With roughly half of Mozilla’s 1,100 employees based outside company offices, our team takes a range of approaches to remote work—from working at home to creating new co-working communities.
In 2016, Lisa Gray was going on four years at Mozilla—all of them spent at company headquarters in Mountain View. After joining as a site planner, she’d moved up to a supervisor role on the Workplace Resources team and was excited to continue growing her career at the company. But she also felt a strong pull to go home to San Antonio, where her aging parents and other family still lived. “Being in California, I couldn’t just drive across town to see my mom or be there for my five-year-old nephew’s Christmas pageant,” she says. “But I wasn’t ready to leave Mozilla. I felt like I still had work to do.”
So Lisa decided to pitch her boss on a six-month trial of working from Texas—and her boss said yes. Three years later, she’s not only still at Mozilla, but was recently promoted to Global Manager of the Workplace Resources team.
Taking the leap
While Lisa was already a Mozilla veteran when she moved to San Antonio, Carolyn O’Hara’s first experience in a fully remote role also meant joining a new company. Until 2018, Carolyn had spent her career in journalism, and even a single day of working from home per week was “something I had to negotiate hard for,” she says. But when she took a role as Editorial Manager at Pocket, a subsidiary of Mozilla that allows users to save and discover content, Carolyn began working full-time out of her home in Brooklyn, New York.
“Before I started, I was both overjoyed and apprehensive,” she says. “I like the spontaneous conversations you have in an office. But I also knew I’d be able to do some very focused work at home. And as a mom, being home for dinner every night was a radical upgrade in quality of life.”
Once she’d joined the team, her concerns about isolation were quickly put to rest. “To be honest, I was blown away by how much time people took to help me get to know the company,” she says. In addition to a “learning tour” of the company’s teams and products, new “Pocketeers” get a comprehensive road map of what to expect—and what’s expected of them—in their first few months, as well as a “Pocket Pal,” who helps them navigate things like expense reports. They also take part in icebreaker-style activities designed to help them get to know their teammates.
Mozilla, too, offers plenty of help for remote workers—Mozillians and Pocketeers alike—who are settling in. Each full-time employee is flown to Mountain View for a week of cultural onboarding within the first few months—and on day one, they’re connected with a seasoned “Remote Buddy” who can help them navigate company processes and norms.
And if remotees need additional support, they have someone else to turn to—Lisa and her team. In addition to managing the Remote Buddy program, Workplace Resources offers tips on ergonomics and recommends best practices for distributed teams, and will soon launch office hours where remote workers can drop in for advice. An “Away Team” Slack channel also gives remote workers a place to share everything from office furniture recommendations to the most unusual places they’ve taken video calls (highlights include a hardware store and a “Victorian sewer”).
For remotees like Lisa and Carolyn, time differences are another common challenge—but one that teamwork can largely overcome. On Lisa’s team, meetings have shifted earlier to accommodate employees who aren’t on the west coast. And for Carolyn, being a few hours ahead of Bay Area colleagues offers an opportunity to focus on external partnerships with New-York-based publishers in the mornings, while leaving time for internal collaboration after noon.
To remain aligned without sharing an office, Mozillians and Pocketeers alike emphasize communication, from frequent Zoom calls to thorough documentation. But they also take opportunities to meet face-to-face. Carolyn and one of her direct reports, who happens to live nearby, often hold one-on-ones at a local coffee shop, and all of the Pocketeers in the New York area get together at least one morning per month.
A self-described extrovert, Lisa, too, welcomes opportunities to see her colleagues in person. In addition to office visits every month or two, which she says “fill up my fuel tank,” she and her fellow remotees join the rest of the team at week-long “All Hands” meetings twice each year; previous locations include London, Whistler, and Hawaii.
Carolyn on stage at Mozilla’s June 2019 All Hands in Whistler, B.C.
“Mozilla invests a lot of resources in All Hands, and I’m really grateful for that,” Carolyn says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about what our colleagues are working on, and a very inspiring week.”
While formal programs and processes go a long way toward supporting the hundreds of Mozillians and Pocketeers who work remotely, Lisa notes seemingly small gestures also make a big difference. “If we have to decide between finishing some tasks and helping a teammate, we’ll always pick the teammate. People come first.” And that includes remotees; while distributed workers at other companies often struggle with feeling like second-class citizens, the sheer prevalence of remote team members at Mozilla makes considering their needs second nature.
Carolyn, too, credits her colleagues with helping her navigate the challenges of transitioning to remote work. “In journalism, there were plenty of nights where I worked until 9 p.m., and I’m still a work in progress in terms of switching off as early as I should.” If a west coast coworker asks a question on Slack, for example, she’s often tempted to answer. “But if I do, they’ll say ‘It’s late where you are! Get off Slack!” she laughs. “If anything, there’s pressure to sign off, which is so refreshing.”
And while Carolyn prefers to work from home, she notes that Mozilla also offers reimbursements to those for whom a separate workspace helps focus during the day—or unplug at the end of it. “If you need to be around people to thrive, they’ll support that,” she says.
The company also backs up its commitment to work-life balance with an annual wellness benefit for remotees and everyone else on the team, which Carolyn uses to get out of the house for barre classes and the occasional massage. But the biggest impact, she says, comes from the simple flexibility of working from home. While a remote working arrangement will not work for everyone or for every job (Mozillians’ work out the details directly with their manager), when it works, it really works. “I can take my son to the playground at lunchtime and give my babysitter a break, or hang out with him for five minutes in the afternoon and not miss a beat. It’s awesome,” she says.
Lisa, meanwhile, is enjoying being home. “I love that I can take my nephew to the park, or we can go fishing,” she says. “Because Mozilla was willing to invest in me even though I wasn’t born and raised in Silicon Valley, I don’t have to choose between my family and having a career in tech.”
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