Offshore: how Expensify bring their global team together

Guest Post, Next event | | 4 min read

With five offices around the world, Expensify explain how they go about getting their whole team together, and why it’s important. Their Engineering team will be attending Silicon Milkroundabout on 22 November 2020, where they’ll be looking to meet people & discuss their open job roles. Apply for your free ticket to attend the event here.

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Every year we relocate the entire company to a different country for three weeks for our annual Offshore trip. Together, we have visited Cambodia, Thailand, Croatia, Portugal, Uruguay, Italy, and Vietnam.

For the first two weeks, our employees choose their own hotels, hostels, or Airbnbs and work from anywhere with WiFi. In the final week, we treat everyone—family members and significant others included—to a five-star experience to reward employees and encourage bonding beyond the workplace. Of our 130 employees worldwide—including six offices and numerous remote workers—about 90% attend Offshore each year.

So how do we pull it all off and stay productive, support our customers in different timezones, and focus as a team? Read on to learn why we Offshore and how it all works!

How it started

Offshore has been part of Expensify since the very beginning when we were 3 employees working out of a small apartment in San Francisco. The idea behind this trip started with David Barrett, our CEO. He wanted to provide an experience for employees to get out of their comfort zone while having amazing and unique times as a team.

Employees Follow Two Simple Rules

We have two important rules that everyone follows, whether we are working from the office or setting up shop halfway around the world: Get Shit Done and Don’t Ruin It for Everyone Else.

“Get Shit Done” is so important that we keep it top of mind when interviewing potential employees. The core qualities we look for during the hiring process are talent, ambition, and humility. This helps ensure our employees can get shit done pretty easily—we can trust that we’re all going to keep on keeping on, wherever we are.

Aside from hiring candidates primed for productivity, we use simple strategies to keep employees accountable for their work—starting with what’s internally called a “10 AM.” No matter where we are reporting for duty, every employee begins their day with this ritual. It involves an in-house tool where we type out our plans for the workday, add in anything that’s on our calendar, and then state what our goals are for each task; it’s mostly to help focus ourselves before we start the day, but it’s also visible to others in the company in case they’re interested.

Meanwhile, “Don’t Ruin It for Everyone Else” is all about being a team player. It guarantees that nobody treats Offshore like an extended vacation. On a typical weekday during Offshore, we might work even longer hours than when we’re at home because we can get so much more done with everyone in the same time zone!

Everyone Knows How to Manage Their Time

Our culture encourages everyone to structure their schedules in a way that works for them—as long as everything gets done. Back home in Portland, for example, Alex Revelli exercises for an hour each afternoon to break up her day at the office and take some time for self-care. “It’s not as exciting as taking a break to swim in the ocean during Offshore, but it’s just as important that we have the same flexibility on an ongoing basis,” she says.

Of course, working abroad can be a lot more disruptive than a gym break or water cooler chatter. Indeed, Offshore is a crash course in managing distractions and staying on task. “On top of our normal responsibilities, we have to figure out how to navigate a new country, a foreign language, and an entirely different culture. It’s an incredible opportunity, but it can also get a little overwhelming at times. So, when I finally settle down and really need to get into the zone, I put on my headphones and fire up Spotify,” says John Lee, who has attended four Offshores.

“I’ve worked in laundromats, buses, and airports during Offshore,” says Sophie Pinto-Raetz, who Offshored in Vietnam for the first time last year. “It truly doesn’t matter where you’re at during the workday, as long as you’re safe and productive!” 

There’s a Culture of Friendship

Traveling with a group to a foreign place is a lightning-fast way to get acquainted. And given the way Expensify encourages shared experiences, employees are already primed to develop truly close bonds.

“We have an expense policy for all social events: as long as we invite everyone, the company will pay for any event,” John says. “For example, the New York office went to a Yankees game a few months ago, and there are often weekly trivia and yoga nights at different offices. All in all, we’re encouraged to plan events and hang out with each other outside of work, which definitely builds stronger relationships overall.”

This “social policy” carries over to Offshore, as well. Group dinners and other Expensify-funded outings such as cave tours, private boat cruises, and wine tastings have been commonplace on past Offshores. “I don’t think you can replace the magic that happens in person,” says Sophie. “On my first Offshore in Italy, I was still getting to know everyone and opted to join a group of colleagues from different offices for dinner. We had the best time, and actually ended up prompting a few glares from other patrons for laughing a bit too loudly. You’re not able to do that virtually!”

Most recently, in Vietnam, Alex invited everyone on a weekend trip she’d planned to Phú Quốc. “Four people I’d never really spent time with joined me—they were from different offices, different teams, and different roles. We all got to know each other really well,” she says.

Taking Offshore Back Home

We may be spread out around the world, but we’re always thinking of new ways to keep people happy and engaged. These include an always-on video conferencing app that connects every office, reimbursable meals that encourage employees to explore local establishments, and a more compact, week-long version of Offshore called Onshore, which takes place every spring.

“From the management side and the people ops side, we’re all unified in trying to make Expensify the best place to work,” says Alex. “We want to be like a second home, so we work really hard as an organization to stay true to that and keep our employees excited and proud to work here.”

Apply for your free ticket to meet Expensify at Silicon Milkroundabout November 2020.