I started Acceleration Partners (AP) as a remote business because I wanted to tap top talent regardless of location. As we began scaling the company, however, my leadership team and I started to see some issues arising from our policy of simply hiring the best people, no matter where they lived.
What we discovered is that it's tough to establish a world-class company culture entirely online.
This thought process led us to our current focus on maintaining "hub" locations--work regions we define as metropolitan areas within 1-2 hours of a major airport. We set a goal of ensuring that 80 percent of AP's staff would be located within one of our seven geographical hubs within two to three years, and this shift has been a game changer for our business.
Limiting the number of areas in which we operate has produced more connectivity and a greater sense of community at AP. I suspect this strategy is the missing piece of the puzzle for a lot of businesses that struggle with the remote or distributed model.
Here are the major benefits.
Ease of Hiring and Training
Hiring "everywhere" or in every market is difficult because recruiting is location-based, which means you typically have to pay for every market in which you want to list a job. This is especially true if you expand your search beyond those people who know they want flex-type jobs. We've found many good hires among people considering remote work for the first time, so we want to be sure our jobs/ads are seen by those who are seeking traditional office-based options.
Using the hub system has made it much easier to focus hiring on specific market(s), and it has led to more referrals in those markets as well. We picked markets where the talent pool was high, but the cost of living was not. We also looked for locations where people have shown an interest in work-life integration.
In addition, once we have prospects lined up, we find it's important to have people already on staff who live nearby and can conduct a final interview. There are some important subtleties you can't pick up on in a video chat, and we believe this in-person interview is a critical last step in senior hiring.
Finally, we can buddy up our new hires with staffers in their hub for the first few weeks of training. At traditional companies, people pick up a lot of information just by watching what their co-workers do. Remote companies have to be more intentional about training, and we have learned that hubs make this task much easier.
More Opportunities for Community-Building
There is a misperception that people who work from home don't want to be around other people, when really they just don't want to sit in traffic for hours or battle the distractions of an open office. Most remote workers do want opportunities to socialize with their peers, and we've found that AP team members who live near each other enjoy working together as their schedules allow (often at a coffee shop or in flex spaces).
Building community is important to us as a company, so we try to organize monthly social activities and charitable events in our hubs to help everyone get to know each other better and feel more connected.
In addition, we run an annual retreat called the AP Summit to bring the entire global company together in person. This is another area where hubs have really helped; it was becoming a logistical nightmare to organize this company-wide event for staffers from 40 cities.
Now that we have a concentration of people in certain areas, we can rotate this meeting from place to place and always have a large number of employees who are local. People can also travel together from other hubs, making logistics much simpler.
Enhanced Connection to Leadership
The hub strategy allows our leadership team to connect easily with many employees in one place. Our president, Matt Wool, recently managed to meet the entire US staff of almost 100 people during a two-week hub tour. People outside the hubs flew in, and Matt was able to get valuable personal input from the team and meet new employees. Accomplishing so much in two weeks would never have been possible if everyone had been in a different location.
A Hybrid Model
While the debate seems to be raging these days on the pros and cons of running an office versus hiring remote workers, I think we've stumbled on the best of both worlds through a hybrid approach. Through our new hub structure, we are giving employees the flexibility they want while retaining a lot of the community benefits that employees enjoy in a traditional workplace.