What It’s Like to Work at a Company That Doesn’t Use Email

by | Dec 1, 2023

When new employees are onboarded at Toptal, a hypergrowth company with a staggering 40% annual growth rate and a workforce of 1200 employees, they’re told: email isn’t our thing. This company is redefining the rules of communication. Toptal has chosen to abandon email for internal communications, relying instead on the power of Slack and Zoom. In a recent interview with Michelle Labbe, Chief People Officer at Toptal, I learned just how they can pull off this unconventional approach and why it might be one of the most valuable tools in shaping their success.

Wait, seriously no email?

Seriously. I didn’t quite believe it so I asked Michelle how many emails she has had to respond to in the last week.  After a pause, she said, “The only email I received this week was from you, confirming our meeting, and I didn’t have to respond to it.” Mind blown.

At Toptal, the mantra is simple: speed and intentionality. “Sending an email and waiting for someone to reply is a thing of the past,” she emphasizes. Who has time to go through old emails, filtering spam from important communications? With Slack, responses are instant, enabling employees to connect, share information, and resolve issues in real time. And when I’m at the dentist, or on vacation, my Slack status is updated and so people know NOT TO SLACK. This creates a powerful dynamic: boundaries. People don’t fire off Slack messages when they know I’m unavailable. So the messages don’t stack up. This intentional and immediate approach not only fosters efficiency but also cultivates a culture of respect.

Labbe explains, “Slack allows us to gauge each other’s availability. We can see if someone is in a meeting, away from their desk, or on vacation. It’s a respectful and intentional way of communicating that aligns with our values.”

Building Trust in a Remote Landscape

Toptal’s unique approach becomes even more noteworthy considering its fully remote structure. Labbe highlights that the company has successfully recreated the collaborative environment of a traditional office in a virtual space. The culture at Toptal revolves around being helpful, collaborative, direct, revealing, and challenging—attributes that define how the company functions.

“In a remote setting, trust is crucial,” Labbe notes. “We’ve built a culture where employees trust each other to be where they need to be and to respond when it’s most convenient for them. It’s not about surveillance but about understanding and respecting each other’s work rhythms.”

My thoughts? I’m jealous. Having just returned from a week-long vacation in Mexico, I had hundreds of emails piled up. Sure, people received my out-of-office, but that’s only AFTER the email was sent. I still have to follow up with each one upon my return and ask if they got the answer they need!

I asked how new hires react to the untraditional policy. Transitioning to a no-email culture requires a learning curve, and Toptal acknowledges this through robust onboarding and training programs. New hires are equipped with the tools they need, from updating Slack statuses to understanding the nuances of remote communication etiquette.

Labbe explains, “We take the time to ensure everyone is comfortable with the tools we use. It’s an adjustment, but the benefits far outweigh the initial learning curve.” When new hires lean on their old ways and send internal emails, they’re gently coached to try Slack instead. “Emails just aren’t our way.”

The Total Advantage

Toptal isn’t just redefining the game; they’re throwing the whole rulebook out the window. Toptal’s strategy isn’t just unique; it’s a loud and proud declaration of commitment to getting things done, working together like a well-oiled machine, and fostering trust unlike ever before. That’s culture.

So, as we take a beat to absorb Toptal’s innovation, let’s give our own communication practices a friendly nod. Are we stuck in the email Stone Age, or are we ready to take a page out of Toptal’s book? They’re not just an inspiration; they’re a nudge to inject some serious, positive, change into our company culture. What other things about “the way we do things around here” might you revisit at your company? Have you considered a meeting apocalypse?

Elsewhere in Culture

19 Tips To Develop Stronger Leaders And Transform Company Culture

In the pursuit of developing stronger leaders and transforming company culture, the insights from the Forbes Human Resources Council seamlessly align with the principles of fostering a positive workplace environment. The recommendation to cultivate a transparent culture (point 3) resonates deeply, emphasizing transparency as a force multiplier that aligns everyone with organizational goals and encourages employee development. This underscores the vital role of clear corporate values in guiding leadership actions, ensuring fact-based communication, and promoting constructive engagement.

Additionally, the emphasis on fostering open communication (point 9) is pivotal in creating a workplace where individuals feel empowered to contribute to positive change. The notion of establishing a psychologically safe work environment (point 12) aligns with the recognition that such an environment encourages trust, diverse perspectives, and individual and collective growth. The call for leaders to lead by example (point 7) serves as a powerful reminder that cultural transformation begins with the actions of those in leadership roles. These tips not only complement but also reinforce the importance of nurturing a culture of trust, openness, and continuous learning for effective leadership development and cultural transformation within organizations.

3 Reasons To Thank Your Team

Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for fostering a positive and thriving company culture. As we reflect on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the connection between gratitude and organizational success becomes increasingly apparent. The findings from Gallup and Workhuman emphasize that a strong culture of gratitude translates into tangible business outcomes, with a potential increase in productivity amounting to nearly $92 million for a 10,000-person company. The impact extends beyond financial gains, as research from Deloitte indicates that appreciation is 24% more motivating than a raise, with employees, especially millennials, valuing growth opportunities and recognition.

The study by Blueboard and Wakefield Research reveals that a robust culture of recognition leads to a fourfold improvement in engagement. To build a culture of gratitude, leaders can start with simple acts like saying ‘thank you,’ which 84% of employees find satisfying. Recognizing and appreciating contributions, both formally and informally, contribute to a more inclusive and positive workplace. Importantly, leaders must lead by example, as shifts in their behavior can influence the entire organizational ethos. Building a culture of trust and connection further amplifies the impact of appreciation, creating a virtuous cycle that nurtures both individual and collective well-being. As we navigate high levels of burnout and stress, particularly during the holiday season, expressing gratitude becomes a timely and essential practice to reinforce the value of team members and establish enduring recognition rituals that extend far beyond the fourth quarter. This season of gratitude serves as a poignant reminder that appreciation should be an integral part of our organizational fabric year-round.