Grammarly has a simple but ambitious mission: to improve lives by improving communication. Every day, our AI-powered writing assistance helps 30,000 teams and 30 million people communicate clearly and effectively wherever they write.

But behind our technology is a team of engineers. Until recently, our engineers focused exclusively on building a product for consumers. When I came aboard to lead new initiatives as the Director of Engineering for Grammarly Business and Grammarly for Developers (expanding our product to support teams, organizations, and third-party developers), it was clear Grammarly approached full-on hypergrowth.  

Then the pandemic changed everything. Suddenly, we found ourselves transitioning to a remote-first organization amid hypergrowth hiring and onboarding. The company doubled in the past year to over 500 team members, and my teams have grown even faster. 

To be successful, we needed to spearhead initiatives that solved two problems. The first involved people: How could we successfully maintain a culture reflecting Grammarly’s EAGER values in a remote world? The second was technical: What tools and practices would enable our team members to thrive? 

Transitioning to remote

Historically, Grammarly has had an in-person culture. We have four hubs—in Kyiv, San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York. But when I joined in July 2020, everyone was remote. Few assumed it would stay that way, but the “return to normal” kept getting pushed further back. Eventually, Grammarly adopted a remote-first hybrid model

With “remote-first,” Grammarly team members work primarily from home. However, we continue to believe in-person interaction builds trusting relationships and a supportive culture that fosters innovation. So our offices became collaboration hubs where face-to-face meetups will also take place each quarter.  We made this decision based on our progression as a company; because we felt we’d learned how to communicate and collaborate effectively and saw advantages to the remote-first model.

Keeping it personal 

I look forward to meeting people in person at our first team-based meetup next year, but with my quickly growing team split between Kyiv and North America, we need to constantly build and maintain personal connections.

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“I've onboarded fully remotely. I've only met four of my coworkers in person.” - Dev Interrupted podcast at 19:33
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Thus, we’ve tried our best to foster a thoughtful approach to team bonding at Grammarly—which signals that breaks and fun are important, too. 

Some example approaches: 

Our events motivate people to break from work and connect with each other. Activities range from educational to creative and silly, including an Indian cooking class during Diwali, a graffiti workshop, a cocktail class, a Halloween costume competition, and Grammarly’s twelfth-anniversary talent show. This personable approach also translates to how we chose the tools for remote collaboration.

Finding the proper tools

Setting hypergrowth teams up for success requires investing in the right tools and processes. As often as possible, we try to implement asynchronous communication and development best practices. Proper tools that facilitate organizational transparency are critical for alignment in a remote-first company.

Fewer people are required in Zoom calls because we share recordings and notes in open Slack channels. For collaboration and stakeholder alignment, our Engineering teams use Confluence for documentation, Jira for issue tracking, and Figma for collaborative interface design. Architecture and whiteboard sessions occur in Miro, while team retrospectives happen in Parabol

The archival component of these tools is invaluable; new and old team members alike can discover information through Glean, which gives us aggregated search across all our tools and content. 

Embracing the talent diversity potential of remote work 

One of the most exciting opportunities with remote work is in finding hidden talent in overlooked geographies. Silicon Valley gets all the attention, but it’s not the only region with great software engineers. There’s plenty of talent out there just waiting to be found. 

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“Genius is evenly distributed by Zip Code, but opportunity is not” - Mitch Kapor, Kapor Capital

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Finding talent in other locations also leads to more organizational diversity. Whether that diversity is racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, or generational, diverse teams are going to improve your product. I’m a huge believer in diverse teams for two reasons: 

  1. Better problem-solving than homogenous teams: I’ve witnessed this in my career, and it’s been proven with studies. Creativity naturally flows from visible and invisible diversity. Companies embracing differences will achieve better outcomes because the ensuing creative conflict helps you innovate and build better products. 
  2. Stronger empathy for the customer: In Grammarly’s case, building writing assistance for the world’s 1 billion English speakers makes diversity in engineering critical. For example, those speaking English as a second language often visualize the language differently, leading to feature ideas that wouldn’t occur to primary English speakers. 

You need a diverse team to build the right product for a broad audience. We’re excited to use recruiting tools like SeekOut and partner with organizations like Elpha and AfroTech to help us connect with and hire engineers from underrepresented groups. 

Onboarding

But hiring isn’t enough! Many organizations are too focused on hiring, at the cost of onboarding. How we onboard folks and make them feel welcome is critical to their long-term success at Grammarly. 

A small test of our onboarding process is whether new engineers can push code in the first week. If they can, it’s a signal the dev environment is well documented and has minimal friction. The faster people can be productive, the more confident they feel, which ultimately boosts team morale. 

