Elastic: Distributed by design

Being adaptable and resilient when the world changes can help a business stay alive. At Elastic, we know from experience that being distributed helps build a strong company that can scale and adapt as new challenges arise.

In the spirit of open source and our relationship with the Elastic community, we’ve been offering tips and tricks on our blog and on social media about how to work effectively while remote. But beyond the tips and tricks, what does it mean to be a distributed company? How do remote and distributed teams differ? Does that change the way we do things? Does it make us different from a company that just does “remote” as a way to break up the week?

Here are a few thoughts.

What does it mean to be a distributed company?

Well, being a distributed company means a lot of different things to Elastic.

The distributed nature of our company began before we were, well, a company. With founders in Israel, Germany, and the Netherlands, early work on Elasticsearch, the core product of the Elastic Stack, was done in a distributed way.

So, first and foremost, distributed is built right into the DNA of our products. Elasticsearch, for example, is a free distributed search engine. The distributed here means that Elasticsearch has no central server, and actions like indexing and querying are distributed among several peers, with no single point of control. Being distributed means our products can scale quickly, without a lot of disruption.

And this is where the idea for a distributed company got its start. If a search engine can be distributed, why can’t a company? And if a product can scale fast and with minimal disruption, why can’t a company do the same?

Distributed means thinking differently about growth

So, just like Elasticsearch itself, our Elasticians (what we call our employees) are also distributed. Sure, we have offices in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Mountain View, California, as well as workspaces our Elasticians share elsewhere for a bit of camaraderie, but there is no real centralized home office. And that’s by design.

But being a distributed workforce goes beyond how we’re organized — it also means thinking differently about where and how we grow, and who we can and should hire. The thing that makes Elastic work is that we’re not landlocked to any one region. That means we’re never forced to hire just to fill headcount in a certain place like north east Ohio (for example) — instead, we have the luxury of looking further abroad and hiring the people we believe are the right fit. What if the right person for a product marketing job is in Barcelona? Or the perfect designer for the Elastic{ON} Tour is based out of Warsaw? It doesn’t matter. Being able to hire from all over the world ensures that we always find the most highly skilled person for the job. And an added benefit is that we get to hire diversity by design — we’re a mix of cultures because we’re spread all over the world. When we have to search high and low for the best person for a particular job, we know that we’ve exhausted every possibility. And because we’re distributed, the possibilities are endless.

Here’s what Tanya Bragin, Senior Director of Product Management, has to say about distributed work.

Growing up distributed

When we filed to go public, we had customers located in over 80 countries, and our strategy was to continue to expand internationally. In addition, as a result of our strategy of leveraging a distributed workforce, as of April 30, 2018, we had employees located across 35 countries. That’s grown as well.

We are not a small company anymore. As such, we’re constantly discussing how to grow and how to better communicate and collaborate within our teams. This means learning how to scale projects across regions while developing new features, and how we can refine the review processes that go along with them. As we’ve grown we’ve had to scale the way we do work, but our distributed start allowed us to think differently about the way business could be done and it allowed us to be more flexible to meet those challenges.

For example, with Elasticians on the same teams in wildly different locations, there can’t be one schedule to unify them all. Not at our size. So this requires trusting our Elasticians to be self motivated, and allowing them the freedom to do the work in their own time. And when one time doesn’t work for everyone, distributed tools such as Github, Slack, and Zoom are all there to help. Being conscious that while some of us have been up all day working on a project, others are just getting online, is a big shift from the traditional nine-to-five mindset, but one that works for us.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Communication across continents

For managers, communicating as we grow requires some creative thinking too. Kevin Kluge, Senior Vice President of Engineering, recently wrote a blog post on how that works within his team. He explains that while some communication is possible one-on-one, broadcast communication is often a great way to spread vision across the company. As we’ve expanded from the West Coast of the United States all the way to the APAC region, we’ve found ways for departmental meetings to sync up for broadcast messaging that all regions can attend, sometimes even presenting important information at two different times to better communicate roadmaps and provide access to Elastic leadership for AMAs. It’s all about keeping in mind that while we’re in different places, we all have the same goals, and we need to trust each other to get that work done without someone always looking over our shoulder.

A Source Code with distributed in mind

With that concept in mind, we’re conscious that adapting to the individual needs of our Elasticians is incredibly important for keeping up morale and promoting inclusivity. As we like to say: At Elastic, life happens. Trust plays a big part in this. Sometimes being online in Washington when your kids are running around before school isn’t possible when your colleague in Spain might need you. Elastic managers are not interested in micromanaging, because it’s within our distributed nature to assume good intentions, and let the work speak for itself.

To promote these ideas we developed the Elastic Source Code as a kind of ethos, a guiding light, and an extension of our distributed mindset. Each component of the Source Code is focused on what it means to work from home, that each environment and each life is different, and that Elasticians who are free to come as they are and who are able to find the space and time to do their best work, will always bring 100%.

Why we're a distributed company

Being distributed isn’t just a way of doing business. It’s a mindset. Being open source allowed us to have a certain sort of freedom and inclusivity in the way we build our products. Distributed software doesn’t exactly need to be developed by a distributed team, but starting in open source, we knew that no matter where an engineer or a marketer or a salesperson might have been located, they could very well have a necessary contribution to our project. And why limit that?

We’re hiring. Check out our teams and find your fit!