How to support distributed work in the OOO World

Ganda Suthivarakom

Dec 16, 2021

Apple plans to bring people back to the office when it's safe. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai tells the New York Times that he misses whiteboard drawing in a room with others. But plenty of people don’t want to go back to the office. The rise of the Omicron variant has the world on edge. And who actually misses being stuck commuting in traffic for hours a day?

The out-of-office (OOO) world has created unforeseen issues that employers should address. But having everyone come back to the office is not the only way to solve the problems people are experiencing. The pandemic has proven that many jobs don’t require being in an office together in an expensive city to produce great results. In fact, we believe in the OOO loop—quality of life improves the quality of work

At mmhmm, we’re establishing guidelines to ensure we make good on our commitment to the OOO world principles for work. Here are four problems people encounter without the office, and the solutions we’ve put in place to combat them.

Problem 1: Paying higher salaries to people in certain cities. 

Solution: Distribute pay equally.

In the OOO world, people should have the freedom of flexibility without having to ask permission from their manager for choices they want to make about their own lives. And when people can live wherever they want to, they shouldn’t be paid based on their current geographic location; they should be paid for their output and expertise.

However, lowering all salaries can mean not being able to compete for talent in higher-cost cities. To deliver on our company’s promise of equal pay for equal work, we have set standardized, nationwide compensation levels according to each job. The levels are calculated annually, based on national compensation data, and weighted to be competitive in the most expensive markets for each country. We automatically adjust people’s compensation up (but not down) whenever their current compensation is below these levels. 

In the US, for example, we are paying a national weighted average that is much closer to San Francisco or New York wages than to the prevailing salaries in less expensive regions. Our aim is to be competitive in every area. It means that we “overpay” (sometimes quite significantly) in less expensive areas and countries. This is a feature, not a bug. 

We plan to move to a single pay scale world-wide, but because there is such significant variation in global compensation levels, tax burdens, expenses, etc., this will take some time. For now, we calculate the levels for groups of similar countries and will increase compensation for less expensive countries over time until they are fully caught up.

Problem 2: Employees without an office still need a productive work environment. 

Solution: Give employees a supplement to pay for their work space.

Working outside of the office doesn’t have to mean working from home. You shouldn’t have to watch the kids while you work or use your laptop in a cramped living room while your roommates hold noisy conference calls. We’ve given up our offices, not our responsibilities. To help employees work from a productive, healthy environment, we provide a distributed facilities supplement to everyone’s payroll (we like to call it OOO Money). This is meant to be spent on whatever each employee thinks will give them a healthier and more productive work environment, such as faster internet, a bigger home office, membership to a coworking space, better equipment, etc. We give guidance and advice about how to best spend this money, but we do not require any receipts, verification, or reimbursement.

Problem 3: Without the office to foster interaction, relationships corrode.

Solution: Give employees tools and incentives to help them build relationships.

The everyday social interactions that happen in an office can help people build relationships and humanize one another. But being in an office isn’t the only way to create the conditions for socializing. The tools we are building can help people be creative and expressive on video when they’re working apart or asynchronously. Doing more work over video allows us to be more intentional about when we work synchronously as well as what we do when we are in-person. We can and do bring teams together in-person for special occasions. 

It’s also important to encourage people to meet each other opportunistically. To incentivize these get-togethers, we are giving our employees $100 a month if they meet up with their colleagues for what we call a “turtle crossing” (a reference to our parent company, All Turtles). Employees aren’t required to request permission from their manager, submit receipts, or even talk officially about work. What matters is that they get to know each other better, whether that’s over a meal or while throwing axes at a bar. 

Problem 4: Working with people in different time zones makes scheduling meetings tricky.

Solution: Cancel your meetings and send recordings instead.

First, establish your work hours and make them visible to the whole company, whether that’s on Slack or in your calendar, and turn off notifications outside of those hours. Respecting those boundaries is especially important when people who work together closely live in different time zones. 

Second, encourage asynchronous updates via video recording for the majority of work. You can still meet at the same time—over video or in person—for true discussions and decision-making, but synchronous time should be treated as a precious commodity and saved for activities that build trust and foster good relationships. After all, if only one person talks during a meeting, it wasn’t a meeting—it was a waste of time.

Helping provide a work environment that people love means enabling people to live where they want to for competitive pay during the hours that work for them.

Are there any other problems you think employers should address? Send a tweet to @mmhmmapp and we’ll talk to experts to find a solution.