Takeaways for Remote Leaders: Shopify’s Big Announcement

You don’t need Shopify’s following to have Shopify’s impact

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Oh, Shopify, thy Canadian wonder (if you didn’t know, Shopify is from Ottawa). Last week, CEO Tobi Lutke posted a rather boldly-worded tweet that the company is now ‘digital by default’ and that ‘office centricity is over’.

Ignoring the tweet storms and think pieces about the announcement and its impact on commercial real estate, what struck me is how well it was backed up. Yes, Tobi has a massive brand, as does Shopify, and so his announcement landed a Bloomberg writeup. But the way Shopify went about the announcement has lessons that apply to all entrepreneurs. 

Whether you’re a remote-first entrepreneur or considering the transition out of full-time office life, here’s what stands out from Shopify’s announcement that will help you better communicate your stance on (or shift to) remote work.

Remote work is not the whole talent brand

Shopify’s main careers page is the same as it ever was: explaining why working for Shopify is awesome and why the work they do is exciting. They didn’t change the whole thing to be about “Remote-first”. 

That said, working remotely is a massive shift for any company, let alone Shopify which announced major real estate commitments back in 2018. It was also a move bound to cause questions for employees, candidates currently in the pipeline, and future employees. So it became its own page: work from anywhere

By separating the pages, it sends a clear statement that remote work is a way of work, not their whole talent brand. This is critical for any company, whether transitioning to remote or starting remote-first.

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Benefit-first communication

When any company goes remote, there are a few valid comments brought up:

  • What will happen to offices?

  • What about employees that prefer offices?

  • What about the mental health concerns of isolation that comes with remote work?

  • Will employees be paid more since they now shoulder the burden of workplace setup?

  • How will the company support employees?

Shopify tackled all of these head-on by using a tried-and-true sales method: benefit-first copy. 

They didn’t wax poetic about the amazing potential of remote work. They addressed concerns directly. 

Money, money, money

Employees get a home office allowance + official home office set up support from a dedicated internal team. Win. 

Community

Explicit descriptions about your time zone-based work pod - your virtual coworkers - and a reminder that their mission is to make commerce better for everyone, and all people (remote and not) are working toward that mission. 

Use of office space

‘Digital by default’ is a strong communication signal. It says that the company is going remote, but it also does not rule out office use. In fact, Shopify’s various executives talked about how offices will be reimagined in 2021.

Even if you don’t have offices to reimagine, this is a great example of not alienating people who like offices. In many cases they just need to be shown how remote can work for them and assured they will be supported.

Eliminating a broken dichotomy

A common thread is that office work is performative and remote work is about results. Shopify gets around this with explicit discussions of ‘working when the sun is up’ and ‘working in ways that work for you’ instead of something like “we do remote because that means you can focus on results,” which makes a clear (incorrect) statement that office workers don’t care about results.

Culture and values alignment

The first sentence of Shopify’s “Work Anywhere” page says it all: Shopify has always been a massive experiment. 

By embedding the decision to go remote as part of the company’s overall culture, they avoid the trap of being seen as a company that chases trends. Despite them being late to the trend of tech companies going fully remote (Buffer, Basecamp, and more have done it for years), they talk about it as part of their journey and as part of their existing values and culture. 

This accomplishes two key things for Shopify: 

  1. It doesn’t alienate people who prefer offices. Instead of talking about it as some inevitable march of progress (which not so subtly implies offices - and those that like them - are archaic), this move talks about a choice to run an ‘experiment’.

  2. It gives them an out. If this doesn’t work, Shopify can choose to return to offices. After all, it’s all an experiment.

Show your work

Shopify is not new to the remote game and has been offering some roles remotely (namely, customer success) for years. However, when they knew they were making this decision, the company smartly started curating resources from within that talked about the chops they already had when it came to remote work. 

It’s a big lesson for entrepreneurs: show your work. 

Again, the narrative isn’t “Shopify is trying to be trendy” but instead that Shopify has been consciously thinking about this for a while. The company isn’t claiming to have solved every problem. Instead, they are making a clear statement that they have thought deeply about the problems that may arise, showing the ones they’ve already come up with solutions to, and inviting people along for the ride. If you don’t have that time under your belt (Shopify’s been around for years), then you can either talk about your own chops as a founder or explain your remote methodology and thought process. 

What did you take away from Shopify’s announcement? Leave a comment!