Remote Work At Authentic Form & Function
* As of December 2019
Authentic Form & Function Remote Company Q&A
Chris Arnold, Partner - Interview with Remote.co
Authentic is a forward thinking web design and technology studio. Depending on the project, our relationships span from consulting and strategy, to user experience and visual design, to full-stack digital development solutions. We build marketing websites, large scale e-commerce websites, and custom web products for our startup partners.
Yes! With Chris in Denver, and Bryant in Chicago at the time, Authentic has always been a company flying the “remote flag” from the start.
Remote work was at the core of our team’s ethos from the beginning. We’ve always wanted to create a company that hinges on the ever important work/life balance, one where all team members are able to work wherever is most fruitful and comfortable.
By far the largest benefit of the remote structure is the ability to bring the very best talent to the position we’re looking for at the time. Instead of being constrained to a single location, we’re able to scan candidates across the country for the best fit for the specific role at hand.
We (Bryant and myself) always felt that working in a cubicle, driving a long commute, and generally rushing around to get somewhere was a great way to flame out as an employee—in any industry. We think that promoting a results-oriented company where each team member can work wherever is most productive is a great path towards high quality work. With a higher quality of life, too.
Our hiring process has evolved over time, and we currently conduct all interviews over a Google hangout to immediately get a sense for how someone presents themselves (clothing, environment, speaking abilities, etc.). We have anywhere from 3-4 interviews, increasing in length, as we’re vetting each candidate for a specific position, ultimately culminating in a final interview ahead of an offer.
Before we hop into any meeting, however, we’re also having each candidate fill out a questionnaire that aims to address key topics that are critical to our company’s success. For example, thoughts on remote working, business hours, work/life balance, and expectations. Right away this clears the deck of many people that aren’t at a place where we feel they can best contribute.
As much as possible, any job listings are purposeful and clear with the type of company we are, and the type of role we’re hiring for. Communicating (extremely) clearly has been important for growth, as any grey areas left to question can come up later as negatives.
Even though onboarding usually takes ~3 months in total, we’ll generally spend a couple of days with each new hire right away on various video chats to walk each person through the daily processes, their role, and how that flow begins to play out each week.
While it would be easy to hand out tasks, we’ve found it paramount to spend that extra time “hand holding” as a new team member gets off the ground. We want to be available and present to answer any questions as that process evolves.
We do not. However, we never want to leave a team member hanging during typical business hours, and this is something Slack tends to help with when we use personal notifications to a specific team member. That being said, very rarely are we under fire and in need of immediate responses from the team. Giving space to get the work done is important.
We operate with two company retreats per year, each slightly different from the other. The first retreat is a full-week “working retreat” where the entire team gathers in the same space to work a typical business week. Sprinkled throughout that week we’re also taking “recess” multiple times to enjoy various activities in that particular city, and make time for team dinners while everyone happens to be in the same place.
The second retreat is a non-working fun retreat in a part of the country we all want to explore. This might be the mountains of Colorado, a beachside town on either coast, or something similarly exciting. But the point of this retreat is to unplug from work and take time with the team in a more casual setting.
Typically our partners will connect more frequently for business meetings across the country throughout a year, and our greater team (if not associated with those meetings) meet to connect as a group twice a year.
We employ an Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) approach to personal (and team-wide) progress. Each quarter we sit down and discuss what we’ve done over the past three months, and align everyone to the upcoming quarter.
Each team member has a few specific and quantifiable metrics we’re aiming to hit, each of which lead to greater company wide goals. We always want to be sure the entire team is aware of, and involved with, where the company is headed.
The lack of body language and in-person cues can be tricky. But that being said, it can also be a double-edged sword. Having a “bad day” in person is very different from that same bad day over team chat and a video call. The most important thing to keep in mind as a manager is that we’re consistently checking in with, and taking the pulse of, how the team is feeling over any given week.
From a managerial perspective, this is one of the most difficult topics we’ve encountered as partners of the business. While there’s much more to this topic, in general we’ve found that intentional communication and meaningful feedback loops are incredibly important.
It’s easy to get holed-up as a remote employee, and we take steps to ensure we’re always checking in with each team member. Understanding each person’s unique needs and preferences can make or break how well they’re able to perform for the team as a whole.
At this time we allow three weeks of paid time off, as well as many of the major holidays where we typically see families gathering for events. Beyond formal time off, we also try to be as flexible as possible for a little time off here or there—e.g., taking a long weekend as long as project priorities are taken care of before leaving the office.
Our remote work policy is very structured and clearly defined from the beginning. While everyone is remote, we still need our team available during (roughly) the same business hours. Before any new team member is brought on board we make sure those expectations, as well as the general daily workflow, are understood and agreed upon.
Know why you want to go remote, and make sure there are defined rules and a general structure in place. In our experience, the nebulous nature of remote working is enough of an unknown in and of itself, so the best path forward for a growing team is to ensure everyone’s on the same page. Being clear about communication and expectations is priority number one.
The biggest challenge without a doubt has been hiring the best person for the role we’re filling. Over the years our hiring process has become much more calculated (and in-depth), but ultimately we never really know how well a team member will perform in a remote environment, period.
We do the best we can when vetting, but there have been times in the past where it wasn’t enough. Like in any business, sometimes the wrong hire makes it through and tough decisions ultimately have to be made if that person consistently falls short in their role.
We have an involved but structured approach to communicating throughout the week. Slack is understandably huge in our team’s communication, and we delegate various channels to our project work alongside the community water cooler channels. We’re also heavily relying on video and screen sharing tools like Google Hangouts and Screenhero for quick communication with clients and team members alike.
Beyond these daily tools, we’ve also found that inter-team events—even while remote—are a great way to keep in touch and get to know one another better. We particularly enjoy Brew View meetings, where we each grab a drink of choice and shoot the sh*t with each other for an hour.
I find that my best personal successes in the work/life balance realm come from structured processes that guide me throughout the week. Over the last decade of remote work experience, my thoughts on various topics have evolved slightly, but there are still key traits I keep in mind relating to routines, nutrition, and fitness.
I’ve always loved the work hard / play hard motto, and I think it fits nicely in the remote work environment. The harder I work, the more value I bring to the team, and the more flexibility I can create for myself outside of the office. Similarly, if I’m always slacking, the team will always wonder where I am or what I’m up to.
If I’m going above and beyond in all facets of my role on the team, everyone becomes aware of what I’m doing to move the company forward. In remote business, trust is earned and not handed out: for me just the same as a new hire.
There’s nothing quite worse than sitting down at a chic coffee shop with a fresh drink, only to find out the internet connection is barely usable for email.
The very best spot I’ve worked remotely in the past would have to be on the Shinkansen in Japan, penning a few thoughts while traveling by rail. Even though I wasn’t wifi connected at the time, it was amazing to sit back and consider how remote work enabled me such flexibility.