Whether you're ready or not, the world is going global and work is going remote. Increasingly, companies are looking beyond their geographic locations and utilizing modern telecommunication's technologies to hire the best talent they can find, even if they live in faraway places.
This new and quickly growing remote workforce enjoys unprecedented freedom and flexibility, while companies gain from a global talent pool and lower overhead. Of course, hiring a remote workforce isn't without its own unique headaches and challenges.
We caught up with three New York City-based companies that have successfully integrated large numbers of remote employees into their companies and asked them how they did it. Here's what they had to say:
Jenna Weinerman, Marketing Director at Updater
How many of your employees work remotely? How many are in-office? Eight are remote and 22 are in the office.
How do you keep your team communicating effectively with so many people out-of-office? It's not always easy, but through a very conscious effort and ongoing improvements, we've managed to make this issue almost subconscious for everyone. When we need to chat over the phone, we try to use Google Hangouts with video instead. When we are communicating more casually, Slack is our technology of choice. When we want to communicate something more emotional, a high-five, or a feeling of frustration perhaps, many of us use GIFs. GIFs help fill in the emotion and slight subtleties that you might miss by being hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Is workplace culture a problem with so many people remote? Culture is something we absolutely don't lack! Simply because our entire sales team is remote, doesn't mean that they are excluded from that culture. We actually fly our remote employees to our New York City headquarters once a quarter, for three days at a time. During those days, we prioritize activities that focus on interaction, including culture, fun outings, meetings, cross-functional brainstorms, one-on-ones between folks who may have never met before, dinners, and much more. The New York employees really get excited when the remotes come to town, and it's inspiring to watch that excitement become part of our culture, not hinder it.
I understand that your entire sales team is remote, how does that work? Our remote sales team is a huge asset for Updater. We've strategically hired the best people in the industry because we wanted to build the best possible team. Where they live has only contributed positively to how successful we are as a team.
Do you worry that your remote employees are sitting around in their underwear watching TV all day? I can't say that I've ever worried about that, but I can see why some companies might! I have no fears of this for a few reasons: 1. We have extremely ambitious goals and watching TV doesn't help achieve those goals – our team would notice pretty quickly. 2. We use Google Hangouts so frequently that it'd be nearly impossible for them to meet with us in their underwear!
Any suggestions you’d offer companies considering hiring remote employees? Consideration is key. Start your meetings on time, hold your meetings at reasonable hours for the remote employee, make sure that your all-hands meetings are discernible for those dialing in, make email and technology choices work for you instead of against you, and last, but certainly not least, make room for friendly conversations. When you're hanging out in the kitchen with your in-office colleagues, friendly conversations naturally happen, but those are less likely for remote employees. Take the time to ask about their weekends, their families, their favorite things... It's important to have a sense of who your remote colleagues are as human beings if you want to build the trust and camaraderie needed to hit your goals.
Karen Mascavage, Recruiter, People Team at Stack Overflow
How many of your employees work remotely? How many are in-office? Company-wide, about 25 percent of our employees work remotely, across many different teams. The rest work out of one of our offices in London, New York, or Denver. At this point we don’t have any teams who all sit entirely in one place. Our remote employees live all over the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, and around the world. Internationally, remotes are mostly spread across different parts of Europe, but we have folks in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, and Brazil as well!
How do you keep your team communicating effectively with so many people out-of-office? We use a handful of tools to effectively communicate with each other.
- Google Hangouts: We have persistent hangouts for every team available at URLs that everyone knows.
- Internal chat room: We built our own internal chat system here at Stack Overflow. It's great for shorter conversations or quick pings to ask someone a question.
- Email: Email is great for topics that don't require an immediate, time-sensitive answer. Each team sends out a weekly status update to the whole company giving a high-level overview of what’s going on, so teams don’t get isolated from one another.
- Trello: We use Trello for keeping track of who is working on what.
- Google Docs: We use Google Docs for notes, specs, designs, etc.
I know you have an event coming up about creating a good remote-employee culture, is it a difficult endeavor? It’s important to us as a company, and for us as a People Team, to make our culture remote-friendly and inclusive. We want to be sure that our remote employees are on equal footing with our in-office employees as much as possible.
