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Building Culture in a Remote-first Organization

August 23, 2022

5 Minute Read

Imagine a world where the internet is a safe place for children to learn, connect, and play.

This is what tech innovators envisioned when they created the robust global network that’s become ingrained in our daily lives. Sadly, technological advances have come with unintended consequences leaving children vulnerable to new forms of harm and exploitation online. But here at Thorn, we are on a mission to build a world where every child is free to simply be a kid.

We recently spoke to three of our team members at the close of Camp Thorn—our first in-person gathering in 2.5 years due to COVID restrictions. Being a remote-first organization, many people met face-to-face for the first time. We spoke of mission, culture, and the inspiration that came from spending a week together.

“There was something about Thorn’s mission that has spoken to me for years,” said Communications Manager, Cassie Coccaro. “I’m also a mom of two young kids so, of course, the mission hits home. We’re very fortunate in our life, and not all kids are as lucky as my children.”

After nearly disappearing in the ’90s, the spread of child sexual abuse material exploded with the rise of the internet, and child sex trafficking increased with exposure to a greater market online. Today, the problem is complex and still growing—but so are we. 

“The moment I saw [Thorn CEO] Julie Cordua’s TED Talk, I thought, ‘I’m going to work for her someday,’” said Nikki Burns, Senior Domestic Policy Manager. Like so many others, she was moved by Julie’s visceral passion and commitment to swiftly end the viral distribution of abuse material and to rescue children. So, Nikki took 15 years of public policy experience, a deep desire to help vulnerable groups, and manifested that dream job at Thorn.

Nailing Culture in a Remote-First Organization

It’s clear that our team members are united by their shared mission to unleash the power of technology and protect vulnerable children. In fact, this drive has prompted us to expand our full-time team of staff and contractors, all of whom work remotely from over 21 states. The distance doesn’t seem to have an impact on the connections, collaboration, and outcomes.

One year in, Nikki has already made friends for life—something you might not expect to find at a distributed organization. “I’ve never worked anywhere where I’m truly working with people I call friends,” she said. “I’ve noticed that I say my ‘friends’ as opposed to my ‘colleagues,’ and I think that’s very unique.”

Cassie has had a similar experience. “I already have friends here, and I’ve only been here for three months. I’ve been in offices even longer in the past and never found true friends like I have here.”

Josh Boley, a software engineer, has a theory about that. “I think a big piece of it is the mission. There’s an extra spark and motivation because we all want to work in this specific space. For me, it’s doing software for a good purpose and not just for corporate money.”

Cassie agreed, adding, “Working here day in and day out can be tough. The content can be heavy sometimes, but the mission just keeps bringing me back—and the people. It’s just such an incredible place for teamwork and collaboration.”

Kicking Collaboration Up a Notch at Camp Thorn

Even a remote-first, fully distributed team needs to connect face-to-face once in a while. Enter Camp Thorn, a week-long Thorn gathering that brings the whole team together to take a pause, connect to one another, and reflect on all we have accomplished thus far: the incredible work in motion and the innovative dreams we have for the future. For Nikki, Cassie, and Josh, this was the first of what’s sure to become many excursions with the greater team.

“In addition to a lot of fun team bonding and games, it’s a chance to take a look at where we’ve been, what we’re doing, and how we’re going to achieve these really big goals to end child exploitation,” explained Nikki. “It also helps to have that human connection, especially since we’re working on such difficult subject matter.”

Cassie described how amazing it was to finally meet everybody in person. “It really was just the most pleasant, kind, and caring environment. We all feel like we’re working toward the same goal, even though we have different skills and contribute in different ways.”

There were days and evenings of connecting, planning, and playing, as well as powerful sessions hearing directly from abuse survivors and law enforcement partners which brings us back to why we do this work. 

“Being at Camp Thorn just revived the excitement and urgency in me,” Nikki said. “We’re kind of tethered together on this really hard issue, and so you naturally just go a little bit deeper on a personal level at events like this.”Two employees giving each other hi-fives.

Join Our Team and Make a Difference

For Cassie Coccaro, joining Thorn full time was “the best thing that’s ever happened in my career … truly.” If taking immense pride and satisfaction in your work is something that interests you, consider joining us and explore our open roles here.

Animated photos of a large group of employees doing the wave.

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