Winter was foretold. Now winter has come. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s currently cold, gray, and the world news is as wintry as it gets.

“But at least,” said one of our team members, “thanks to remote work, I have no dry skin!” At which point they proceeded to sympathize with all those poor people who had to work from the office, wash their hands with subpar soap 10 times a day, and end up with mummified hands, micro-cuts, and a snubbed cat that didn’t like being pet by such coarse hands.

Now, this is one silver lining to remote work that I had never considered before. It could very well be made into a viral parody video, but instead, I immediately added it to the long list of why we love remote work at Meilisearch.

Make your own work environment

Like many companies, we occasionally dabbled in remote work—and had to embrace it on a permanent basis during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Offering full remote work to all our team members is now an integral part of Meilisearch. We believe it's the best chance workers have to grind the daily grind to the ground.

Remote work doesn’t necessarily mean working from home, though. Some of us love it, but others like the energy of a shared place or enjoy a change of scene. (At least that's what they say. Personally, I'm convinced they enjoy the proximity of restaurants with fantastic takeaway for their lunch break.)

We still have an office in Paris, France. We have a small squad of 10 people close enough to come regularly. The rest of us can count on a 500 EUR monthly stipend dedicated to coworking spaces, cafés, or other shared places.

This flexibility suits us as it allows each person to work in their preferred environment. We never have heated disputes with our colleagues about whether or not a draft means a soar throat or a pleasant breeze. It’s possible to work in a very calm or very animated environment, fidget all day or listen to music without headphones. Flexible remote work makes for the most inclusive work environment; everyone can personalize their experience based on their needs.

Of course, we need our team to have a good setup. We follow a basic rule: each team member must have a desk, a chair, an external screen, and headphones. If they're already equipped or have any stipend left, they can select any other items! Team members receive their computers at their own addresses before their contract starts.

We haven't found a solution for people who can’t work without seeing their peers physically yet—and probably never will! Working with a team of remote people is a different experience. We try to be as transparent as possible during the hiring process so that people have a good idea of what to expect and prevent any disappointment.

The infamous work-life balance

Remote work is also a great equalizer of work-life balance. Weather doesn't have to be weathered, and traffic or crowded undergrounds don't have to be endured. As it gives more flexibility, our team members can save time and stress.

If a 5-10 minute pause is about turning on the washing machine, then all the better! It doesn’t take anything from us and can lift some mental load. We try to facilitate access to sports and mental health support. Some of our team members are running uphill first thing in the morning without us lifting a finger to support them though, so we can't begin to take the credit for all their activities!

An inherent risk of remote work is putting too much pressure on employees. As a French company, we are particularly careful about protecting their right to disconnect. We implemented the 4-day workweek to emphasize this point. We are still looking into ways to help our team members create a good space for themselves. We are currently looking into child-care benefits for the parents in our midst. There may be other benefits that haven’t occurred to us yet—we are always on the lookout!

When speaking with companies opposed to remote work, we are sometimes asked how we ensure our team is actually working. Well, we believe it's considerably easier to fake working in an office than remotely. At the end of the week, if the work is not done, no amount of "but I was online" is going to help. If managers in your company need to physically see someone in an office to be sure they're working, it puts the value on presence rather than productivity. We believe people can be trusted until proven otherwise, rather than the contrary.

The world is your oyster

We started by eliminating the constraint of only hiring people that live in the same city. As an open-source company, we’ve always been very proud to work with contributors from many different countries, and it only seemed logical to continue doing so with our team members. This meant we had to adapt our salary grid to be more attractive worldwide and we continue to observe the market.

It also means our team members are not tied to a city and can move permanently to the countryside or a more attractive town with fewer job opportunities. Some of us use remote work to travel—working during the day and visiting the rest of the time.

We are not an asynchronous team yet. While we don’t need to have perfect overlap between team members, we need at least a half-day in which we can hold meetings or discuss issues. This still deprives us of applicants from opposite time zones, but this may change as we grow.

It’s important to us to maintain a strong team spirit among all coworkers. We've written before about how we handle informal discussions in the workplace. The future of our office is in question: though it’s a perfect go-to space for people in the area, it does create a different experience depending on where our employees are based. We may decide to close it entirely in the future!

As our offsite gets closer, we're excited to meet and chat IRL with our colleagues. This doesn’t mean, in our opinion, that it’s a bad thing to be working remotely—rather that our system is working really well if people are eager to come to these outings (for some of us, this means a 15 hours journey!).

We still have a lot of exciting adjustments to make: launch a complete company survey on the changes we could make, refine our asynchronous processes, and keep on our toes regarding our team-building activities. The list goes on!

I have to be honest with you: though I work from home, I still need to use hand cream in the winter. So maybe remote work doesn’t magic away all the problems of the world… but the door it opens leads to a new spring for work. Remote work is a significant social progress for workers when implemented well, and we believe it is the future.