That said, onboarding is about more than pushing code. Engineers are encouraged to meet people and learn the product before they feel pressure to deliver. New engineers have a Getting Started Guide that includes who to meet and links to resources. Managers check in daily to answer questions. They also pair with a non-engineering Culture Buddy plus a mentor from their team so they can get to know all aspects of Grammarly life. 

Thoughtful onboarding during hypergrowth helps new team members build connections, which leads to better team health in the long term. 

Staying Grounded 

My advice to any organization about to engage in hypergrowth is to remain thoughtful. Think about hiring, onboarding, your processes, how you measure success, and how you want your employees to feel when they join your team.

Remember, too, that diversity is more than a checkmark or an abstract goal. Diverse teams will be your strongest asset. They will push creative boundaries—and in doing so will build the best possible product with the best possible outcomes. 

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Want to join us in helping 30,000 teams at thousands of companies succeed through effective communication? We’re currently hiring for roles across the Grammarly Business and Grammarly for Developers teams.

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In the past year-and-a-half, going remote has been the primary goal and focus for many companies and individuals. The beginning of the remote work overhaul was rocky to say the least but now that all this time has passed and workplaces have figured out how to work with it and not make it an utter mess- Is it worth keeping? Is it better than being in-office? Should remote work be a standard for dev teams, and in-office be secondary?

Well, that depends on a couple of factors. With some feedback from the Dev Interrupted Discord community, let’s dive into the advantages and disadvantages of remote work.

 

The Disadvantages

 

Team bonding is difficult

“It's not impossible or anything, but I've found it's so unbelievably easy to bond with a team in person doing regular lunches and such. (...) I miss being able to see someone frustrated or struggling with something and walking over to them with a couple other people and saying "let's head to lunch and clear our heads." You build bonds very quickly when you do demonstrable human things to reduce someone's stress.” - Discord User The Panda#2143

Jumping off from what The Panda said, the first major disadvantage that many people will voice is a lack of genuine team bonding when your team is fully remote. It requires much more active effort to bond with your teammates over Zoom. Being around another person naturally speeds up the bonding process much more than occasionally messaging someone because you need something. 

When working remote, your team needs to be intentional about team bonding. An excellent way of maintaining some form of social bonding is to have a weekly meeting where you can just sit down and chat with your colleagues, talk about what you did on the weekend, maybe occasionally host a “show and tell” of your own. Figure out what fun little trinkets your colleagues collect! Another popular weekly meeting idea are “coffee talks”, which are informal breakout rooms hosted on Zoom that can be hopped into or out of at will. 

Team leaders also need to be sure to regularly schedule fun events - whether in person or online - to bond team members. This could be a happy hour where everyone gets shipped a cocktail kit and makes them together, or a digital magic show, an in-person meet up, or something else.

Video Call Dread

Remote work zoom fatigue.

Sometimes, it is just the most inconvenient thing to be forced to have to sit around in a conference call several times a day to get things done. Text is confusing, unclear. But you have to discuss things somehow, so you end up calling. And calling. And calling- is it just me or is it simply exhausting to sit around with the “important work meeting” looming overhead in between everything you do?

Even many industry leaders and remote work proponents discuss what they often refer to as “Zoom fatigue.” In a recent remote work panel hosted by LinearB, video call dread was highlighted as a major downside of remote work. 

“My kid’s school over the last year has been trying to keep us involved, and one of the ways they’ve done that is booking these Zoom sessions in the evening. I notice when I get [to the meeting] I just don’t want to be there. I’ve been on video all day long.” - Lawrence Mandel, Director of Engineering at Shopify 

One of the biggest appeals of remote work is that you have so much freedom to do things on your own time and create focus time, but it is nearly impossible to feel comfortable doing a different activity for a while when you’re still in “work mode”.

So while in reality you do focused work for 4-5 hours, mentally you’re still working the whole 8-9 hours. The meetings and work you do aren’t consecutive and are instead the equivalent of a car starting and stopping in a traffic jam. Every hour or two, you have to sit up and move .5 metres before you sit around and do something else again. It gets exhausting.

Despite everything, remote work is still built around the idea of being in an office for nearly half the day. Which really shouldn’t be a surprise, as remote work was never about changing the working hours, but the expectation often comes with it.

Lack of printer access.

