The Evolution of “HQ” & Forging Remote Cultures That Are Built To Last ft. Garrett Langley, Co-Founder & CEO of Flock Safety
Authored by Valerie Jabbonsky
“Do you need this hire to sit in HQ, or is working remotely okay?”
This question is one that we have asked our clients countless times over the last year, and as the world begins to adjust and embrace a new “normal,” companies and their employees are working to transition back to in-person work. While this transition has been long awaited, it also comes with its own set of obstacles: Will people still commute? How do you utilize conference rooms while prioritizing employee safety? Will communal kitchens, etc. remain?
All valid questions, but what about the companies that won’t return to full “in-office” operations?
I’ve been lucky to team with several clients who are taking this unique moment in time to create a new kind of culture and workplace that are built to last through remote-first work. One of my favorites, Flock Safety, and CEO Garrett Langley have been thinking about remote work for years. In 2020, the nature of Flock Safety’s business, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, gave Garrett’s team the opportunity to embrace a remote-first and HQ-optional culture that has enabled them to work with — and retain — top talent, regardless of area codes.
Garrett took the time to discuss the evolution of working from home, his biggest learnings, and key philosophies. As you read his comments, it’s easy to see how Flock Safety is creating a culture that’s built to last and embracing the notion that the technology industry has no borders.
Give us the quick on who Flock Safety is, and why a remote/geographically dispersed structure has worked so well for your company?
Flock Safety is a public safety operating system that helps communities and law enforcement eliminate crime, protect privacy, and mitigate bias. We work with communities and law enforcement in 1,200 cities around the country, providing them with technology that helps reduce crime by up to 70%. We are a crime fighting company that happens to build hardware, write software, and develop machine vision algorithms to stop crime from happening in the first place.
Our business model and organizational design really stemmed from our customers. They are the ones that drove a distributed team. Our business is highly localized and personal; customers want a lot of face-to-face time and given the impact of our product, we found that having boots on the ground in local communities created a deeper connection to the company. We help solve crime and make communities safer in “your backyard.”
When you look at the overall customer experience in our industry, two things lead to the success of a distributed team. First, if you think about safety and personal security, it’s highly emotional and personal, which makes it incredibly hard to accomplish over the phone. When we’re talking about protecting your home, protecting your neighborhood, or protecting your city, you want to meet that person face to face. What we’ve quickly realized is that our sales and customer teams need to be one hundred percent in the field.
Second, from a strategic recruiting perspective, what we’ve found is that if you want to hire mission-aligned employees, the mission hits a whole lot harder when it’s “your” backyard and there is a personal connection. For example, you’ve probably never heard of Cumberland, Indiana, but to Ryan, Frank and Nick on our Indianapolis team, they have friends/ family in this area where a number of heinous crimes, including a homicide, recently occurred. We realized early on that if we wanted to hire people who were super committed to the mission, we needed to place them in the field where the product is doing its job.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your structure for remote work and what does that look like today for your team?
Pre-pandemic, we were already committed to having Sales, Ops, and Customer Success in the field. When COVID hit, we opened every role remotely. Now, every team at Flock is spread across the country — yes even our hardware engineers. The majority of our executive team was already in Atlanta when the pandemic first started, while 80% of our staff was in the field. ATL happens to be our biggest office but that doesn’t mean it always will be. We have folks in 20-plus states and customers in 40, so I expect in time we will have small pods (3–10 people) in every state we have customers.
But to your point, pre-pandemic we largely ran the company as headquartered in Atlanta, with everyone else in the field. When we all dispersed into the ‘field’, i.e. our homes, we quickly realized that we needed to run the business differently to ensure that we were creating a fairly equal employee experience from onboarding, to first 90 days, to first year, to ongoing. We now do a weekly virtual all-hands meeting, which I think is super critical. We used to do it once a month or once a quarter, because we all saw each other every day. Well, guess what? Not everyone sees each other every day, so having that weekly cadence is incredibly beneficial for the entirety of the team. By the way, I will never host our all-hands from the office; I’ll host it from my house because that’s where the majority of my employees are and it’s important for me to connect and understand what the employee experience is like.
Having your executive talent now remote, how has that changed the game for you when it comes to recruiting? No one wants to be the lone soldier when all of the exec team is in HQ. How have you mitigated that and what have you seen when it comes to recruiting over the last 15 months?
With the pandemic, I think everyone at this stage was recruiting nationally, whereas it used to be that you were just going to pay a relocation package and that person had to be ready to pick up their bags. We’re now able to say, “Welcome to the team and, by the way, you don’t need to relocate.” That’s great because a lot of people that we’re recruiting, especially at the executive level, have working spouses, kids in school, extended family in their current area and that can be a massive burden to pick up and move. The fact that we’re able to say we have an executive in LA, New York, Denver, has been really helpful. We have proven it works!
When I think about some of the pain points I would say that time zones are probably the hardest part, and if I’m being honest I would say that we haven’t really cracked the code to that yet. We’re still learning and adapting to new “best practices” that benefit our entire workforce. We recently just moved our staff meeting from 8:00 AM Eastern on Mondays to 5:00 PM Eastern on Mondays and have seen a huge increase in productivity and goal setting that occurs in the beginning of the week.
With team members in many major hubs, how are you thinking about scaling the business moving forward?
We see this as a major benefit. For example, growing the sales team from 10 to 100 reps would be incredibly hard in Atlanta, but finding the top 2 reps in Chicago is completely do-able. We pair every new employee with a “flight buddy” who helps onboard over the first 90 days to give a great experience.
We’ve recruited people from Instacart, Lyft, DoorDash, Uber — all companies with very distributed employee bases on both a full-time and contractor level. The feedback from our employees was consistent across the board — employees want to work at a company where their geographical location does not determine if they hit a “glass ceiling” on their career trajectory.
So while Atlanta happens to be our largest office, we hope to have an office in every market we serve at some point so that our employees have an option should they want to come into the office. At our core, Flock Safety is completely distributed, and it doesn’t matter where you live in terms of what your career looks like.
How do you think about work-life balance? Do you find that people are able to have that blend and find comfortability across a distributed workforce?
Most folks don’t work the typical nine-to-five. We have a lot of early starters and night owls, and we run everything as asynchronously as possible as it promotes clarity of thinking and allows people to work when they are most productive.
The rule that we adhere to is that you have to respect people’s calendars and people need to respect their own time. So for myself, pencils down at six o’clock because that’s when bedtime starts. From six to eight, I’m on Dad duty- that’s not going to change. It starts with what I do, and since I refuse to take a meeting between six and eight, it sends the message that other people can also say, “I’m not working during these hours.”
There are also a lot of unnecessary time drains eliminated with this remote-first approach. For example, we’ve heard across the board that the decrease in commuting has given people hours of time back. They might spend that time working, but they also can exercise, or play with their kids or even walk their dog.
Do you think this is the future of work? Do you think remote work is here to stay?
I really think it boils down to the stage of the company. I would never run another company that wasn’t distributed long-term, but I would also never start a company distributed from the very beginning. To me, the first year or two, when you can still fit everyone in the same room, that’s absolutely critical for everyone to be in person at that point. I think once you start to see the signs of product-market fit, that means that core culture is there, the team is there, and you can start to spread your wings. I see a lot of people who out of the gate, start with a fully remote team. To me, you’re adding an additional burden to the already-challenging process of building your company. My hypothesis is that there is an inflection point when going distributed actually creates an acceleration of your business.