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Why Supergrain Decided to be Office-first

How we started as a startup born during the pandemic and why we decided to be office-first

As America thinks about return-to-work culture in a 2022, post-pandemic world, we wanted to take the opportunity to share what starting a company at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic was like, and how we ultimately decided on an office-first culture.

We started Supergrain at the peak of the Delta-variant spike in early 2021. As the world pushed “pause” on life and work, out of necessity, we started working as a remote company. Two months in, we observed that we were having fewer spontaneous and high-quality conversations that we were used to at fast-paced and high-growth companies like Lyft and Uber, where we were early employees, despite just being a team of three people.

We adopted a new generation of remote-work tools, like Tandem and Linear — we even attempted to replicate in-office dynamics by having long-running audio and video meetings — but still felt we were not moving fast enough.

By the spring of 2021, the initial pandemic spike had petered out and vaccines had become widely available. Given that all three members of the team, at the time, were based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we made the decision to move into an office.

Choosing our First Office

Three criteria went into our decision-making process for choosing our first office:

  1. How can we move in quickly
  2. How convenient will the location be for the current and future team
  3. How can we make this as safe as possible

Speed

We learned there are several types of office leases, from shared office agreements to subleases to full leases, each with different tradeoffs.

Shared offices allow for maximum contract flexibility and the quickest turn-around time, but with the potential of having many neighbors packed tightly together. Subleases are the middle ground: they let you move in relatively fast without too much paperwork. Finally, there are full leases, which require negotiating a contract and paying legal feels, and have the longest turnaround time.

For our first office, we evaluated several options and chose to work out of shared office space so we could move in immediately with maximum flexibility.

Location

When we were looking for our first office, there were very few companies returning to the office at that point, so we were able to choose from several options at a discounted rate. Given the composition of the initial team, with members in San Francisco and the Peninsula, we looked at options from San Mateo to San Francisco.

We decided on San Francisco, making a bet that talent will want to return to the city as the pandemic winds down, and chose to initially work out of a WeWork in the South of Market neighborhood so we could move in immediately and keep our options as we grew.

Safety

Given the downward transmission trend and vaccine rollout, we decided to move in and adhere to the latest policies and regulations set forth by respective authorities. Here are some of the things we’ve done in that respect:

  • Wear masks when a mandate is in place
  • Keep the office well-ventilated and operate HEPA filters 24/7
  • Work from home during covid case spikes
  • Require vaccinations for the team and all visitors
  • Stay home if a team member is not feeling well and get tested before returning to the office

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to run its course, we’ve been updating our policies to adapt to its uncertainties.

First Office

Our first office was a WeWork in SOMA. We were able to move in as soon as the following week after deciding to work in the office. This was home to Supergrain for two months, where we had an amazing view from the 18th floor and only two other tenants on the entire floor. We assembled some of the simple furniture like chairs and got a TaskRabbit to help with the more complicated standing desks.

Move-in day at our SOMA WeWork

Current Space - Our Second Office

By fall 2021, our team had doubled in size and we were ready to move into a more permanent space. We signed a lease at a slightly larger 1900 square-foot office a few blocks away from the San Francisco Caltrain Station.

Our office has a large common area for desks, a break area, and a small kitchenette. There are two smaller conference rooms for meetings and calls

Since we were asking the team to come to the office, we wanted to make sure everyone had a comfortable office setup with standing desks, ergonomic Herman Miller chairs, and office equipment of their choice.

Upon returning to the office, we also quickly learned there were a lot of office logistics, like getting furniture and coordinating lunch, which were detracting from building software, so we quickly hired the amazing office manger we have today, who makes sure things are running smoothly on day-to-day basis.

The stereotypes about engineers and caffeine are very much true with our team. In fact the first thing we brought into the new office before anything else was coffee beans, a V60 coffee dripper, and a coffee grinder. Today, our kitchenette is well-stocked with teas, pour-over and batch coffee, and even frozen coffee.

First priority for the new office was getting a coffee setup

Spontaneous Conversations

Our building’s roof deck and our office lunch table have been home to conversations that were just not possible when we worked from home. Conversations have ranged from work, where insights for problems at-hand have been solved, to comical, philosophical life questions, like why we should try to live a Lindy life.

Whiteboards and ad-hoc jam sessions have been irreplaceable. They’ve been a tool that have helped us quickly communicate problems and brainstorm solutions that would have otherwise not occurred or have taken longer through online meetings. We have three whiteboards throughout the office, all nearby desks and meeting rooms.

Startups are hard, with highs and lows. We’ve been through our share of highs, like launching a public beta of our first product, and lows, for example, pivoting over the holiday season. The personal connections we invest in each day has helped us navigate them with a bit more ease.

A presentation during one of San Francisco's mask mandates
A code walkthrough

Flexibility

While we are office-first, we decided on a policy to work from the office four out of five days of the week — with Wednesday being our flexible work-from-home day. This has allowed us to hold meetings at the beginnings and ends of the week, when face-time is more valuable, while letting the team be heads down and productive in the middle of the week.

We also understand the need for flexibility, so the team takes additional days to work from home or remotely as needed. This has allowed team members to tend to personal things, like visiting grandparents, taking care of pets, and other life matters.

We know the remote vs office topic can be polarizing and that each company is unique with different needs. We have found that being office-first for Supergrain has worked well for us.

Normalcy

Office culture hasn't been all about work; we’ve been able to enjoy periods of normalcy through the troughs of the pandemic and have held a few company dinners, happy hours, and other celebrations. Some of our favorite happy hour spots includes Dirty Habit, Kaiyo, and Rooftop 25 — all nearby our office.

The Supergrain team
A team dinner

Working with our team in person has helped us to navigate the ups and downs of startups. If you’re interested in an in-office work culture, we’re actively hiring for multiple roles, and would love to chat!