Day in the Life of a Remote Company: Toggl

Day in the Life of a Remote Company

If you’ve googled ‘productivity apps’, chances are you’ve come across Toggl. Founded in 2007, Toggl helps over 70,000 businesses measure profitability, employee productivity, and provide accurate client billing through their top-rated time-tracking app.

Remote-first Culture with Estonian Roots
Switching over to a remote-first company in 2014, Toggl saw this move as the next logical step in order to grow their team. 

“Estonia is a small country, but the world is big and full of talent,” says Caitlyn Kari, Toggl’s Partnerships Manager. “When Toggl was ready to grow, we wanted to bring on the best people, without being limited by who was available locally. Modern tools make location irrelevant—great people can do great things from anywhere.”

While the physical headquarters still exists in Tallinn, Estonia, the Toggl team today looks like 80 members across five continents and 30 countries. Despite being distributed, the company is firmly held by its Estonian roots that influence Toggl’s company culture.

With work values like, freedom, kindness, building relationships, and more, Toggl is a “people-first” kind of company that’s grounded with an adventurous spirit.

Read more below for our interview with Caitlyn Kari, Toggl’s Partnerships Manager, who provides an in-depth snapshot of the company’s culture, hiring practices, how they support their distributed team, and more.

How is Toggl organizationally structured?

We are proud of our flat organizational structure. Our CEO, Krister Haav, is one of the company’s original founders and currently 9 team leads report up to him. Each Team Lead has a high level of autonomy in managing their own team, including hiring. There are few, if any, hierarchies within teams. Team Leads also form their own teams, which facilitates communication between departments and ensures that everyone in a management role has equal access to plans and information. 

Our Frontend Team Lead, Thiago, has written about his experience growing into the Team Lead role. His insights reflect our company values of providing opportunities for each team member to stretch their boundaries and develop new skills:

What benefits do you offer your employees to ensure they’re comfortable in their role while working remotely?

Office Set-up 
When your office is in your home, the temptation to overwork can be strong. We have found that having a place dedicated to work time, and developing structures and routines around what constitutes work time vs. personal time, helps remote workers create their own boundaries and supports overall wellness. We offer all employees a stipend to furnish their working space in a way that supports their work style. We also encourage our teams to get out of the house occasionally as well and offer monthly reimbursements for coworking space memberships.

We also write occasional stories about our workspaces and have a company-wide Slack channel where people can share where they’re working from on a given day.

Maybe it’s our Estonian roots, but we believe that good work done in the (home) office depends on our ability to step away, disconnect, and let our minds run free from time to time. Giving dedicated attention to other parts of our lives—families, hobbies, adventures—means that we return to work with a fresh perspective and, often, ideas that otherwise wouldn’t have made an appearance. We offer 28 calendar days of vacation and require all employees to take two consecutive weeks of vacation at least once a year so that everyone can rest and refresh.

We have found that the type of people who have the focus and self-discipline to successfully work remotely also are prone to self-imposed overwork. To support both physical and mental health, we offer employees a monthly reimbursement for the activities of their choice. Monthly gym memberships or subscriptions to online or app-based personal trainers are the most commonly reimbursed wellness expenses, but we also cover massage and therapist visits. Tennis, yoga, martial arts, boxing, swimming, bouldering, figure skating, and dancing have all been pursued by Togglers in the name of wellness, and there was that one time that someone tried flying trapeze fitness.

What cultural practices are you proud of?

Be a Team Player (And Get Together Regularly)
Individual commitment to a group effort is what makes the team work. In our experience, relationships are formed in person and maintained virtually. That's why it's of paramount importance for all teams to meet up regularly and get to know the real people behind Slack avatars. We meet twice each year for team building and having fun together. Back home, we expect everyone to always do their best and remember that being helpful and reliable is what really moves mountains.

Communicate! (Then Communicate Some More)
No joke. Because a startup can be a little like a zoo in any case, the added challenge of asynchronous communication with a fully remote team requires that everyone discuss everything openly and honestly, ask questions, and share plans and lessons learned. We encourage everyone to speak up when they have ideas but to also learn to listen.

Be Solution Focused and Own Your Work (And Be Kind)
We always think about what is in the best interests of our customers and take individual responsibility for delivering top quality work on time. We also strive to be constructive and focus on solutions instead of playing blame games when things don’t go exactly as planned. We treat each other with respect and kindness, because we’re all in this together, and it’s in all of our best interests to improve the product, the process, and team performance.

Just Go For It (And Constantly Improve)
Our aim is to have constant progress at a steady pace. To do that, we encourage everyone to keep an open mind and always be willing to experiment and learn. We encourage our team to be proactive about launching their work, even if it may not be perfect and fully polished.

How do you address common remote challenges for your employees?

Weekly “Kitchen Talks”
As a company, we provide space each week for the whole team to come together for our Kitchen Talks—a video-based gathering via Zoom where casual team conversation precedes a formal presentation. Kitchen Talks are an important platform for sharing information, learning from each other, and getting to know our team members. There are three types of Kitchen Talks: those focused on relevant business topics and knowledge-sharing, community-building and getting-to-know-you talks, and presentations by guest speakers that provide opportunities for our team to develop new skills. Each team within the company is responsible for hosting a Kitchen Talk on a regular schedule, which provides visibility for everyone across the company into what each team is up to and how they are working to advance our overall mission.

