As a company of 85 spread across 15 different countries, Buffer’s always been in the limelight for its remote-first approach. Needless to say, it’s one of the companies that has operated fully-remote, much before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, similar to Gitlab, Automattic, and Zapier.
It must be going well for the company as Buffer boasts a 94% retention rate, often attributed to its amazing remote culture. When we looked deeper into what made Buffer’s remote work, ‘work’ for them, we narrowed it down to one word–tools.
The way the company uses technology and tools to empower and engage its employees is impeccable, to say the least. You might be wondering that most companies have figured out project management, storage, and communication tools by now. What’s new? When it comes to Buffer, what stands out is the cohesion they’ve built within these essential tools, and the effort they’ve put in some not so basic tools to complete their remote setup.
Let’s dive deeper into it.
To begin with, here are 6 tools that Buffer uses that you probably have heard of and are using.
Pretty much the talk of the town when it comes to remote work, Slack is used for communication and collaboration at most companies, including Buffer. It’s an instant alternative to an email where you can set reminders, create channels, create groups, and much more to streamline communication in your workplace.
Another popular choice in the remote tools department, Trello is a visual collaboration tool that enables you to manage your tasks and organise your projects. It allows you to create cards of all the tasks, add members, and add deadlines. Not just that, it has innumerable integrations to make your task management more effortless.
A create tool for collaboration and documentation, Notion lets you keep all your notes, documents, and tasks organized and aligned in one place. You could think of it as a combination of Google docs and Trello. As for Buffer, it uses Notion as a ‘team handbook’ that answers all your questions and keeps information transparent across their remote workspace.
Remote work requires managing work across different time zones and coordinating meetings with people at the other end of the globe. Calendly makes scheduling and coordinating meetings easier for remote teams. It supports 1-on-1 meetings, round-robin, and collective availability meetings and gets integrated with many applications.
Sharing is another challenge in a remote workforce. That’s where you need shared storage through which your team can access and share data. Buffer uses Dropbox for that. It allows you to create, store easily, and share documents and files from google documents, google slides, and Microsoft files.
Finally, to keep the virtual meetings going–Buffers uses Zoom, one of the most widely used video conferencing apps. Zoom allows you to do video calls, discuss presentations and host brainstorming sessions.
So far, you’d be wondering that these are pretty much what you’ve got at your company too, right? However, Buffer’s got some more tricks (or rather tools!) up to its sleeves. Let’s now talk about the not-so-common but yes so useful tools that aid Buffer’s remote culture.
Beyond the Basics–Buffer’s (not so) secret sauce
Zenefits comes to the aid of the HR team at Buffer. An automated HR system, Zenefits offers a cloud-based HR information management base to organizations for managing their HR services such as– health insurance, payroll, compliance, employee benefits, paid time off, and many more. All the information, details about the employees are added to the system when they’re onboarded, and the platform handles the rest.
What’s more–it takes care of the digital signing of all onboarding related documents and records. So, using Zenefits, Buffer can maintain digital employee files without much hassle. It’s secure, and customizable and offers plenty of integrations too.
While Slack is great for real-time communication and coordination, sometimes, things get missed out because there’s so much happening simultaneously. That way, keeping track of the progress of different discussions gets difficult.
Buffer sorts that out using Threads, another communication tool that allows you to maintain ‘spaces’ for communication where relevant people are added and kept in the loop about conversation progress. Another feature that helps Buffer’s distributed team is that the tool is time-inclusive. The discussions are searchable, so you don’t miss out on the conversation that your team members from a different continent had. Hence, for any discussion that involves decision making, Buffers moves the conversation to Threads. That way, you and your team don’t miss out on anything.
What makes it even better is that when you respond to a comment, not everybody in the thread will get notified, but only the person you are replying to will get a notification while everyone can see the thread.
3. Hey Taco!
Another challenge of working remotely is that you’re unable to pat your team for their efforts. Rewards and appreciation get sidelined in a distributed team, as the focus becomes getting work done.
Feeling unappreciated and isolated can make your remote employees feel that they’re not being valued at the company. To overcome this, Buffer has a team-driven reward system in place using Hey Taco!.
Hey Taco! allows every team member to give out 5 Tacos to other members. These tacos are in the form of emojis, which employees can use to appreciate someone or just put a smile on someone’s face on a regular day. Once a team member has received a sufficient number of tacos, there are several rewards including movie tickets, gift cards, days off, etc that can be redeemed on the Hey Taco page. Since Hey Taco! is available as a Slack integration, it works even better for the Buffer team.
You’d agree that it’s irking to get work notifications on holiday or on your time off. However, with a team distributed over different time-zones and in diverse locations with their national holidays, keep track of who’s not around is a nightmare. After all, you just can’t scan around the office to see if ‘Bob’ came to work today, right?
Buffer’s got a tool for leave management too–Timetastic. Timetastic is a simple staff leave planner that enables people to organize their time off from work and keep the team leaders updated. It is a paperless approach to maintaining a record of the employee’s attendance at work. There is a personal calendar for each employee with the leaves they are allowed to take in a year. The calendar notifies the employee of the number of leaves left based on the past leave record so that they can plan their holiday accordingly.
In addition to that, Timetastic empowers Buffer’s distributed team by keeping track of all national holidays depending on the countries added in the app. As a company spread across 15 countries, this feature really helps the team be more inclusive towards all cultures.
5. Okta and 1Password
With each new application, tools, and account created, there’s a password involved. To top that, there are so many security procedures to take care of. For a company, that means a hefty IT investment and effort. Buffer, however, has found a simpler solution.
Buffer uses a combination to two tools to ensure security without making it a hassle for the team. First, it uses Okta is a cloud-based identity and access management solution, that allows every team member to have a single sign-on for multiple applications used at the company.
Secondly, Buffer couple Okta with 1Password which becomes a locker for the innumerable password each team member has. A person has to remember a single master password to gain access to every important information stored on the application.
5. Culture Amp
With all these tools in place, to make remote as smooth for its team member, Buffer keeps an eye on whether they’re on the right track in terms of engagement and morale too. To know whether their efforts at keeping their distributed team engaged are working, Buffer uses Culture Amp.
A culture analytics tool, Buffer uses Culture Amp to do a quick temp check every quarter on how people are feeling at the company. Not just that, the tool comes in handy in conducting regular performance reviews too. Analysing the high performers’ results helps you realize some key components in helping other employees who have an average performance at work. The task is made much easier through a library of research-backed engagement, pulse, and comprehensive surveys designed by modern psychologists and data scientists.
Summing it up
Clearly, there’s a lot to learn from Buffer’s culture. The company is one of the torchbearers of remote culture. That being said, what works for Buffer may not work for you. The underlying principle to understand here is that you’ve got to find a combination of tools to empower your remote team. This set could be different from Buffer (or even similar) as long as it is working. The key is to look beyond the general communication and project management tools and establish systems for rewards, conversation management, morale monitoring, and remote coordination.
Hope a sneak-peek into Buffer’s remote setup can help you get started on building yours!