We know remote working certainly isn't for everyone, but it's been working extremely well for us. We host a yearly all-team meetup where people can surface concerns openly, and get to know their coworkers. We also have remote social hangouts every Friday, like our 'Bev Bash,' where everyone is invited to hop onto a video call to hang out with their coworkers a beverage of their choice. We have a program called Stack Roulette that matches employees with two people from different locations and departments in the company to get to know coworkers they otherwise wouldn’t.
In addition, we try to translate this remote-work culture into our office outings too. While each office has a Summer Party during working hours, our remote employees get a 'Summer Fun Day' that's an extra day off to use as they like; hopefully doing something fun and summery with friends and family.
How do you make sure your remote employees aren't sitting around in their underwear watching TV all day? We work really hard during our recruiting and interview processes to ensure that we're hiring remote workers who won't be sitting around watching TV all day, though during their workday pants are optional (though recommended). We do look for the same thing in all of our hires, but it is especially important for remote workers to be self-motivating, proactive and strong communicators. If you trust your employees and they are producing good work, there's no need to worry.
I’ve heard you guys like a good game of FIFA — do remote workers get in on the action? We do love our FIFA over here, and we have actually had some interoffice/remote matches. However, there tends to be some lag in the game, so for fun we stick to some of the other things listed above.
Any suggestions you’d offer companies considering hiring remote employees? The key, for us, is offering both remote and office options, and helping people decide which is best for them. Additionally, remote working is something you have to commit to as a team and company. If even one person on the team is remote, every single person has to start communicating online. The locus of control and decision making must be outside of the office: no more dropping in to someone’s office to chat, no more rounding people up to make a decision.
Paul Berry, CEO and Founder at RebelMouse
How many of your employees work remotely? How many are in-office? We have about 30 in the office in New York and another 65 in 32 different countries around the world.
Wow! That's quite a diverse group. With so many people out of the office, do you worry that two-thirds of your employees are just sitting around in their underwear watching TV all day? I really don't mind if they're in their underwear or not, but we do have to constantly focus on the opposite of watching TV all day. Having rewarding work with super fast feedback and positive signs of impact can be very addicting. We really try to make sure that people are taking vacations and days off, and also making time off of work a daily habit.
Is it tough maintaining a good workplace culture with so many people working remote? Yes for sure — often there is a very significant gap between what you think of and describe as your culture, and what it has actually become. This is as true in the office as around the world, but these gaps are more obvious and hard to miss when they are in a single office.
We take a lot of time to make sure we are talking about, and thinking about, culture with a remote team and not simply building features and hitting deadlines. Having a shared, really big vision is so important and something that's so easy to miss doing right with distributed teams.
Do you have suggestions for companies considering hiring remote employees? So many! But the most important one starts with the hiring manager — if they don't want to prove remote can work, it won't work. There are too many case studies now showing how well it can work to just deny it, but often hiring managers do exactly that. So, the first thing is for the hiring manager to see the benefits of having remote employees — a larger talent pool to pick from, significant cost impacts, and a super fast team that doesn't burn out.
I’ve heard stories about some of the lengths you've gone through to help out remote employees when crises occur in their countries. Can you tell me a bit about that? The most important thing with remote employees is seeing the people you can't see. Their lives, their hopes, the things that they have to battle in a typical day, etc. Because we operate in 32 countries, we are very in touch with the events across that globe that impact people in very real ways. This can be hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and such, but also frequently political unrest.
We have had a presence in Ukraine for a very long time, and as tensions escalated to violence and a chance for full out war in the last few years, we spent a lot of time and money on getting five families out to peaceful places. There were some dramatic moments where we almost thought we had acted too late and some of our key developers were going to be drafted into the Army. At the time, we were working on escape plans and how to get money to the right places. Happily, none of those ultra-dramatic scenarios happened, and we were able to make sure we were giving the financial support to help them get to Poland, Slovenia, New York, California and so on.
These are people who have come through for the company countless times and it is so important to me that the company comes through for them in times of need.