We recently wrote a profile on Buffer’s culture, and today we’re excited to share an interview with Hailley Griffis, Buffer’s PR Specialist, and Mary Jantsch, Buffer’s Community Lead, People Culture team.

In the Q&A below, the teammates discuss Buffer’s nomadic work culture, why they don’t have a traditional HR department, what the company is doing to scale its culture as they grow, and how they screen for culture-fit when hiring a 100% remote team.

Q&A with Buffer

How would you describe Buffer’s culture to a friend in 1-2 sentences?

Hailley: A lovely blend of transparency, positivity, gratitude and everything else you need to be happy and productive in life and at work.

Buffer makes it possible for teammates to lead a digital nomad lifestyle. How many of your team lives in one place vs. constantly travels?

Hailley Griffis, PR Specialist at Buffer
Hailley Griffis, PR Specialist at Buffer

Hailley: It fluctuates quite a bit. Some people stay in one place most of the time, but occasionally nomad, or will take their families with them and move to a new city for a few months. Our whole team ends up traveling twice a year for our in-person retreats, and a lot of people travel around the area before or after the retreat itself.

Right now, I would say it’s most common for our team members to live in one place, and travel at will, rather than live completely nomadically. Although in the past Joel and several other teammates have done the fully digital nomad lifestyle.

You don’t have a formal “HR” department, and don’t use the word “employees.” How did you make that decision, and why was it important to Buffer?

Mary Jantsch, Community Lead at Buffer
Mary Jantsch, Community Lead at Buffer

Mary: My view of it has been because we always want to approach any decisions we’re making as a team as ‘People-first’. It’s not so much a disdain or disagreement with those words as it is more of an alignment with our values to use ‘People team’ and ‘team members’. With our value to ‘do the right thing’ and a goal to ‘strive to provide the best solution, even if it means foregoing profit’ using the terms ‘People team’ and ’team member’, if nothing else, is a mental trigger for empathy.

Buffer has around 60 people now. Has Buffer had any cultural growing pains over the years? If so, how did you deal with them?

(This answer is adapted from Joel and Leo’s recent blog post.)

Joel, Co-Founder and CEO at Buffer
Joel, Co-Founder and CEO at Buffer

We’ve definitely had to make changes over the years, to how we communicate internally and our overall structure to make sure we’re scaling properly.

We’ve recently started to send out periodic surveys to get a feel for how teammates are feeling at Buffer, and recently the rate of growth has got quite a few people worried about the culture changing.

It’s a great question, as this is on people’s minds, and it’s really important to talk about and think about and make changes around.

Culture evolves. Every new person we add evolves the culture—that’s why diversity is so important, because we want the culture to evolve in a diverse way. At the same time, there is this underlying idea that you’ll have culture whether you like it or not—it’s down to whether you decide to shape it.

That’s something we’ve always believed in, and why we put our values into words when we were just 10 people. We believe we should be very deliberate about what kind of company we want to build and how we want it to feel.

Leo, Co-Founder and COO at Buffer
Leo, Co-Founder and COO at Buffer

We’re building Buffer’s People Team to have a group of teammates specifically thinking about culture on a day-to-day basis. We’ve realized the key thing to make culture scale and work is that you give away your Legos. You let other people keep working on it and improving it.

Many companies get better at being more efficient as they grow; however there are very few companies that maintain the same warm and fuzzy, “good vibes” sort of feeling as they grow.

Having the People Team is exponentially important because it’s exponentially rare as companies grow that they’re able to maintain that feeling when you interact with them. We have to work on it very actively with people who think about the flows, think about how people feel, check in with others, and create processes around people and how we feel, not just how to make things more efficient.

Since all your hiring is done remotely, what qualities or indicators do you look for when screening for cultural fit?

Hailley: We look for four main qualities when hiring:

  1. Alignment with our values
  2. A bias towards action
  3. Use and understanding of Buffer
  4. Skill and experience in the role

I’d say that the first two are the most important for a cultural fit. Here’s a little more on our hiring process in case it’s of interest: https://open.buffer.com/how-we-hire/.

Everyone has Buffer an extremely positive-minded culture. How could another company foster happiness? Is it something you hire for, or can it be cultivated?

Hailley: Our first value at Buffer is “Choose positivity and happiness” so we definitely consider this strongly when hiring. We continue to cultivate it internally in the way we communicate and act with each other.

What companies do you look to for cultural or employee experience inspiration?

Hailley: Automattic often comes up in conversation as they’re 100% remote as well, and Netflix’s culture deck is quite inspirational.