Inside Photoroom

Embracing radical openness: How a “No DM” Slack policy drives impact at Photoroom

Matthieu Rouif
Matthieu RouifJuly 9, 2024
Embracing radical openness: How a “No DM” Slack policy drives impact at Photoroom

One of the most unique—and initially surprising—aspects of our culture for newcomers and potential team members alike is our No Direct Message (DM) policy. Inspired by Stripe’s email transparency policy, this means—as a core part of our culture—Photoroom team members are encouraged to communicate largely via open Slack channels versus private DMs and emails.

Imagine an open office floor plan where people can comfortably chat at their desks, aware of ongoing conversations without needing to eavesdrop, and feeling a strong sense of belonging. This is the environment we aim to replicate with our “No DM” policy at Photoroom.

As a remote-first company born during the Covid era, we wanted our Slack channels to foster a similar feeling of inclusion and transparency. By ensuring that everyone has access to the same information and open discussions, we build trust and empower our team to make informed decisions, together. And so far, it’s been a real gamechanger.

Our “No DM” policy has proven to do much more than we initially set out to accomplish with it by maximizing impact across our organization. It’s also become a critical part of our success story that we take great care to promote and protect with full-time Photoroomers and freelancers alike.

Plus, the more we promote our “No DM” policy and its benefits, the more we’ve seen Photoroomers get on board. Just take a look at how much public messaging improved and private messaging decreased after a recent push in May that included communication about the policy both internally and externally.

JANUARY-MAY 2024

Do people post in private, DMs, or public channels?

Do people read in private, DMs, or public channels?

“Since joining Photoroom, I've seen how the No DM policy helps maintain a small team highly engaged and cross-functional. By allowing everyone to follow and comment on any project, we prevent silos from forming. This approach also ensures that the best possible contributors, not just the expected ones, are involved.”
-Patricia Bernasconi, International growth & product growth @ Photoroom

The decision to go “No DM” at Photoroom

Much like Stripe, we believe that significant outcomes require both resources and context.

Smart people thrive when working with other smart people on impactful decisions. To make this happen, you need two critical things:

  1. Strong macro direction: This starts with a clear mission. At Photoroom, every team member knows our overarching goal is to put the power of great images into more people's hands.

  2. Good local decision: Through our policy of extreme transparency, everyone is aware of ongoing projects and initiatives. This visibility ensures that efforts aren't duplicated—saving time, reducing frustration, and enhancing synergy across the organization.

This way everyone can focus on building as an individual contributor, while reducing the need for project management. It also makes the team closer, faster, more agile, and better able to serve millions of Photoroom users across the world, despite a fairly (and purposefully) lean team.

“The No DM policy is one of the most unique parts of Photoroom. It took me less than a week to really see the immense value it adds. When I joined, I could very easily go back in time and follow decision-making discussions and reasoning as if I was there. I also love that we are able to understand and ask questions about stuff that would be closed in other companies like finances, commercial decisions, and hiring, for example.”
-Mikael Nilsson, Head of People @ Photoroom

What a "No DM" policy is

Extreme transparency: Our “No DM” policy means everyone has access to the same information. This transparency helps us all make better decisions, avoid duplicating work, and collaborate more effectively. By using open Slack channels, everyone can see what's happening and feel involved in our daily operations.

“One big thing that sets our culture apart from any other company I’ve worked for is our commitment to transparency. I really love how our No DM policy makes sure everyone can pitch in and stay in the loop about what’s going on. Being able to see and jump into discussions led by the founders or the leadership team is super empowering.”
-Justyn Lee, Community Lead @ Photoroom

Building trust in remote work: Our policy of public conversations ensures that no one feels excluded or left in the dark. Open channels foster a sense of presence and community that is otherwise very difficult to create in a remote company like ours.

Efficient communication: A “No DM” policy means a majority of our conversations happen in dedicated channels instead of private messages, making it easier to keep track of discussions and decisions. Using threads efficiently helps keep conversations organized and minimizes duplication.

