The things at the core of what we do.
Everything on Tohu is free to use under CC-BY license
Values our team agrees to
We get better every day.
Many small changes build big movements. To get where we’re going, we need to get better every day, both individually and as an organisation. Mistakes are OK, but we learn from them and they make us stronger.
We reflect on our own actions, and we are open to true, constructive feedback from our team, our partners, and our users so we can keep getting better. We know that sometimes this hurts or is hard to hear, but that it makes us stronger.
We’re inclusive by default.
This is not the norm, in either society or technology. We must be constantly vigilant to ensure we aren’t passively adding bias into our culture or our products.
We believe that building a diverse team is an important part of this. Different experiences help us to understand and serve the needs of New Zealand.
We consider the needs of all our team when planning team events, and make sure everyone feels included and welcome.
We think about the needs of each other
Our differences make us stronger as a team, but sometimes they make it tricky to communicate. When we’re communicating, especially when we’re giving feedback, we empathise and consider the needs and style of the person we’re communicating with.
We also think about this with our customers and partners. We make sure we’re building things that meet the needs of all New Zealanders
We assume good intentions with each other
Trust is the foundation of success. We trust that when we’re working with our team, they’re acting with the best intentions, even if sometimes they seem not to.
We don’t assume someone’s actions or questions are malicious by default. We take a deep breath and we ask questions to understand their perspective. This is hard, but we do it anyway. We make sure everyone feels safe to ask questions.
We share as much as possible of our decision making and thought processes, so our team can see our vision of the problem.
If we see something wrong, we fix it or report it
We’re too small to let problems fester or go unresolved. Whether it’s technical or cultural, if you see something that is wrong, or even feels wrong, take action.
If you can fix it, fix it. If you can’t fix it, get more eyes on it so we can fix it as a team.
Sometimes, we can’t fix things straight away. There’s not many of us and there’s only so many hours in a day. We make sure there’s always a card in Trello for unresolved problems.
The standard we walk by is the standard we accept. We want, need, and deserve the highest of standards.
Sharing widely and confidentiality
While we have a policy of being transparent within the team there are times when we are unable to share information until a certain date.
It is generally fine to talk about any project within Slack or internally to the team. However, until these projects are announced publicly by Lillian or on our marketing channels, please do not talk about which clients we have or about to have.
This is a super doooooper important part.
The confidentiality part of our employment agreement applies here.
Health and Safety Policy
Figure.NZ cares about the physical, mental, and emotional health and safety of our team and our guests. We want you to be safe and thrive in our workplace.
The safest environment is created when we’re all aware of our surroundings and our behaviour. Everyone is responsible for looking out for each other, identifying and managing risks, and making sure we have a safe and healthy working environment.
These are our health and safety policies. Everyone in our team reads them; if you’re new, this is part of your induction.
Physical health and safety
We keep a register of the risks and hazards in our Shortland St office. If you notice a hazard, you are responsible for adding it to the register. Of course, we’re a remote-first team, so that means we could be working from anywhere. If you’re not in the office, you’re responsible for being super-duper careful and keeping safe. This includes making sure you take plenty of breaks as well.
We’re here to help you and we care about you being comfortable. Tell us what you need to accommodate your physical needs, from special food to chairs to office temperature. If you’re a bit shy at first, no problem. You can tell someone later when you’re more comfortable. We’ll do everything we can to make it happen. If you need to go to medical appointments, that’s no problem; our hours are flexible.m
Mental and emotional health and safety
We care about your mental and emotional health and safety just as much as we care about your physical health and safety. We know that society can stigmatise mental health and that can make it hard to talk about, so you absolutely don’t have to tell us. If you choose to, we will be supportive. We will not judge. We will do everything we can to support you, same as we would with physical health and safety.
We’ll work with you to build a strategy to keep you safe and supported without the need for you to tell everyone the details. We’re used to working to avoid or mitigate triggers. When things are hard, we try to create a supportive environment. Regardless of whether you’ve disclosed anything, we’ll be proactive about checking in and seeing what’s going well and what’s not.
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell when someone needs space or if they’re really struggling and what type of help is needed. As a small team, everyone is always really busy and we try and strike a balance between productivity and supportiveness. However, we will always make space if you let us know that you’re drowning, not swimming 🏊🏽.
