The future of the workplace: Remote First - Hotjar

In this second part of our remote first series we find out how Hotjar has thrived as a remote first company. Expect some practical tips from People Operations Specialist Sara Bent

Interview Series

⋅ min read

Following our recent interview with Superscript putting the hybrid workplace under the microscope, we are excited to share the second feature in our future of the workplace series. We sat down (virtually!) with People Operations Specialist, Sara Bent from Hotjar - a remote first business helping companies take the online user experience to the next level. 

For many, the transition to remote working in 2020 was practically an overnight phenomena and a considerable adjustment from the familiar office based set up. For the team at Hotjar however, it was business as usual. Here, Sara explains the reasons behind establishing the company as remote first and shares some great tips for companies on the journey to building the most effective approach to remote working.


Can you describe Hotjar in 30 seconds? What do you do?

Of course! At Hotjar, we're building behaviour analytics software for businesses selling online. We make it easy for them to go beyond traditional web analytics and understand what users are really doing on their site.  We are a SaaS company supporting both B2B and B2C. We want to help sites improve their user experience. We have a very wide variety of people who use our services, from large ecommerce companies to individual bloggers.

Amazing! Has the pandemic had an impact on Hotjar’s working arrangements at all?

Nothing's really changed day-to-day. Obviously, how we're all living has changed, but it was quite lovely to have work as such a stable thing through it all. Pre-pandemic, we enjoyed having regular meetups but now - with all the travel restrictions - we are switching it up. We still want to maintain that social aspect and so we’ve tried to find replacements for those in-person activities.

So far, we've had two virtual gatherings in place of our usual meetups and they've both been fantastic. The events have given us that sense of connection, the learning and growing together just as much as the in person meet-ups. As much as I will be delighted to be able to see the team again in person, the virtual gatherings have been a great substitute for them. 

Hotjar has always been a remote business. What are the benefits of being fully remote in your opinion?

I think there are so many benefits - both from a team and a business perspective. On the business side, we are a Maltese company - headquartered and founded in Malta which is a very small country. So in terms of employment, it opens the opportunity to hire from a much wider pool of candidates. If you go fully remote, it means you can choose from - maybe not the whole world because we do have time zone restrictions - a lot more countries.

This means we now have this wonderfully diverse team in terms of their backgrounds - and as plenty of research shows, this is great not only from a cultural perspective but for the business bottom line as well. There are so many benefits to being able to hire from multiple continents. 

From a team perspective, I think there are two main benefits of remote working: for one, we have a lot of parents and the amount of extra time they get back being able to cut out commute time (and have a flexible work structure) to be at home for their children is great.

The second is for those of us who like to travel. At Hotjar, we even have some crossover:  parents who like to travel along with their kids too. 

The flexible working hours also give great freedom to fit work around normal life moreso, rather than only vice versa.

What are some of the challenges that come with remote working? Especially having never had a physical office space?  

We’re a team split across 24 different countries and that's growing. So lots of different tax jurisdictions, laws and rules around what you can and cannot offer to your team. It’s fun and challenging (and we have a great legal team that takes care of it all!). 

I'm not sure we’ve had any real challenges being a remote company. It's just the challenges that growing companies face. We've grown reasonably quickly, so at points we’ve made the decision to slow down a little bit to take a step back and reassess our approach.

A lot of this review has been around communication, especially as we have become and are becoming bigger as a company. There's so many more things to communicate which become less relevant to a larger proportion of the team. We have needed to be more specific with information to make sure that everybody gets whatever they need without being drowned in information, which they can miss out on.

Trying to find that balance and make sure that we have processes and tools that work with that.

Are there any things you have done as a company to improve the communication? 

It is a huge challenge but we're willing to constantly adapt, evolve and give things a try. If they don't work, we can go back and try something else. To give an example, we set aside Friday as a company wide meeting, where previously each team would deliver an update to the whole company but as we grew it became clear this wasn’t always a valuable use of our full team’s time. It’s great knowing what’s happening in the company as a whole though so we’ve gone through a number of iterations to land on what we now call All Hands.

