Key learnings for going Remote from Running Remote 2019 – day two

Day two of Running Remote packed-in a range of leaders from remote companies who shared their tips on building a strong remote culture and overcoming challenges to scale successfully. Here are some key takeaways.

Hotjar offered smart solutions for common remote work problems

Hotjar is a SaaS company that’s grown from $0 to $20m in ARR in under four years, with a fully-remote team from day one. Ken Weary – VP of operations – explained that while there are a few drawbacks to working remotely, there are great solutions too.

Learn to communicate effectively

Ken and his team realized that their calendars were starting to look like Tetris. Simple queries were being resolved with video calls that wasted time.

Hotjar organized their communication:

  • A social channel matrix was created to clearly explain which communication app is best-suited to each type of query, in terms of complexity and urgency.
  • Each week has a rough sequence – with days for planning, focused work, and certain days on which meetings are banned (unless there’s an emergency).

Establish accountability for each task

Solving queries and tasks efficiently became tricky as Hotjar’s team grew – so they built new systems.

Hotjar structured their accountability:

  • Cross-department ‘tribes’ were created for acquisition, activation, and engagement. In Ken’s words, this got them 80% of the way there.
  • Living documents were created for each process. Anyone could discover the correct way to perform a task and new team members could quickly get up-to-speed.

Recognize that loneliness is a challenge

Ken pointed to a familiar issue for remote workers, which is the sense of loneliness that people can feel when they’re working alone.

Hotjar designed ways to build a sense of community:

  • Organizing team meetups, with half the time reserved for bonding.
  • Creating ‘houses’ within the company that put people who wouldn’t necessarily interact with each other into groups, to tackle fun competitions and challenges.
  • Establishing a ‘work together’ budget of 2000 euros per team member, to spend on any social activities with colleagues – including plane flights, hotels, computer games, and food.

Commit to work/life balance in your team

When you work at home it can become difficult to switch-off and relax. It’s known that some remote workers over-compensate for a perceived sense of distance by working extra hours to try and prove they’re being productive.

Hotjar introduced a policy to correct the balance:

  • A 2,000 Euro holiday allowance is given to each employee to encourage them to make use of their vacation days.

Dribbble explained how remote work helped them quadruple their revenue

Dribbble is a platform for designers to showcase their work and connect with employers. Their company is customer-funded, profitable, and has never taken outside capital.

Zack Onisko – their CEO – says that working remotely is part of the reason they’ve been so successful and have both quadrupled their revenue and grown their team from 8 to 47 employees in less than three years.

Realizing that traditional ideas about productivity don’t work

Zack pointed to the sheer number of wasted hours that commuting inflicts on companies and employees alike. He’s calculated that their remote engineers are roughly three times more efficient than in-house engineers at previous companies. Like many technology leaders, he places little value on ‘butt-in-seat’ time.

Economically, going fully remote just makes sense. We build software on the internet. Why do we need to chat in Slack 6 feet apart?

  • Zack Onisko, CEO, Dribbble

Eliminating employee turnover through remote work

Zack argues that remote work makes it less likely that employees will leave a company – and if they do, it’s less expensive.

It takes Dribbble 6-9 months to train an employee. In San Francisco they’re then likely to leverage the company’s brand name and take another job in the area for a 10% raise.

Dribbble has a near-zero attrition rate over the past three years. Zack puts this down to the fact that remote employees have a better lifestyle and less incentive to jump ship.

Dribbble’s three principles for success as a remote team

Zack shared the three guiding principles that Dribbble have used to successfully work and scale as a remote company.

Stay connected

  • Set a clear vision or mission statement.
  • Create clear company values.
  • Invest in communication tools like Slack and Zoom.
  • Document internal processes in a company wiki.
  • Hold weekly company calls and include time for personal stories and humor.
  • Praise co-workers publicly to create a great remote culture.

Do great work

  • Use your position as CEO to reduce distractions and inefficiencies.
  • Have fewer, but more effective meetings – always share an agenda document.
  • Dedicate specific days each week for focus – with zero meetings.
  • Try to overlap working hours to reduce ‘blocks’ caused by team members being unavailable.
  • Invest the money that you save from hiring remote workers into your employees.

Have fun at work

  • Use puns, emojis, and silly humor to help people to feel comfortable and be authentic.
  • Encourage virtual hang-outs – book/movie clubs, secret santas, selfie competitions.
  • Organize real-life meetups and trips.

Conversio explained how to scale a remote team while staying aligned with your values

Adii Pienaar is the founder of Convers.io and co-founded WooThemes. He echoed the message that values and culture are integral to the success of any remote team – and offered detail on how to define them.

Recognize why culture and values are important from the start

Building culture and values into an organization might not be difficult for a small company, where the CEO has direct engagement with each employee, every day. But as a company grows and becomes more complex, it requires more deliberate effort.

As Adii explained, ‘What works for 10 might break at 30 and break at 100. While you can plan for the break, you won’t necessarily be able to plan the solution… But simply being aware of culture will add incremental improvement… and put your company ahead of any that don’t think about culture’.

To identify the values that your company stands for, he suggests you ask yourself, ‘What in my business would I want to clone?’. It’s likely this will identify values that are representative of your own. Over time these values might evolve – but they won’t drift far from where you started.

‘Your culture should lead and influence your team as-if you are there, even though your body is here right now.’

  • Adii Pienaar

Companies are often challenged on their values by outside circumstances and opportunities. But Adii recommends to double down, often. In his own words, Conversio isn’t an inclusive culture – because by having values, it follows that not everyone will want to fit into their team.