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Deepgram’s Remote-First Mindset: How We Work, And Why It Matters

Deepgram’s Remote-First Mindset: How We Work, And Why It Matters

2022, well 2021, okay, and 2020…for a while now, each year has had its hotly debated topics—politics, pandemics, the royals, Elon Musk, etc. People are picking sides and speaking their minds. The debate over remote work has been no different. 

Covid changed the game on how work gets done, post-pandemic. A recent McKinsey survey found that “58% of Americans reported having the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week, and 35% of respondents report having the option to work from home five days a week.” Another study by IBM found that just over half (54%) of people who are working remotely now would prefer to keep doing so, and three quarters of respondents said they’d like to work remotely at least occasionally.

But now that lockdowns are less strict and vaccines are available to everyone who wants them, some companies are making employees go back to work on-site. Other companies are willing to structure hybrid arrangements or be fully remote, and some companies, like Deepgram, have decided to be remote-first. 

Remote is How Deepgram Works

First, a quick note on what “remote-first” means at Deepgram. We’re definitely not “remote-only” since we have a great office in beautiful downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. Local Deepgram employees (and DGers visiting from elsewhere) are welcome—but are in no way required—to work from this location. We really mean it when we say “remote-first.”

So why remote-first at Deepgram? For starters, it’s in the company’s DNA. More or less since the company started in 2015, Deepgram’s CEO, Scott, has primarily lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and our CTO, Adam, has been based in Ann Arbor. We’ve been familiar with time zone wonkiness and long-distance culture-building challenges since the beginning. But that’s ancient history. Fast forward to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: Deepgram was a scrappy little team of ten people in early 2020. We’ve grown tenfold since. For the more than 100 people who joined the company in the past three years, remote work is all they’ve known at Deepgram.

That said, familiarity is only a minor reason we stay remote. We choose to remain remote because it matches our culture. We value productivity over politics, value actual engagement over "making an appearance," and encourage team members to work in a way that supports their outside lives, whether it's taking time out of the day for family obligations or shifting work hours to pursue continuing education, hobbies, or volunteer work. As a company, Deepgram is pretty allergic to micromanagement and clock-watching. “Do great work, but live your life” is our attitude. This culture is reflected in some of our values, such as: Be Curious, Be Human, and Be You.

This is not to say we don’t recognize that employees can benefit from being face-to-face, and some folks even prefer it. Of course, “remote-first” is not a mandate to work from home, all alone. 

In keeping with our remote-first philosophy, we cultivate a responsive Slack culture, keep employees abreast of company developments with regular all-hands meetings, gather employee feedback with regularly-scheduled surveys, and encourage community groups—like Employee Resource Groups and personal interest groups on Slack—which help DGers feel connected, valued, and heard. 

Remote Works for Us, But Not Everyone

There are a lot of takes—some hotter than others—about what companies should expect from employees as the worst of this pandemic’s disruptions fade into history. Human capital experts, such as Lazlo Bock and Patty McCord, have lent their respective voices to the debate, yet clearly, a consensus is not coming soon. In my opinion, reaching a broader agreement doesn’t matter. Hear me out! 

A company will do whatever it needs to do to survive (and, hopefully, thrive). And every company is unique—from its internal culture, market positioning, and product differentiation all the way to the leadership styles and personality quirks of its executives. If we take that as given, then blanket proclamations about the “right” versus “wrong” way companies approach remote work misses the point. 

Much like how a company, as if with a mind of its own, will do what it needs to do to succeed, so too must the individuals who work at that company or want to land a job there. “Success” looks different for all of us, which is why nobody but you is going to answer the question, “What, exactly, do I want to get out of my work experience?” (Don’t worry if you don’t have a complete answer, either. Few people do.) 

If you find yourself stumped, consider two ways to frame the question. First, a bit of introspection is in order: Think about your own life circumstances and what you need to feel happy and fulfilled. Second, ask the company why they chose a particular work style and how that decision informs its strategy and culture. At that point, the decision to join that company (or not) is yours to make. 

The Future of Work is Yours to Choose

Pick your favorite saying: The cat’s out of the bag; the toothpaste is out of the tube; the die is cast. The COVID-19 pandemic showed tens of millions of people that there’s a way to get work done without going to an office. Whether a current or prospective employer embraces remote work is a new factor in employees’ calculus, probably forever. 

Technological progress means the debate will evolve rather than resolve. Today’s work culture debate may be between “cameras on” versus “cameras off” for meetings; a decade or two from now it may be whether your VR chat avatar has to look like the person behind it. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Company leaders will move forward with the model they feel fits their culture and will produce the greatest amount of productivity. 

So, I implore you to ask, “Why?” If you’re a company leader, ask why a certain way of working is the best fit for your company and its culture. If you’re an employee considering one role over another, ask not just why a company’s way of working serves the company but whether and how it benefits you, too. And of course, if you think Deepgram’s choice of remote-first and our reasons why we’re remote-first is reflective of a model and culture that fits what you’re looking for, know that we have a bunch of exciting openings, and I hope you’ll consider choosing us as the next step in your journey.

If you have any feedback about this post, or anything else around Deepgram, we'd love to hear from you. Please let us know in our GitHub discussions.

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