We are human. We will all make mistakes and say or do things that may cause distress even when we’re doing our best to get it right. Talk to someone else in the team if someone’s said something upsetting or offensive. They’ll listen, and help you figure out the best way to manage it.
If anyone does or says anything that makes you uncomfortable and particularly if it makes you feel unsafe, whether it’s a team member, a visitor, one of our partners, or a stranger, please raise it with the person you feel safest talking to. Then, let Lillian or Hayden know. If you want to talk to someone else, Vic or Stephen from our board also welcome hearing from you.
I’ve seen something wrong
We are all responsible for health and safety in the office. This means:
- If you see something amiss, report it to Hayden or raise a paddle in Slack.
- Then, make sure you fix it, minimise the risk, or isolate it.
This includes everything from chairs or keyboards causing you pain, to spills, to bullying.
You can (and should) read the hazard register to find out where the dangerous spots in our office are. Of course, if you’re working from home, you’ll need to 👀 look around 👀 and identify all the hazards there so you keep yourself safe.
I’m not feeling well
If you’re feeling unwell 😷🤒, and especially if you might be infectious, stay home. We don’t want germs to spread. If you feel well enough to work, then work from home. If you don’t, rest up and get better. Your health is the most important thing.
There’s been an accident
Any accidents (or serious near-misses) must be recorded in the Accident Register. The first aid kit is in the kitchen pantry.
Our first aiders are:
Serious incidents must be reported to Worksafe by Hayden.
Someone’s asking me for help
Sometimes you’re busy, or don’t feel like you’re equipped or have enough emotional capacity to help someone else. That’s OK. Don’t leave them hanging, though. Help them find someone else to talk to, either in person, or via Slack.
Not everyone is comfortable talking about all topics, and not always in an open office. Think about everyone around you before you start speaking. By the same token, not everyone feels comfortable asking for help — check in with your team mates if you’re worried.
When you’re planning an event or a meeting, think about other people’s needs. Some people need more prep time, to be properly hydrated, are temperature or light-sensitive, or need to monitor their energy levels. Make sure what you’re planning works for all the team by asking them discreetly if they are comfortable with this, and by checking with everyone that they have what they need. This goes for guests too!
Who this applies to
This policy applies to all of us. New starters will be provided with a link to read when they join our team. This includes contractors.
Sometimes we also have short-term visitors and tradespeople come to our office. Their health and safety is important too. Point them to the version of our policy on the wall to read, or give them the highlights verbally. Make sure you also point out any hazards.
When we design our products, we make choices about who we include. Too often, technology puts truly inclusive design into the too hard basic. We label it ‘edge cases’ and we put it in our backlog.
When we do this, we exclude whole groups of people from using what we build and from the benefits they might get from it.
For our team at Figure.NZ, that’s not OK. We believe all New Zealanders should have access to our data and be able to use numbers to shape their thinking. That means we need to design with inclusivity in mind from day 1.
We have some legacy issues we need to resolve, but our policy is:
- When we add something new, we include the needs of all users, including those with different abilities.
- Where possible, we try to improve our existing code to make it accessible to everyone.
- We use plain language.
- We use colours that work with colour-blindness.
- We add alt-text to images and videos (we’re working on a solution for charts and maps).
“Do we want a team made up of people who can make it into the same office at the same time, or do we want to be able to hire the best person regardless of where they are and when they can work?”
This was a question our Chief Technology Officer at Figure.NZ, Rob Isaac asked, followed with “we can do either, but knowing which one we want will have big implications on the tools we use, so we do need to decide.”
Given the unlikelihood of the best people for Figure.NZ living within daily-travel distance of each other and being most productive at the same time of day, we opted for the latter. This challenged everything we knew about running teams.
We realised we needed to be remote-first, not remote-friendly.
This means we’re designing the way we communicate and work to embrace remote working, rather than just adding the ability for remote workers to join in on how things are currently done.
How do we do it?
Here are some of the specifics we are working towards:
- Slack is our operating system for our business. It’s where we communicate and where we get notified for everything.
- Almost all communication is done through Slack, and in as few channels as possible.
- Trello is our main workflow tool, and is integrated into Slack through both notifications and Powerups.
