Upstart Post-COVID


Updated: In June, Upstart CEO Dave Girouard sent employees an updated approach of returning to work, and plans to move to a “Digital First” model, where most Upstarters can live and work anywhere in the US. That note is reprinted here. Below is the outline of its earlier hybrid approach of returning to work post-COVID, shared in March.

Hi team,

It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic struck and you’ve done amazing work to help Upstart navigate this challenging situation. Clearly you went above and beyond, as evidenced by our amazing December IPO and the strength of our business today. The last year has been a different sort of challenge for each of us – a heartfelt thank you to every Upstarter for being flexible and courageous and helping us through it all!

I want to share our current plans for getting back to the office – first, how we expect the company to look and operate once the pandemic is behind us, and second, the steps we’ll take to get there. Please note that all of our plans are subject to change – there is still much we don’t know and new information seems to surface almost daily. But I wanted to share our plans as we know them today, even if they may change over time.

Upstart Post-COVID

We’ve all read or heard about how the office will never be the same. Since COVID, many companies have announced that they’re now “remote first” and will largely abandon the office-centric model. Others are at the opposite end and will return to the office just as they were in 2019. Most are landing somewhere in between. I’ve read many opinion pieces from pundits expressing supreme confidence in their views of how the “new world” will be, and I have very little confidence in any of them! 

Honestly, I don’t think any of us know for sure how the future will play out, but doing nothing new or different seems like an unsatisfactory answer. Decisions about how a company will operate are important ones and are difficult to reverse once made. After much thought and discussion with many Upstarters, we’ve settled on “Upstart v2” for now. Some of the major beliefs or assumptions underlying this plan are as follows:

  • While we’ve operated in a fully-remote fashion for a year, it’s far from ideal for many reasons. We believe the relationships formed by in-person interactions are incredibly important for the careers of our employees as well as for Upstart itself. We operated in a fully remote model not by choice but by necessity. 
  • We have different needs and priorities for different parts of the company, so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense. 
  • This all could change in 5 years – or in a year – based on what we experience and learn along the way. We should be ready to adapt.

With that having been said, when COVID is behind us (more on that process later), we will move to the following structures for each of the roles or groups as follows:

Engineering – We expect to expand upon our model of supporting both on-premises and remote engineering teams. Our early tests with remote teams have been a great success and we plan to expand on this. Our primary reasoning: 1) there is an industry-wide and global battle for exceptional software engineering talent and we need to be in the game and 2) engineering is a task that often benefits from isolation and quiet, so is well aligned with remote work.

Front-line teams – For roles such as credit and payments analysts, office management staff, and mailroom operations, we expect to remain oriented toward in-office work. While some of these roles are in-office by definition (e.g. receptionist or mailroom ops), others rely on careful minute by minute coordination and communication. 

Additionally, we plan to explore permanently remote credit and payment analyst teams, and we hope current team members with sufficient experience and demonstrated performance will be eligible to apply for these roles.

Everybody else – For everyone else, we are moving to a 3/2 model where Monday, Tuesday, and Friday are expected to be “in office” days, and Wednesdays and Thursdays will be remote by default. This hybrid approach will provide the exposure and relationship building in the office that we value, while allowing individuals to work remotely for part of the week. Our hope is that Wed/Thur will evolve to become days for individual work as well as for meetings and work that are cross-office by nature, and thus better suited to Zoom. On-premises engineering teams will likewise follow this 3/2 schedule. Our office, and all relevant services such as lunches, will be available every day, so the remote days are optional and all are welcome to the office at any time.

But wait, there’s more! – We like the “fully remote” muscle we’ve built in the last year and we don’t want to lose it. It’s like the ultimate disaster recovery drill! So we’ll be taking the company fully remote for approximately four weeks each year – two consecutive weeks in the summer, and two at the end of December. This year, these weeks will be June 20 – July 3rd and December 20 – January 2. We realize these periods may overlap with vacation or holiday time for some (especially the Xmas-New Year’s week), but please continue to take whatever vacation time makes sense for you and your family!

How we’ll get there

Although there is still a lot we don’t know about timing, the recent news about vaccine distribution is encouraging and I’m optimistic that by the summer most people who want the vaccine will have access to it. While we don’t expect to get “back to the new normal” for a while longer, we do plan to open our offices soon so that those who are vaccinated can begin to start coming back and collaborating in person. Here’s a bit more about how we plan to get there:

First – all employees who are currently working from the office will have early access to the vaccine as “essential workers”, so our first order of business is to ensure that those essential responsibilities are taken care of while keeping everyone safe. That should happen as a part of the CDCs “phase 1c.” If you’re a part of that team, you will hear from People Ops shortly with more information.

Next – Once we’ve taken care of our essential workers, we will be ready to open up the office for those who are vaccinated. Once vaccinated, you will be welcome to come back to the office and start using our resources, getting access to snacks and coffee again, and zooming or meeting in conference rooms rather than from your remote office. This will be a transition period that will feel like a “hybrid style” – some people together in the office, others working remotely. You will have a lot of flexibility during this phase to do what works for you based on your vaccination timing, comfort, and the individual circumstances you’ve built around your “work from home life.”

Finally, and we expect this in September or October, we will formally “re-launch” as a company and move to the structure outlined above. You will not be required to have a vaccine at this point, but in most cases be expected to follow the in office expectations based on your role (of course, reach out to People Ops if you need an exception and they will work with you.)

It’s been quite the journey since the first time I emailed you from our new work from home reality and I couldn’t be prouder of how we’ve managed through the last year. Together we weathered a pandemic, took the company public, achieved record breaking results, and now we are integrating a new team that will help us get access to more borrowers who need our product. 

I know for many of you it’s been a tough year personally, so I want to extend my appreciation for all you’ve been able to do and all we’ve been able to accomplish together. I look forward to getting back to the office with all of you!