Knowledge Builder: Because discussions are saved forever, our “No DM” policy allows employees across the business to understand past decisions. We also use Dust which is like a fly on the wall in all public conversations and can quickly answer common questions like: Why did we implement a "No DM" policy? When did we work on the Barbie campaign? What features are new this month? All of this creates an accessible, searchable, and continually growing repository of institutional knowledge that helps everyone stay in the know.

“The advantages of our “No DM” policy at Photoroom definitely outweigh any potential mental load that comes from extreme transparency. One, it results in transparent decisions where everyone can understand what is happening in the company and the reasoning behind each decision. Two, newcomers can easily find past decisions and debates, which saves time and avoids having to have the same discussion several times. (Even easier with Dust now!). And three, it’s an invitation to anyone who has knowledge on a topic to jump in and share their thoughts, leading to the best decision with current knowledge.”
-Donovan Reboullet, Product Growth Lead @ Photoroom

What a "No DM" policy isn't

A ban on privacy: Our aim with “No DM” has never been to eliminate privacy or necessary confidentiality. That’s why, like with any good policy, there are exceptions. Personal matters like health and family issues, performance and compensation discussions, sensitive recruiting conversations, and certain confidential partnerships are handled privately to respect employee privacy.

Easy to implement: Keeping up with the transparency our “No DM” policy requires isn't always easy. We try to keep most of our communications out in the open, but it’s a constant effort, especially as we grow.

Right now, 71% of our Slack messages are seen in public channels by 100 people, including full-time Photoroomers and freelancers. We're aiming to push this closer to 100% as we grow our culture of trust and autonomy, but we know it’s a gradual process.

With nearly 57% growth in just the last year, and close to zero voluntary turnover since being founded, I’d say we’re doing pretty well with our approach so far!

A one-size-fits-all solution: We get that this policy might not be a fit for every company or team. Each business has its own unique culture, setup, and needs, which might call for a different communication style. What works for Photoroom might need tweaking or even a complete overhaul elsewhere.

An encouragement of over communication: At Photoroom, transparency doesn’t mean oversharing. Instead, we focus on keeping our communications relevant and to the point. We encourage team members to share important updates and information that help move projects forward and build collective knowledge. This way, we avoid unnecessary noise that can overwhelm the team and reduce our overall effectiveness.

Four key strategies: Our approach to “No DM”

Here's how we make the “No DM” policy work:

Channels over DMs: We chat in channels dedicated to specific topics or projects, not in private messages. But, as the team grows, we know that too much chatter can get in the way. That's why we created specific channels for different parts of the business. This way, folks can discuss and search for topics without adding noise for others who aren’t involved.

Using threads efficiently: This way, everyone can stay in the loop on current projects and quickly catch up on important updates or look back at past information when needed.

Change DM habits: When new folks join Photoroom, they might default to sending direct messages because it's what they're used to and they want to avoid clutter. But here, we're all about the "no stupid questions" vibe. So, our go-to response is, "This could be public 😄," encouraging everyone to keep conversations open.

“The No DM policy has been a breath of fresh air for me. It's helped me settle into the company faster than ever and made it easier to understand what's happening across the business.”
-Reece Batchelor, Talent Acquisition Lead @ Photoroom

Never write something twice: One of the best tips we got from our YC partner, Gustaf Alströmer, is to avoid repeating ourselves. Before starting new threads, we search Slack to build on existing knowledge. This way, we don't waste time reinventing the wheel, and we keep things efficient by avoiding the same questions popping up over and over.

Harnessing the power of transparency at Photoroom

Photoroom's decision to implement a "No DM" policy has fostered a strong culture of transparency, trust, and efficiency. It has enhanced collaboration, empowered our employees, and ensured that everyone has access to the same information, which ultimately drives impactful decision-making.

By promoting open communication, Photoroom has created a more inclusive and agile work environment; something we’re really proud of and look forward to building on.

Check out your own Slack DM stats by replacing “SLACK DOMAIN” in https://SLACK_DOMAIN.slack.com/admin/stats#members with your own slack domain!

Want to learn more about life at Photoroom and join us on this journey of radical openness? Visit Inside Photoroom, check out our careers page, or head on over to our Life at Photoroom Instagram.

Matthieu Rouif
Matthieu RouifCo-Founder and CEO

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