What we learned by abandoning the shackles of an office to become a remote company
In December 2013, all full time employees at Customer.io were in the same office in New York City. Late last year we tried a 2 month experiment with remote working and had great results. This gave us the confidence to decide at the end of 2013 to make it ok for people to be distributed. We made that decision public in our Annual Report and many people have been curious about how our experiment has been going. 5 months in to 2014, we’re now a distributed team. Our team of 7 might be anywhere in the world. I’d never know and I have no idea whether or not they wear pants when they work. It has been a tremendous experience to learn how to work together remotely, and how to hire remote people. We have some “gotchas” to share with you too. Here are some of the things we’ve learned.
Quickcast lookback for short screencasts of things we’ve built / bugs, Hackpad Dropbox Paper for sharing ideas, and Draft for writing / proofing blog posts (like this one).
The goal with all of these is that the recipient can choose when to look at them. They don’t force people to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to you.
Remote companies make it easier to find great peopleWhen we’ve posted on the job board WeWorkRemotely, we’ve received interest from extremely talented people. For example, when we posted for a Senior Front End Engineer, we received over 50 applicants. Of those applicants 3 – 5 were local to New York. Having lots of quality candidates creates a different problem than what tech companies are used to. We end up turning away a lot of people who in other situations would probably get the job. We also attract people who want to leave their current job for personal reasons. People who no longer want to commute, or want to spend time with family, or want to travel and see the world all apply interested in the freedom working with us provides.
Remote companies need independent peopleInternally, we have a doc now about hiring. Here’s a snippet from our checklist. We’re looking for somone who is:
- A Maker & Fixer
- Loves what they do
- Has Empathy
- Is a good communicator
- Operates independently
Having remote management makes it (too) easy to not make decisionsAfter our team retreat in Barcelona at the end of March, I stayed for another week to spend time with John. Walking around the alleys in Barcelona, we realized that we hadn’t talked about the business since he started traveling in January. There were business decisions and issues that were unresolved. We used to chat about them casually over lunch or when grabbing coffee from the kitchen. Over that week we did a lot of talking and made some hard decisions together that impacted the business and the team. The lesson there was that we needed to force ourselves to talk more. Since then, we’ve been having an open ended video chat on Saturday or Sunday where there’s a loose agenda and we talk about whatever’s on our mind. Casual discussions are the most valuable thing you can accidentally lose when becoming a remote team. We’re also making sure that we meet up in person for a few days once a quarter.
With remote companies, asynchronous communication is keyI’d even argue that colocated companies should switch to asynchronous if they want people to be productive. When we’re online, we hang out in Slack. In fact, we’ve been using Slack as an aggregator for conversations and system notifications: Here are a few things that happen in our Slack:
- When a deploy goes out, a message is posted to the #deploys channel.
- When we get a new support ticket, that goes in to #helpscout.
- Off-topic or fun things get shared in the #random channel.