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Despite all their advantages, remote companies have a problem: the affinity gap.
Affinity is the natural or spontaneous liking to something. The affinity gap is the difference between how great something is to you, versus how much someone else appreciates it. And for remote companies, that gap is a very real barrier to growth.
This problem touches all parts of the business – from how well employees work together, to how your product is perceived by your customers, and the quality of talent you'll be able to attract.
Closing this gap not only creates a tighter team experience and higher quality work, but it also creates a company culture that others want to be a part of.
In this post I’ll share how at Mutiny we're proactively working to close that affinity gap with our quarterly in-person offsites, while remaining fully remote. I'll also include some tips along the way for how you can apply these learnings to make your next offsite as effective and fun as possible.
Last week, the entire Mutiny team gathered in-person in sunny San Jose, California. A few months before that, we got together in the mountains of Utah. We call these offsites, and we do them every 3 months. And we're a better company because of it.
Why do in-person offsites make us a better company? For 3 main reasons:
1. They give everyone full context on the entire business.
2. They recharge and refocus the team.
3. They close the affinity gap.
Let's take a closer look at each.
At an in-person office, there’s a much higher likelihood of getting exposed to other departments within the business other than yours.
In a remote setting, it’s so easy to get so absorbed by what the marketing team is doing that you forget to pay attention to what the sales, engineering, customer experience, and operations departments are working on.
Without visibility into other parts of the business, remote employees are less likely to collaborate cross functionally and pursue curiosities. The result? The jump into a leadership role becomes that much harder because they’ve only cared about their individual contributions up until that point.
In-person offsites allow all employees the opportunity to learn from and share with others, regardless of their department.
Offsites are also one of the best onboarding experiences possible for new Mutineers. I attended my first offsite on my first week at Mutiny. Having a 360 degree view of the company I just joined and getting to meet everyone in-person made my onboarding experience so much more meaningful than just reading a few onboarding docs. Never under-estimate the power of hearing the founder share their vision in-person.
How Mutiny does it: We also invite Mutiny customers to the offsite to share their experiences and ask questions. Meeting customers in-person is powerful because it reminds everyone why we're doing all this in the first place: to make someone else's life better.
There’s a lot of pre-planning that goes into these offsites. Each department has pre-reads everyone must study so you come into the session ready to make informed decisions.
We then break off into different tracks that focus in on a specific area of the business and pick the objectives and key results we'll strive for in the next quarter.
The reason why setting the objectives and key results (OKRs) in-person is better than remotely is because these types of conversations require tension and debate.
When growing startups, seemingly tiny decisions – like should we aim for 50% or 65% this quarter – can have massive long-term impacts. Strong leaders know this and must be able to communicate this to their team.
This requires more nuance and emotional intelligence than a Zoom call can get across.
How Mutiny does it: At the end of the offsite, each and every employee has crystal clear instructions of what they need to accomplish this quarter, a path to accomplishing it, and the business objective behind why they’re doing it.
Without a clear understanding of how your work actually drives the business forward, most employees (remote or not) will never really feel accomplished. Oftentimes this lack of purpose leads to burnout, high turnover, and general lack of effort over the long-run.
Building startups is both a marathon and a sprint. Everyone needs to understand what they need to do right now, but also enough visibility to see where they’re
The affinity gap comes in many forms, but essentially describes the difference between how much you like something in your mind, versus how much others like it.
Startups in particular must work hard to close this gap as quickly as possible, because their success depends on it.
For example, founders must close the affinity gap when: recruiting new employees, attracting investors, and closing the first few deals. It doesn’t matter how great the idea is in your own head unless you can share it effectively. The most impactful founders are able to communicate their ideas in a way that gets others equally as excited to jump onboard.
As that affinity is passed on from founder to employee, the effect compounds. The more people who have high affinity for your company, the more people will hear about it, the faster they'll want to buy from or work for you, and the affinity gap shortens for the next cohort.
The structural problem with remote companies is that there’s very few opportunities to close this affinity gap. Some of the biggest perks of remote work (flexibility, asynchronous communication) actually widen the affinity gap further by not allowing colleagues to interact on a deeper level.
Think of the person in your life you have the deepest connection and affection with. I’d wager to say that your relationship took a long time to flourish into what it is today. If you’d only gotten to meet that person over a 30 minute video call once a week, do you think you’d care about them as much? Probably not.
The same goes for your worklife: you won’t really care about your colleagues, company, or customers unless you get the time and opportunities to develop a deeper relationship.
Getting to work and play in-person with your colleagues leads to strong bonds that continue to exist once everyone returns to remote working.
To help us proactively close the affinity gap, Mutiny is practicing a new type of remote work culture called experience-based work. This means creating opportunities for Mutineers to gather in-person in environments that bring out their best work. Right now that looks like quarterly offsites, but soon we’ll experiment with other structures as our team continues to grow and we face new problems to be solved.
We'll continue to share how we're building a culture of experience-based work. We have a lot still to learn, but hope that in sharing our experiences other remote companies will be able to close their affinity gap and remote work can take on a new meaning.
If you're interested in joining us at the next offsite, check out our fully remote open roles.
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