Okay, Really, this isn’t the biggest disadvantage but it's something that I, as a young man under the age of thirty, found highly amusing. I can guarantee that a majority of people today  just don’t own a printer. And that makes sense, you generally don’t have to print a lot these days! Though, in many cases, having an on-paper copy of a digital file is reassuring to have. (At least for me, I prefer having paper copies of important documents over a file on my desktop!)
If you’re going to be working remotely, you may  have to invest in a printer. Or hope there’s a copy-shop near you. You really don’t realize how convenient having a printer at work can be until you’re forced to work from home. 

You’ll also likely be forced to learn the true cost of printer ink if you haven’t already. Oh dear.

The commute was a benefit!?

For many people, the commute is a huge issue. Especially if you have to drive a car, or take public transport. In cases like those, getting to work remotely and avoiding that mess is great! 

“I miss my commute. It was a 10-20 minute bike ride depending on the route and the weather. I would do it year round in a winter climate, and I always was very happy about the forced fresh air in the winter. The idea of jumping on a bike in subzero snowy weather seems terrible until you're out there, so it made the fresh air and exercise happen.” - Discord User ParksideBrad#9930

To some hardy souls like ParksideBrad, the commute was actually a beneficial and nice thing.  Either way, losing that two-birds-one-stone manner of exercising and getting to work can be a noticeable hit to your daily schedule. While this can be solved by just exercising on your own time- it’s harder to have to intentionally build that into your routine. It’s hard to exercise without reason ( “Getting healthier” isn’t really the best motivator for many, even if it's important.), so using “Going from point A to point B while exercising” as a manner of getting that important movement in is a very valid way of keeping yourself healthy mentally and physically.

The Advantages

 

No commute? Perfect! (Sorry, cyclists!)

Alright, so sure, I did just write that the commute could be a benefit for those that like to exercise. But really, for a majority of people it was always a pain. Getting an extra hour to yourself in the morning is a significant bonus as you don’t feel the need to rush yourself out of bed to avoid any traffic. And getting extra time to yourself just throughout the day? Honestly, the following words by some of our community members emphasize how much better a lack of a commute is for many people:

 

“With no commute and no office tying me down, it's easy to work from just about anywhere the internet exists. This facilitates living in new places, experiencing new things - which is amazing! ” - Discord user NobilityPNW#7631

 

"One big disadvantage of Remote Work: avoiding commute times! I do not miss commuting at all! I save a ton of time that I can use for work or for work/life balance and necessary tasks. I'm also significantly more flexible." - Discord User Conor#3700


More hours in the day are dedicated to you

Your 24 hours in the day are not the same as Beyoncé.

This is a sentence that often gets thrown around in the following way: “You have the same 24 hours in the day like [insert celebrity or billionaire here]”. Sure, you both have 24 hours to do everything in the day. But the allocation of those hours is vastly different. Because unlike Beyoncé, you can’t hire people to do your cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc, for you. You don’t get to leave all the painstakingly long chores and commutes to others.

But thanks to remote work, a lot of these things get a little less bad. Sure, you’re still working at home, but you can take breaks. You can control your activity, your time. You decide if you want to go take a brief pause to play a short game with your kids, or if you want to have a coffee with your partner. You get a chance to spend more time with your home social groups, your family, your loved ones.

“I was on a call with Dan Lines recently talking about Linear B and my 6 year old came into the room and attacked me with a nerf sword. It was short lived, not terribly disruptive, but it felt good to me knowing he had access when he needed it (I survived unscathed). For most of his life I was gone 60-80 hours a week or traveling around the country. Since we went fully remote, we are very close and he feels sad if I have to go downtown for the odd meeting once a month. It has changed our family for the better and when I feel a stronger connection to my family and like their needs are being met, I can focus all my excess energy on whatever I want.”  - Discord User The Panda#2143

You finally get a printer

Congratulations! You have a reason to buy a printer. Hopefully it’ll last you for the next two decades at minimum. May the prices of ink cartridges remain low for you.

The flexibility of work-locations

Being able to work wherever at any point in your workday is an incredible advantage, especially if you struggle to stay focused being in an office environment. Having the chance to get away from the “ADHD poison” that noisy offices often are… Sitting at a quiet cafe in the park, or working from the couch at home with your beloved cat purring away, it all makes for a much better environment.  And then being able to change that on a whim when you decide you’re no longer comfortable? Even better. After all, this is the easiest way for a company to support employees that may need a calmer environment to work in.

But this isn’t even just about being comfortable- it also means that if there are any issues you’re having in your home (such as construction), or your internet is down, you can still stay in touch by being able to connect anywhere else. Rather than having a whole office-outage take out several hours (or potentially, days) of work because something went wrong with the network or power.

Remote work flexibility. No commute means endless possibilities.

