Sci-tech firm pursues global growth by going remote-first

TECHNOLOGY company Cactus Communications (CACTUS) wants to become a “remote-first” employer for 1,200 workers in nine locations around the world.

The Indian firm is one of the first to embrace remote working as the norm. Remote-first companies have office locations, but staff are not required to work from there.

Virtual whiteboard, remote-first illustration
Graphic: elenabsl/

CACTUS hopes to expand its recruitment reach and pioneer post-pandemic working practices, including virtual whiteboards and asynchronous communication.

About 320 people joined CACTUS in the seven months leading up to October 2021, and 50 per cent of new hires “were from locations where we don’t have physical offices”, says Yashmi Pujara, chief of HR. “Remote-first does not mean we will not have offices or that our people can’t work from an office. It means we will adopt a remote-first mindset, making sure everyone — regardless of where they are working from — has equal voice and visibility.”

Not being restricted to a specific geographic location was an advantage, she believes. “We can provide opportunities wherever we find the right talent. Our people are spread across 14 countries and 165 cities.”

CEO and co-founder Abhishek Goel said the main goal was to establish the firm as a global company. “When too many people are concentrated in a specific office location, the loudest voices are the ones closest to you,” he says. “With customers in 160 countries, we want to be responsive to their needs. We also want all employees across the globe to equally contribute to the direction of the company.”

The company canvassed employees to understand their work preferences and challenges. Leaders found that 86 percent wanted flexibility in how and where they worked, but just 38 percent wanted full-time remote work. A core team then benchmarked other remote-first companies and spoke with industry thought-leaders.

Several pilots of work practices were introduced to gain insight on what would work best. This included the introduction of a “virtual water cooler”, virtual whiteboards, a handbook, and a communications charter. A new role was created for Head of Remote-First, with Jason Morwick leading the transition.

“Businesses cannot replicate over a video call what used to be done face-to-face. Take brainstorming, for example. It used to be that people would gather in a room in front of a whiteboard, but that rarely works over a video call.

“If everyone comes up with their own ideas first, they can then meet with the team online and share them in real-time, perhaps with the help of a virtual whiteboard.”