planning and socialisation.
For this reason, going forward we will refer to the physical offices that hx uses as Hubs - they will be places that connect hxers around the world to each other, for any reason that drives growth, success and happiness in their work. (This doesn’t mean you can’t use the word office - but we will be calling our approach “Hub-based” to capture the essence above.)
It’s worth emphasising that our office still needs to accommodate all types, and modes of work: there will be focus and quiet spaces in our hubs too.
Our Ops Team have been hard at work specifying and designing our first Hub - hxHQ in London - with all of this in mind. You can find the operational implications of our Hub strategy within our Ops Handbook.
Fully remote hxers are expected to attend a hub regularly - at least once a quarter, depending on role and work requirements. The “do the right thing” principle applies very clearly here - on occasion, if it makes sense and is practical for remote hxers to be in the office outside these minimum requirements, we expect them to make the effort, just as we expect co-located hxers to accommodate their remote teammates as first-class citizens in day-to-day life.
Workdays and common hours
As an enterprise technology firm with strong ties to the London financial system, the whole of hx currently overlaps with a 9-5 UK time as "common hours". We are not an "anywhen" business, and although if it makes sense for such a way of working to apply, we will assess it, this is unlikely within our current plans.
Clearly as we scale our team and offerings into more, different timezones, our common hours will need to change. We are currently formalising our international hub availability plan.
Irrespective of when they are, a set of common hours means there is a "start" and "end" to the day for the purposes of planning and coordination.
You need to be ready and available within common hours. If you can't for whatever reason, this is a form of out-of-office: please inform your team accordingly.
Note that this doesn't conflict with, or preclude the use of hx flexibility as and when it makes sense and is possible to use it! It's generally courteous and coherent with our policy of flexibility and communication to ask/be explicit about how your availability could impact your teammates' schedules (your calendar is, as always, your best friend here).
In fact, while the COVID risk remains high, we especially encourage this, as long as team obligations permit. For avoidance of doubt however, you will be expected to be flexible about within-common-hours travel to accommodate business needs. We expect hxers to use flexibility on an ad-hoc, rather than regular basis, but want to learn and understand all our requirements and build our policies around them - if you aren't sure how this applies to you, please speak to your manager or a Chief.
Now that hubs are no longer the place in which most hxers spend most of their time working, our remote setups are materially more important to our daily working lives. With this in mind, you will be expected to work in an office, if not "the office":
Everyone at hx who works regularly remotely must have a setup that allows them to be at least as productive than they would be if they worked in a hub.
When we say office, we mean an environment that contains:
- A designated “office space” that allows you to work with:
- Minimal distractions
- Confidence in the (physical and technological) security and privacy of your environment, including your ability to attend sensitive meetings and calls
- The fundamentals for office work, including a desk, office chair, screen, and fast, reliable internet
- An appropriate setup for your role (screen configuration, webcam)
We are developing a formal framework for what hx can help with in this regard.
We understand that this is likely to preclude most forms of "digital nomadism" for the majority of, if not all roles at hx currently. If you believe otherwise, we are happy to have an open conversation, hx-style.
hx is an enterprise technology firm, and customer service is a critical part of our value proposition and strategy. It's also a key differentiator.
It's important to note that our clients still lean on co-location as their primary location mode, and will regularly expect hxers to engage with them this way. They may also conflict with the principles that hx has set. There's little we can do about this.
When this happens, customer-centricity prevails - we should respect, and expect to match our clients' requirements.