Being remote-first

We are a remote-first company. But what does that mean in practice?

This blog asks how being remote-first help Diagonal provide the best solutions and innovations, while supporting its team?

We know home-based working remains an area of intense debate. Companies large and small are grappling with finding solutions around how and where to work. Many are exploring solutions from entirely remote or office-based working, to mandatory or flexible hybrid styles. For startup innovators and steward-owned companies, ensuring how we work reflects our mission and values is important. We are committed to accountability and transparency, and to social purpose. So how does our team feel about our remote-first set up? Does it work? How has it evolved, and does that need interrogation? And what does it mean for our work and structure going forwards?

A remote-first vision

In our founding documents we recognise that small, diverse, teams of people working together with a high degree of psychological safety are the best tool we have to address system problems. It is important to us to work in a way that epitomises that and brings its benefits to our people. If our team is empowered they can focus on building solutions that will empower clients and collaborators to solve the problems we identify in our sector and beyond.

Also, Diagonal started in 2020, remote working was the only option, with founding staff spread from Cambridge to Malta during the pandemic. So, being remote first also helped us start with minimal overheads.

“Once we started, it seemed to be working, so there was no need to wrangle people into an office for two, three or four days a week,” says Claire. “And philosophically, we wanted to allow people to live complete lives. People have doctors appointments, kids’ schedules, and other interests - art, culture, board member roles, community participation, teaching - and I think these experiences strengthen our team. We want to let people participate in…life.”

She acknowledges though that online meetings can be exhausting and aligning schedules can sometimes slow things down. The occasional meet-up, then, reminds us that “humans are social beings,” she says.

When we can, with a minimal carbon footprint and cost, our team meets up in person. To share ideas but also to foster relationships and understand the value of different roles and perspectives to support our underlying purpose. This does not usually happen more than a handful of times a year (though when we are in the shared time-zones or geographies for other reasons we try to catch up in a more ad hoc way). As we met recently we took the opportunity to ask the team how they felt about our remote-first policy.

Maddie welcomes the opportunity “to focus more on my tasks, without distraction and spend more time with my children”. Nevertheless, she says, “it’s essential to meet people in real life sometimes to forge a deeper connection.”

For Mari, meanwhile, flexible hours allow her space to manage her workload at the right pace. “I often solve the really tricky bugs while walking outside, and sometimes I need to look at something for more than eight hours to make progress; sometimes progress is made only after 6pm.”

It is also a matter of trust. Veronica doesn’t miss the old days of having to ask permission to work from home and also felt empowered to move out of the city. For her, socialisation can be something as small as working from a cafe once or twice a week. Similarly, Beatriz moved back to her native Lisbon, where she is “closer to family, friends and vitamin D”, adding: “I visit places in my neighbourhood more frequently, and get to know it, and the people who live there better.”

Here are several members of our brilliant team enjoying a wet Wednesday in Edinburgh last month, seeing the sights, touching the wee doggie and enjoying the city.

Photos from the Diagonal team in Edinburgh, people can be seen smiling and visiting sights. Photos from the Diagonal team in Edinburgh, people can be seen talking around a table with laptops and post-its around

They also used the day to explore our future, including the development and launch of Skyline later this year and our consultancy offer. For team members who couldn’t come, we created a hybrid environment for collaboration outside the rain.

For more information about how we work, our team, or our consultancy, PETs and data visualisation tooling get in touch


February 2024