Allowing for remote work makes you disability-friendly

This is not just for people who are disabled that apply for the job, but also for those that may become disabled during their time working in your teams. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect, and a sudden health issue could turn out to heavily impair your wellbeing. Before remote work was standardized, if you could no longer go into work on a daily basis you would most likely end up having to quit your job. But now, maybe you can still work with your disability as long as you’re at home. Or as long as you can take frequent breaks, which are made far easier in the comfort of your own home. 

The Conclusion

There’s certainly more advantages to remote work compared to the disadvantages, but this is a case where the disadvantages shouldn’t be left unaddressed.

The disadvantages often fall into real problems that have some half-solutions. But honestly? The best solution might be to reduce the amount of in-office days, and have an option and support for full remote for those that need it. Most people would be happy to go into the office for just a few days a week while staying remote for the rest. And let’s not forget that this’d be the perfect way to allow people to continue wasting printer ink at the office instead of having to invest in their own.

In the end, you must admit that giving employees agency over their hours tends to leave them happier and with a more positive outlook on their jobs. 

Consider checking out Shweta Saraf’s thoughts on the topic of remote first, and not remote friendly, in the video below!

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Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab

The office of the 20th century is a testament to design. A great deal of thought goes into the layout of a building. How are the offices laid out? Where are the elevators located? Where will teams meet? But the focus on co-located office space is quickly becoming a relic of the past. To meet the challenges of the 21st century GitLab's Head of Remote Darren Murph is pushing organizations to put just as much thought into their remote work structure as they would an office building. 

For many companies, the transition to this mindset comes with difficulty. They've shifted into remote work as a necessity, but maintain the 20th-century ‘office-first’ mindset. While this is passable and can work, it's not ultimately taking advantage of the key benefits of a virtual atmosphere. 

To take advantage of the shifting dynamics, GitLab is using their own platform to consolidate all of their virtual collaboration. Providing a single source of truth, GitLab has designed the virtual version of a central hallway where all work is funneled. This breaks down organizational siloes and enables the GitLab team to collaborate with maximum efficiency, by making sure that everything is as visible and as transparent as possible for everyone in the organization. 

A company’s ‘central hallway’ is going to look different from organization to organization, but the takeaway for all remote organizations and engineering leaders should be the importance of de-siloing information across your organization. This will encourage virtual collaboration and boost creativity. 

Meetings that Support Remote Culture

A Chief People Officer once asked Darren, “How do we make our meetings better?” His response? “Make them harder to have.” 

Darren believes that you should have as few meetings as possible because people deserve to be able to focus on their work. From this belief flows the practice of using tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to gather consensus asynchronously, and then reserve synchronous time for meetings where only decisions are made or important status updates are shared. 

This has the effect of focusing a team’s attention which is important as teams become distributed around the globe, and time zones become a greater issue. It's far too easy for your entire day to be meeting with teams across your organization, with people coming online in various time zones to fill your day. Instead, the focus should remain on having critical day-to-day functions performed asynchronously - with meetings taking a back seat. 

In addition to focusing an organization's efforts, being thoughtful about structuring remote work also reduces meeting fatigue. We’ve all experienced being on Zoom or other video conferencing software continuously throughout the day. Not only is it inefficient and distracting, but it can lower your company morale and leave you exhausted and feeling like you didn't accomplish anything during the day.

Darren’s ideas may have seemed radical just a couple of years ago. But he and the folks at GitLab are pioneering - and thriving - in today’s remote environment. The office of the 21st century is undoubtedly going to be virtual, so remember to put as much rigor and thought into your virtual work structure as you would if you were designing a building. 

To learn more about how GitLab and other companies transitioned to remote work, check out Dev Interrupted's Remote Work Panel on August 11, from 9-10am PST.

Image showing four leaders of remote work from Dev Interrupted

Interested in learning more about how to implement remote work best practices at your organization?

Join us tomorrow, August 11, from 9am-10am PST for a panel discussion with some of tech’s foremost remote work experts. This amazing lineup features:

Dan Lines, COO of LinearB, will be moderating a discussion with our guests on how they lead their teams remotely, how the current workplace is changing, and what's next as the pandemic continues to change

 

Don't miss the event afterparty hosted in discord from 10-10:30am with event speakers Chris and Shweta, as well as LinearB team members Dan Lines and Conor Bronsdon.

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If you haven’t already joined the best developer discord out there, WYD?

Look, I know we talk about it a lot but we love our developer discord community. With over 2000 members, the Dev Interrupted Discord Community is the best place for Engineering Leaders to engage in daily conversation. No salespeople allowed. Join the community >>

Dev Interrupted: The New Faces of Engineering Leadership