Additionally, all teams within Toggl touch base weekly via video calls. Seeing each other over video on at least a weekly basis helps maintain relationships in the periods between Meetups and facilitates collaboration. Each team member also has regular video calls with their team lead, which is an opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification, get feedback, and ensure that the right projects and initiatives are being prioritized and have the support they need. 

Financial Support for Skilling Up
We also provide financial support for all of our team members to attend two trainings, workshops, or conferences per year. While the opportunities to gain new skills via self-directed learning are endless in a remote environment, we want to ensure that everyone on our team has the opportunity to stay on the cutting edge of their field. These activities help with both engagement and visibility, as people return from their experiences with new skills and best practices to share with their teams.

What does a “typical day” look like at your company?

A typical day will look different for each of us, but there are some common activities that anchor our time together, such as weekly Kitchen Talks, team video calls, and one-on-one meetings. At any given time, it is also possible that a team or two has gathered together in-person for a Team Meetup. Some teams are structured in such a way that someone is always available 24/7 (our awesome Customer Support Team, for example) and in some teams, members take turns on-call (looking at you Backend Team). Everyone has a say in establishing a work schedule that works best for them.

Last year, as a challenge project during one of our all-company Meetups, we asked everyone what their typical day looks like. The results show that there are many different ways to approach a remote workday:

  • 17% of Togglers wake up before 6am local time, and 14% wake up after 4pm. As long as the work gets done, everyone gets to establish a schedule that works best for them. 
  • While all Togglers meet face-to-face at least 4 times each year (2 all-company Meetups and 2 team Meetups), we had six team members who visited over 10 countries in 2018! Great people can do great work from anywhere.
  • Working from home can be isolating, and sometimes you need to build structure into your day to get out of the house, and maybe even talk to other people face-to-face. 67% of Togglers either exercise in the great outdoors or make their way to a gym on a regular basis to, you know, not look at screens for a while.

How do the current tools you use across the board serve your employees?

  • Notion: Our company wiki and main source of information about big picture company plans, team projects, policies, best practices, and more. 
  • Slack: Email is last century. All internal company communication goes through Slack. Most information is shared in public channels so that it is searchable and available to everyone.
  • Toggl: We use Toggl to track our time and see which tasks are generating good returns on our time investment - and which are not.
  • Zoom: Video conferencing for our weekly all-hands Kitchen Talks. We particularly love the view that allows us to see each others’ smiling faces.
  • Hundred5: A unique platform for hiring remote team members using skills-based tests. We’ve found this method reliably returns better-fit candidates than traditional hiring.
  • Teamweek: A high-level view of team plans and projects.
  • TravelPerk: Consistently getting 80+ team members where they need to go around the world. Hotels are important too.

Trusting employees is a big part of hiring remote candidates. How do you ensure your team is staying on task and engaged with their work?

It starts with hiring. We are not in a hurry when hiring people—a wrong decision means months of agony. We look for people who can first and foremost operate independently, and then as team members.

We use skills-based hiring, starting with a short skills test. Candidates get to show us what they’ve got and, as a bonus, this blind screening process helps to remove possible bias. We then ask our top candidates to do a test assignment, so that we can evaluate the quality of their actual work. We bring the top one or two finalists on board for a paid test week working with the team. This is an important opportunity not only for the team to gain a better understanding of the candidate, but also for the candidate to determine whether or not working with Toggl is going to be a good fit for them.

Once we’ve hired great people, we take a results-oriented approach to the work that we each do. The objective of work is not to be at work, it’s to get work done. This is where strategies like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) come in.

Trust is a cornerstone of a remote team. We hire great team members who put in a lot of effort to be reliable, support them with business structures and processes that help them define and quantify their contributions to the team, and regularly look at data and have conversations about whether or not we are each meeting our goals. We’ve found that our team members value their autonomy and work hard to live up to not only our expectations of them but also their expectations of themselves.

What advice do you have for companies who want to go either fully remote or hybrid?

Document everything
Remote teams often have members working across timezones, which means that if someone has a question, the person they need to ask isn’t always available. Having robust and easy to navigate documentation relating to company policies, who’s responsible for what, and access information for tools and services empowers team members to answer those questions themselves and get on with their work.

Make sure there isn’t a divide between in-house and remote workers
If your office is considering a hybrid approach, with some employees working remotely and some working together in an office, it is important to take active steps to ensure that both groups of employees are treated equally, with equal access to information, equal opportunity to participate in discussions and provide input, and valued equitably based on the work they do, not how much of a show they make about doing it. If you are an in-house manager of remote team members, you need to take steps to understand the challenges they face in order to be able to support them effectively.

Help your managers develop strong remote management and leadership skills

Managing a remote team comes with different challenges than managing a co-located team, including lack of access to body language to help gauge an employee’s mood and lack of visibility into whether someone is overworking, and perhaps therefore experiencing diminishing productivity. At Toggl, we’ve developed a robust support network and training program for our team leads, to help them cultivate the skills that will help them be successful as remote managers.

Read more about the lessons we’ve learned while establishing Toggl’s remote team, and key advice for other companies looking to go remote.

Why do you believe remote work is here to stay?

We firmly believe that remote work is here to stay, so much so that we wrote a complete Out of Office Guide about it. Technology now enables great people to do great work from anywhere, and that means that it’s time to change the way we work. Today’s workers are juggling responsibilities that are often incompatible with a traditional 40+ hour week in the office. Not only does the flexibility of remote work benefit employees by empowering them to manage their life in a sustainable way, but it also benefits employers, by supporting more engaged and productive workers. 


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