How DuckDuckGo Maintains Culture as a Remote-Working Company

Celebrating 5 years(!) at DuckDuckGo so I thought I’d share some of the ways I feel the company does well at maintaining culture while people work from home across the world, having been a remote-working company from the start. Disclaimer: These are all my own opinions, etc.

Firstly, with the company having a clear single focus – online privacy – there’s immediately a common value that everyone shares, whatever our respective backgrounds (and boy, there are some fascinating personal backgrounds!).

For formal communication we hardly ever use email and instead use a project management system with an emphasis on openness and nearly all tasks visible to everyone. I love this transparency as it reduces the risk of teams and individuals becoming isolated.

Every week we each have a 30 minute video call with four or five randomly-assigned colleagues, to talk about anything *except* work. Conversations can feel a little forced at first but it quickly becomes fun learning about other people’s hobbies and families.

The weekly All Hands call is not just for company updates, but also for sharing personal updates. The second half is set aside for around 20 people, again picked randomly, to (optionally) share what they’re excited or anxious about, whether it’s work-related or personal.

Every week there’s also a “Know Your Company” question, inviting everyone to share opinions, photos and experiences on a particular topic – things like your favourite music to relax to, current reading list, travel stories, pet showcase, etc.

There are two main areas for non-work stuff: Themed chat channels from birdwatching to food and drink, surfing to mechanical keyboards. Then there are “Guilds” – more structured clubs with monthly calls, e.g. for films, games, creative writing, and “random acts of learning”.

Once a quarter we have Hack Days – three days for working on something that interests you outside your regular work and non-technical ideas are encouraged too. Some people propose privacy-themed games, some make videos, and some demonstrate coding skills I can only dream of.

In normal times, each year we have an all-company meetup and individual team meetups. This year they’re virtual, with activities including bagel baking, escape rooms, animal watching, a daily scavenger hunt, and of course silly games. They worked surprisingly well remotely.

All good so far, but what doesn’t work so well? Not surprisingly it’s timezones and the logistics of finding times convenient for everyone. Although we’ve tried, there’s sadly no easy solution to this and as the company grows, we’ll need to make adjustments somehow.

Well that’s all for now. Being the only Duck in Asia, I rely a lot on these virtual workarounds to bridge the physical distance and time difference with my colleagues. Hopefully there’s some food for thought here for others working in remote teams.

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