All Hands is mainly executive and operational updates that are relevant to the whole company. We use this time to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, etc, also, and it’s also an opportunity for people to submit a shoutout to celebrate another team member. 

We’ve added in asynchronous update ‘packs’ that our team can view at their leisure, so that the information is still available but in a more flexible way for the team.

With all of your team able to work anywhere, how have you built your company culture and how do you maintain it? 

We do quite a lot. We’ve introduced Chill Jar (we like using the Jar theme as we are Hotjar!) - this is an optional time slot for people to join. For example, this week we are going to have a lightning learning session - usually something we’d do when we meet up in person. During a Lightning Learning, you get five minutes and five presentation slides to talk through a topic of your choice.

In terms of social events - we do plenty! Last week, we had a magician and it was incredible, really good fun. We’ve had a Halloween costume contest and we had our Secret Santa the Friday before Christmas.

We also have something called Houses. When we have a new joiner, they are added into a House and it's basically a group who are a mix of people across all the different departments and areas. The idea being that this gives you the chance to interact with people that you might not otherwise end up knowing if you are quite siloed into your own squad or team. We use these a lot at the meet-ups or the gatherings - for example, we held a House dinner at our most recent Gathering.

What are the most popular employee benefits at Hotjar?

Our company perks are all very focused around our core values. A lot of things are based on our core values in the company: how we hire and even performance reviews - a huge part of that is being assessed against those values. For the perks, we tried to have a reason for each one, not to just throw something mindlessly at our team.

In terms of the usage, it's, it varies wildly from individual to individual. The Work Together budget is a good example - even Pre-Covid our work together budget was popular - facilitating team members’ collaboration in person. This year, the budget has been repurposed for virtual lunches, coffee breaks and even games together. We have this because we really want to encourage our team to connect with each other and build trust and transparency - which is another one of our values. It's a good way of getting to know each other in smaller groups as well.

Hotjar team benefit budgets include (but are not limited to): 

  • €2,500 home office budget: This allows you to buy whatever type of desk and chair you like as well as cover internet bills, buy plants or a coffee machine - whatever makes most sense for your home office.
  • €2,400 working space allowance:This is in some ways a supplement to the Home Office budget, giving our team flexibility with how they work. It can be used to pay for co-working spaces, working from a coffee shop, or ordering coffee, tea and snacks to have at home.
  • €2,000 holiday budget: We offer 40 days of vacation and a holiday budget that the team can spend however they wish. You can’t roll it over so if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. We do that because we want to encourage our team to actually take the time off.  
  • €2,400 wellbeing budget: Our team use this budget to spend on physical, spiritual or mental health, for example: gym memberships, therapists, yoga, dance lessons and so on. Due to Covid, we’ve also allowed the team to buy home gym equipment.  
  • €1,000 personal development budget: We place a big focus on “Learn by Doing” which again forms part of our core values, so personal learning opportunities are really important. 
Do you have any tools or tips for other companies looking to go fully remote or establish a new business as remote first? 

I think in terms of advice, I would say use the resources that are available to you. I think one really great thing about a lot of remote first companies is that they have a shared mindset in terms of transparency. So plenty of us have our team manuals publicly accessible.

For me, having company core values set up before you try to establish your remote working set up makes sense. Ensuring that you have your own guiding principles and aligning your approach to remote working accordingly.

Transparent communication is important whether you're remote or not. There's some huge benefits to being able to communicate remotely because it forces you to really document everything, and make sure that communications are accessible to the full team. I think tools like Discourse are great as it’s important to make sure that people have an outlet as well, not only on the work side but also on the social side. This is the most sociable company I've ever worked in and also the only fully remote one. 

This year has been really good for showing companies that you don’t need to be sitting in the same office to be social and connect. It’s such good fun to have team members all over the world. Prior to Chilljar we held something called Bonfires: hour long, completely voluntary social calls. Each time we had a different theme - for example the topic would be “what's a weird celebration in your country” - sharing our different cultures really enriches the team experience.  

A big thank you Sara for sharing Hotjar’s inspiring journey on remote first working. To learn more about Hotjar’s way of working check out their careers page. 

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