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Remote-Ready: Larissa Lanz from Giant Swarm about flat hierarchies and why One-on-One video calls are important

12. September 2019

In this article series, we feature successful remote-ready companies and ask them how they collaborate effectively in a remote environment.

The Cologne-based startup Giant Swarm is well-known for being a fully transparent and one hundred percent remote organization. In this interview, HR Manager Larissa Lanz shares some insights into the work culture at Giant Swarm and what is essential to make remote work in an organization of more than 50 people not only productive but also fun.

How does your current organizational setup look like and in which units do you work remotely?

Giant Swarm is a one hundred percent remote organization. From day one onwards, our company’s processes were designed to function in a fully remote manner. Our team consists of more than 50 team members with 19 different nationalities, spread over 14 different countries. We do have a small office in a coworking space in Cologne, but this is only used by three team members who live very close to the office.

How do you collaborate and communicate with each other on a day-to-day basis?

Most of our team members live in Europe, so we have a big overlap in terms of working hours. We’ve agreed to core hours during which we hold most of our meetings. These are from 10 am to 2 pm, but all our team members are free to work whenever they want. Some of our processes require a synchronous time schedule, but quite a few also work asynchronously. The whole team meets twice a year for an onsite somewhere in Europe. The last two gatherings were held in Rome and Barcelona. We also use conferences to meet team members. Everyone within the team is free to choose if and when to attend conferences. All other collaboration takes place online.

What is a must-have for your remote work collaboration?

Initially, when starting at Giant Swarm, you get to meet every single team member for a One-on-One video call. We do this because we believe that once you’ve spoken to someone in such a setting, the barrier of then asking that person’s opinion or approaching her or him for help lowers immensely.

We tend to overcommunicate to make up for the fact that we don’t have the traditional water-cooler situation.

Having a fully remote setting also eliminates the scenario where a few people are in the loop of knowing something, simply because they work in a shared location. Working completely remote results in discussing all decisions online with everyone interested involved. Being a one hundred percent transparent organization greatly helps with this, as well.

Which are the most important tools for your remote collaboration?

We use Slack, Google G-Suite and Github every day. This makes collaborating and communicating very easy and most of the time hassle-free.

How do you reflect the remote work specifics in your approach to leadership, coaching and mentoring?

We believe in a very flat hierarchy and approachability. This means that our founders are part of the teams and working alongside our colleagues on a day-to-day basis. We have a virtual open-door policy, which means that you can talk to everyone at all times.

There are no reporting lines as the teams are mostly self-organized. We don’t just work within teams but also in so-called special interest groups to ensure constant learning and personal development. We encourage everyone within the team to foster self-learning and we fully support this. Every team member in a leading position believes in a servant leadership style and tries to enable their teams to their fullest potential.

Which skills are necessary to work effectively in your remote work organization?

Self-organization, responsibility and accountability as well as a passion for your job. We trust every new team member from day one and we have a strong culture of failure, which is part of our agile mindset.

Which tips can you share to have fun while working remotely?

We have many non-work related slack channels such as #food where we share recipes, #greenlife where we discuss what we can do to make our planet a little bit greener every day, as well as channels on #politics, #music, #pets to name just a few.

A lot of new team members have already said that our Giant Swarm Slack has become their new favorite social media channel!

We also virtually meet for Thursday lunch each week, where we cook, eat and talk for one hour every week. Once a quarter, we organize an internal hackathon that most team members take part in regardless of whether they work in a tech position or not. And sometimes we co-work with one or a few colleagues via video conferencing.

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