Going remote (and staying)

About a year ago, we decided to leave our Parisian office and go remote. This is the story of why we took this decision, what it changed for us...

Going remote (and staying)

About a year ago, we decided to leave our Parisian office and go remote. Though we still have an HQ near Republique, Paris for those who would rather come to the office, all the members of the product & engineering team now work remotely.

This is the story of why we took this decision, what it changed in our culture, and how it changed our personal lives for the better.

Before COVID

Kactus's first office in 2015 was a living room in my co-founder's appartment in the 9th district of Paris.

In 5 years, we have moved 7 times across Paris, and every time was an exciting moment: new office, new work-life balance, new bars and restaurants to discover, and new stories to tell.

Having an office where everyone would gather every day was a strong element of our culture. It allowed for a strong sense of belonging, team spirit, and lead to spontaneous afterworks that would occasionally turn into memorable parties.

Colleagues had become friends, and that was part of our DNA.

Needless to say, it was hard to imagine Kactus without an office where we could see each other every day. It felt core to our culture and to the social bonds that we had formed with our colleagues over the years.

But then came Covid.

Under the storm

Covid struck in March 2020 and we closed our office in a moments' notice. All of a sudden, everything changed. Plans for the future became obsolete. Office life was gone and work happened remotely.

Locked down in our small apartments in Paris with no outdoor and exorbitant rent, we were reminded of all the downsides that we were putting up with to live there.

As it became clear that we wouldn't experience life at the office like before anytime soon, we knew it was time to make a change.

Since Covid was constraining us to work remotely for the upcoming year anyway, we decided to fully embrace the change and make it permanent.

When we first announced our intention to the team, I was fearful. We knew about some remote companies that were doing well, but they were remote from the start. For us, for our team, it was a new deal. I feared that the change it meant for our culture would be a deal-breaker for some.

I could not have expected what happened next.

A new chapter

In the span of 2 weeks after the announcement, most of the team had made plans to leave Paris. Some decided to go back to the region they grew up in, join a lover abroad, buy and renovate an old stone house in Brittany, or even live in a van to travel across Europe.

Of course, it was not a win for everyone. Some were tied to Paris for personal reasons, or just loved living there. For them, the news was not exciting. Eventually, they discovered that they could also benefit from this new freedom. They could escape Paris more frequently to take a breath of fresh air, and work for a few weeks close to nature.

In this terrible year where everything seemed to fall apart, the switch to a remote organisation was our silver lining. It opened up new opportunities for everyone, it meant that we no longer had to oppose personal life and professional interest. We no longer had to constrain ourselves to overpriced boxes with windows to find a fulfilling, good paying, career advancing job.

The price to pay for this new freedom, for aligning personal and professional interest, is the frequency of our social interactions. In this new setup, the new challenge is to maintain cohesion and a sense of a shared mission.

To address that challenge, we organised a team seminar during which we collectively discussed how we could adapt our culture to our new remote organisation.

Here are some of the decisions we took:

  • We would gather every 3 months for seminars, from 2 to 5 days in great locations. For example, we spent a week in a Chalet in Haute-Loire in early 2021. This would mean less frequent, but more quality time together.
Building an igloo during our last Product & Engineering seminar
  • We would create a Cohesion Committee in charge of organising seminars, and proposing new ideas for creating bonds remotely.
  • We would keep an HQ in Paris where teammates can come when they want to re-connect socially.

This was a big shift in our culture, and we're still experimenting what works and what doesn't.

After a year of working remotely, we feel much happier in our personal lives, we share more time with our family, less time commuting, and we are more focused when working. We have managed to re-create bonds in other ways, though we see each other less frequently.

We knew what the trade-off was when we took the decision, and so far, it seems to be successful. We are very proud to have made such a smooth transition, and we hope to prove that it is possible to work remotely in the long-term, and be a successful company.

We believe that personal and professional lives should not be opposed. You should not have to sacrifice one for the other. We intend to offer a work environment where both our personal and professional lives can flourish.

Working remotely offers just that.