Tackling social by distance - How Buffer stays connected

Keeping connected, staying on top of news, sharing ideas and building business opportunities - social media has become a central tool for personal and professional use. 

Globally, there are 3.8 billion social media users, while 57% of the Australian population are actively on social media.

Teams like Buffer help businesses around the globe connect with customers and share their voice through social media. For Buffer, staying connected to their 100% remote workforce and having a team of varied skillsets and opinions is key to understanding how their customers work. 

Buffer is home to more than 85 team members working from 15 countries and serving more than 73,000 customers - here’s how they do it. 

Taking social global

Buffer is a social media management tool for small businesses, global brands and online brands to publish, schedule and create content as well as analysing performance data to help them connect to more customers each day. 

Their teams are spread out across the globe, which provides its own set of challenges and opportunities for the team. 

Stephanie Lee is Buffer’s Team Experience Manager (Operations), who spends her time working with the teams spread out globally and understanding how to keep them connected. “Half the team is in North America, then we have a big group in the UK and scattered across Europe. We also have a small presence in APAC, which is growing steadily.”

Managing such a diverse team across a huge range of timezones is a special challenge for a business like Buffer - but one that has actually prepared them well for the 2020 COVID-19 crisis. 

“I think the temptation is to lean into synchronous work, and only work with the people awake in your timezone, but that just divides people.” This is where communication tools like Slack, email and Dropbox Paper come into play. 

By using a variety of tools to get work done, the Buffer team is able to keep on top of their workload and spread out their communications between synchronous and asynchronous communication. 

When dealing with a global team, this can be an incredibly important skill for teams to learn - which projects need immediate responses from team members through channels like Slack and Zoom, what needs scheduled collaboration and brainstorming time in tools like Paper, and what can wait for emails or input from disparate teams. 

“I really try to lean into asynchronous work, coordinating what I’m doing with my teammates in other regions and chatting to them as needed. I’ve almost gotten rid of email entirely”.

- Mike Eckstein, Product Marketing Manager

Crystal clear transparency

Mike Eckstein, Product Marketing Manager at Buffer, said “Transparency has been a core part of Buffer for a long time. It’s one of our core values. I think it's great because it helps other companies kind of learn a little bit from what we're doing.”

The buffer team make what some businesses would consider their most sensitive data totally open to the public. This includes everything from the salary of each employee at the company to the source code of their product offerings. 

Mike described how that mentality has grown overtime, and how the team is happy to give back to the global development community. “When we were building buffer, we borrowed a lot of knowledge from from the community and this is our way to recognise that.”

“We acknowledge that we didn’t build it all ourselves and want to give back to the community and other companies that might be trying to build something themselves.”

While the team is hard at work developing new features, their product roadmap is publicly visible on the website, a move which keeps them accountable, but also allows the team to share what they’re working on with existing and prospective clients. 

This approach to knowledge sharing a flexibility is almost alien in a business world where the most exclusive tech almost always fetches the highest price, but for Buffer the transparency has allowed them to focus more on what they’re building, than building walls around it. 

“We don’t have an office, so Dropbox is our filing system. It’s really essential that our team are able to access legal documents, workings files, financial documents, even employee training videos and Zoom recordings on our Dropbox.”

- Stephanie Lee, Team Experience Manager (Operations)

Putting the product in productivity

For a global business like Buffer, a crisis like COVID-19 has a number of effects that change the way they’re able to work. On the one hand, having teams and team members located globally, the team has needed to be quite caring when working with remote staff members.

From a talent perspective, keeping disparate teams connected across different geographies hasn’t been a challenge for Buffer. Stephanie Lee said “We aren’t limited to a single location, we can hire for the right skill set and, especially in our case, for cultural contribution”.

Working remotely can have a huge effect on team performance, so a business like Buffer building technology into their business structure from the ground up means that they are able to adapt to situations like COVID-19 quickly. 

For staff members trying to stay on top of work and connected with teammates across timezones, tools like Dropbox Paper and storage are essential for Buffer to be productive. “We don’t have an office, so Dropbox is our filing system. It’s really essential that our team are able to access legal documents, workings files, financial documents, even employee training videos and Zoom recordings on our Dropbox,” said Stephanie. 

“I think when it comes to staying productive, that’s where tools like Dropbox and Slack really shine” said Mike. “I really try to lean into asynchronous work, coordinating what I’m doing with my teammates in other regions and chatting to them as needed. I’ve almost gotten rid of email entirely”.

For businesses like Buffer, working with remote teams is a constant challenge, but it also provides them a broader community and helps them to understand what’s going on around the globe.

By keeping connected with their teammates, and building a structure that enables asynchronous work, Buffer is able to use tools like Dropbox to the best of their ability. 

To find out more about Buffer, head over here - and if you have any questions about this or another of our stories, email drop-everything@dropbox.com.