Remote Work: How We Snuggle Our Way to a Healthy Company Culture
Every quarter, the Font Awesome team gets together in person to work together, plan, and … snuggle. Well, kind of. Actually, it’s all about promoting healthy remote work rhythms through personal connection.
So, what’s the origin of the Snuggle, and why is it called a … “Snuggle”?
Travis: Back in the beginning days of Font Awesome, we decided we’d be a remote company. But we knew that not working in-office together would present its own challenges that we’d have to figure out.
So, the “Snuggle” is just what we call our quarterly in-person meet-ups. But naming it a “meetup”, “retreat”, “summit”, or “sync” would be lame. And since I’m kind of a huggy guy, “Snuggle” seemed like the right term for it — though, we don’t actually snuggle. That would be weird.
But, maybe the main reason we call it a Snuggle is once my wife suggested we could surely come up with a better name than a “Snuggle”, I had to double down. So, our quarterly “meet-ups” will always and forever be called a “Snuggle.”
How does the remote work and quarterly snuggle fit into the philosophy of how Font Awesome operates?
Dave: The snuggles enable us to reinforce one of our foundational principles as a company. And that is, we exist to help our employees. We exist to work with the best people we’ve ever known, and we want those people to always become the best version of themselves. To live their lives the way they think is good and true and right.
If you want to spend three hours a day doing an after-school program tutoring kids, fine, do that. Do you have a doctor’s appointment or need to cover for your kids because something’s going on and it’s a fricking pandemic, do it. Go for it.
With the way we work, we know everyone’s getting their work done, and all good work is foundationally based on human relationships and trust.
What happens at a Snuggle?
Travis: It’s really about getting face-to-face time once a quarter. We take a retrospective look at what we’ve built and celebrate successes. We see what we can learn from our failures too. We also do big-picture planning. But we also make sure to make space for socializing. We eat good food, we try to catch a movie, or play pickleball.
And on some nights, we play DnD. Aaand we eat Brian’s freshly baked, world-famous chocolate chip cookies.
There’s been a lot of talk about remote work — especially in light of the pandemic. But Font Awesome has been doing this from day one. What are some pluses and minuses of remote work?
Travis: On the plus side of things, we’ve had more freedom to hire the best talent we can find, no matter where they live. For example, we hired Jory, who we think is the best icon designer on the planet. But he lives in Vermont, and our home office is in Arkansas. If we required that he live near our home offices, we’d miss out working with him.
Another advantage of remote work is fewer meetings. When teams work together in an office, there can be an over-reliance on team meetings, but a lot of the time, the meetings aren’t focused. Just because you can meet doesn’t mean you should.
In an average in-person office, between water cooler socializing and meetings, you might be getting, like, a few hours of work in a day, right? That’s not a great use of time.
For us, remote work pushes us to clarify our communication to make sure our meeting times really count.
And, lately, we’ve been talking about how we might need to meet a little bit more often to make sure we’re really aligned on our work. We’re a pretty meeting-averse culture at Font Awesome.
But there are some disadvantages to remote work though, yes?
Travis: True. The disadvantage is that we’re not working face to face very often because we all live in different time zones. That means we type out a lot of our communication — which can lack context. All of the amazing tools we have to do remote work together don’t compare to in-person connection
At the Snuggle, though, we’re able to put a face with that typed-out communication to get a sense of the person behind it. In-person communication helps us to see the intention and tone of their communication. If there is any tension in the working relationship, we can smooth things out.
Dave: Yeah, when you work remotely, you’re using written communication that doesn’t always convey emotion very well. Like, sarcasm and seriousness don’t translate well over Slack. When we’re working fast and maybe responding to an interaction with half our brain, we don’t always think about how our communications are construed by someone else.
So the snuggles really allow us to repair relationships that have gotten frayed over the course of working remotely.
Font Awesome isn’t big on “rules” for employees, but the Snuggles are kind of non-negotiable. Isn’t that right?
Dave: Yeah, to enable remote work flexibility, we’re inflexible when it comes to the Snuggle time. If our way of doing things is going to work, we’ve all got to commit to being here one week every three months. And so far, that ratio has served us pretty well.
In our regular work rhythms, we try to maximize our time and much as possible, and we get a lot done. But over a six week split, we hit up against challenges, and we disagree at times. And when you’re working together in person, and you can tell something is bothering someone, you can take a walk together and talk it out.
Travis: The Snuggle times help us reset and remember that we’re all pulling in the same direction. It helps us put real human faces to names or avatars from a Slack channel to share interests and rebuild relationships.
What’s it been like to have the Snuggle disrupted during the pandemic?
Dave: For the first time ever, I’ve been sad that we’re a remote company in our company’s history. Because if everyone lived physically nearby, we could get together and do outdoor events in the sunshine where maybe we could work together in a park. But we’ve missed out on that interaction, and we’ve had to be careful about air travel.
But the pandemic has made travel tricky. And boy, a year and a half of frayed relationships are hard.
The reality of work is that everybody’s different, and certainly personalities will have a hard time communicating with other certain personalities. We’re all going to see things differently.
When work gets hard, it’s really easy to take what somebody’s doing as bad motivation. But it’s not a bad motivation; it’s just a different way of seeing things. Over three months, it’s really easy to reset relationships and remember we all work with great people. But a year and a half of not being able to restore that is tough.
The Snuggle resumed this last quarter, though. What was that like?
Travis: In past Snuggles, we’ve discussed opportunities like the size of the company we all are comfortable working within and hiring for more diversity. In this last round, we prioritized conversations around how we’ll complete our work to make Font Awesome 6 the best it can be and how new team members enter our stream of work.
The Snuggles also give Dave and me a chance to meet with our team one on one, so we’re discussing their goals and how we can help get them where they want to go.
Then we’re ready to take a big picture look at the business as a group, so everyone has a chance to weigh in on high-level planning and bring their different traits and giftedness to the conversation. We get to hear what everybody wants for Font Awesome, and it gives Dave and me a chance to plan together so we can deliver the best product possible to our customers.
Dave: And at last the last Snuggle, we got to share our inner nerd big time by building our very own mechanical keyboards together.
But building software is like making something imaginary. We make imaginary things all day. So, every once in a while, it’s nice to be able to touch and feel and see something. And we built them together, in person, in little table groups. You just can’t do that sort of thing remotely.
In a lot of ways, our Snuggles are kind of like going to the bar. For healthy adults, going to the bar isn’t about drinking. It’s about having an excuse to have good conversations and repair relationships to do good remote work. So that we can work with the best people we’ve ever known and live our lives the way that we think is right.
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. The folks at Basecamp have helped us think carefully about growing a healthy work culture here at Font Awesome — especially the ideas in It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work*. What work rhythms work well at your company?Get the book
*Font Awesome doesn’t get any free products or kickbacks in exchange for posting about them. These are things we genuinely find awesome and want to share with the world!