- Public documentation of how we work (Tohu, which you’re reading now)
- Check-in at the start of the day with what you’re going to be doing and where you’ll be. At the end of the day, check-out and update everyone with what you did.
- Never email unless an external person is included, if you want to share an email with the team, post it in Slack.
- Summarise meetings and list their actions in a post in Slack - whether formal/informal or internal/external.
- Document what we do and how we do it publicly (you’re reading this now)
- Anyone can raise a paddle at any time if they are concerned about the direction of something, regardless of if it’s in their domain area or not and everyone available will stop and address the problem (we’ve had about three of these to date)
- Use Slack reactions such as ‘eyes on’ 👀 when you’ve seen something but don’t have time to respond. The list of things we try and do is long, and we’ll publish it publicly when it’s ready.
- Each team has an agreement about what they do and don’t do, and how they accept feedback and report back to the rest of the organisation.
- Recognise when it’s time to go higher bandwidth. Sometimes conversations can be better resolved with a video call than by going around in circles typing. Noticing these and jumping on a call is important
Some of these we still really suck at. Remote-first is hard; it is time-consuming and requires ongoing attention and thought, and we sometimes get speed-wobbles during crunch-times. It’s especially hard when we need to invest more in technical solutions (like better video conference stuff).
But, it’s worth it. Here’s some of the benefits we’ve noticed:
- Everyone in the team is able to operate with deep contextual knowledge. With most communication occurring in front of everyone, the ambient awareness of what’s going on enables everyone to make better decisions for our overall goals, not just for their own domain.
- There is greater respect for different disciplines by seeing the thought and logic behind decisions that would otherwise be jarring.
- Observing conversations happening in other domains gives the opportunity for people to jump in with a solution that no one knew to ask for - i.e. a developer seeing the data team discussing an issue and being able to jump in with a quick-fix.
- Everyone can share their thoughts despite not being the fastest or loudest.
- Knowing what we say will be read by everyone makes us more conscious of what we’re saying and how we say it. We still share our thoughts, but we are more mindful. We take the time to question our assumptions and assertions and to be clearer in our thinking and expression.
Raise a paddle
Also known as “what to do when something goes wrong”.
Sometimes, you’ll get that uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Something is going wrong. You’ve noticed something, or you’re in too deep and if you don’t get help soon, you’ll be in trouble.
Don’t worry, we’ve got a process for that.
For some background, you can read Lillian’s blog post, but the main thing you need to know is it’s called “Raising a paddle”.
Here’s what you need to do:
Set up an alert word in Slack for ‘paddle’. To do this:
- Open the Slack preferences
- choose ‘Notification Settings’
- Click to open the Notification Settings panel
- Scroll down to find ‘Highlight Words’
- Add ‘paddle’
Then, you’re all ready for when you or someone else needs help. So, how does that work?
Raise your paddle
When you notice something going wrong or you’re badly out of your depth, in Slack, say “I’m raising a paddle” and tell everyone why.
What happens next?
If you see someone raise a paddle, you’re expected to stop immediately and listen and help. This is an all-hands on deck, pay attention right now situation. As a group, we’ll decide what immediate action needs to be taken, and form a plan for next steps.
What if it’s not as big as that?
Sometimes, you notice something that isn’t quite going right but it’s not an “OH SHIT DROP EVERYTHING” raise-a-paddle moment. It’s the quiet, uncomfortable sensation when you see something and you start to worry. You think “Am I the only one who sees it?”. You fret about what will happen in the future if it’s not fixed.
Often it’s bad process built up over time that suddenly seems to be a thorn in our side. Other times it’s an impromptu process that’s been put in place to test something out in a hurry, and you can just see how it’s going to go wrong as we grow.
So, what do you do about it?
Don’t stay quiet. If you’re worried about it, we want to know.
Write out your thoughts. Create a Slack post, and tell us:
◦ What the problem is ◦ Any background information you think will help us see it too ◦ Why it's making you worried ◦ What, if any, solutions you can see to mitigate it both short and long-term. You don't have to have solutions, by the way. But we want to know about your worries.
Post it into Slack to share with the team.
We won’t always be able to fix everything right away, but what we can do is take a look at something and decide to act in a way that will cause the least pain in the future, whilst still allowing us to get stuff done.
Once it’s been shared in Slack, we’ll create a Trello card with any actions we need to take for it.