Remote Work at Balsamiq
- Team Members
- Bologna, Italy
Balsamiq is the maker of Mockups – the rapid wireframing software that combines the simplicity of paper sketching with the power of a digital tool so that teams can focus on what’s important. Balsamiq is a small and personable company that competes on usability and customer service. Balsamiq believes work should be fun, and that life is too short for bad software.
We started as a remote company.
We like to compete on customer service, so it’s very important for us to have both sales and tech support people spread around the world to cover more timezones. Being geographically dispersed also gives us the advantage of moving faster…the software gets tested while the developers sleep, for instance.
People are happier, they have a better work/life balance, and they stick around for longer! 🙂
We started that way. It came natural for us. No-one likes commuting, and we value work/life balance quite a bit. Plus we want to hire the best people for the job, regardless of where they live.
Previous work-at-home experience is a plus, especially if they’ve done it for a long time. Working at home is amazing for the first 6 months, great for the first 2 years, and can be tough after that unless you come up with your “system” for separating work from personal life.
First we create a very long and detailed form that’s meant to replace the first hour-long interview. It’s intense and should take about 30 minutes to complete. This alone filters people quite a bit. We don’t ask for age, sex, a photo, LinkedIn URL or even a CV at this stage: this ensures we focus on people’s answers instead.
When we have enough candidates, we close the form and ask a few of the best ones for their CV and LinkedIn URLs, and to meet them for a quick 30-minute interview over Google Hangouts. This is just to get to know each other and answer any questions the candidates might have for us.
After that, the team gets together, and pick a winner.
No, yuck. Responsible people do what they know needs to be done.
In short, “take some”. We used to not track days off, but it resulted in some people (mostly US employees) not taking enough time off. So we set a “minimum number of days you’re expected to take off” limit. There’s no maximum limit.
We very naively started all being remote, so there were no fears.
Here’s a challenge that surprised me: on the same day, I had a remote employee vent about feeling lonely, while someone at the office complained about the office being too noisy. Ha! 🙂
Very organically. We started remote, and we stayed optimized for working remotely. We didn’t get an office until year 3, I think.
The danger is that your remote staff might feel like they’re second-class employees. Focus all of your efforts on avoiding that. At Balsamiq, we say that we are “optimized for working from home”.
Our “office” is Hipchat. We have chat rooms for different projects, a room for announcements and a “water cooler” room for cat gifs. 🙂 We often escalate communication to voice, video and screen-sharing, either within Hipchat or with Google Hangouts.
We also use Atlassian Confluence as our company wiki and handbook.
I’m not very good at it (my company is my baby), but I try.
One of our employees (Leon) has a nice trick he does: in the morning, he gets dressed, gets out of the house, walks around the block clockwise, then gets back in and goes to work. At 5pm, when work is done, he gets out of the house, walks around the block counter-clockwise, then gets back in and is “home”. Awesome! 🙂
Our motto is “life’s too short for bad software!”
When it comes to challenging times, I often say “if it was easy, someone else would be doing it”.
Worst: a truck stop on the freeway. Best: a beach in Vietnam. I have photos of both if you want them. 🙂