Remote Work at Beutler Ink
- Team Members
- Washington, DC
We’re a digital content development agency focusing on strategy and visual content for social media, infographics, interactive visualization, animation and Wikipedia consulting.
We did start out as a distributed team, but several of our team members joined from companies with offices. Switching them over to remote working was pretty straightforward: setting them up with the software they needed and making sure they had appropriate technology in their homes (good Internet connection is a must!).
Having a distributed team is very important to us. First and foremost, it allows us to hire the most talented team members, without having to narrow our focus by location. That’s huge! It means we can get the best person for the role, not the best person within a 100 mile radius. And we don’t lose team members if they move to a new city or state. It also keeps our costs lower. And it means we can be responsive to our clients, whichever time zone they’re in, since we have team members across the US.
The greatest benefit is being able to hire without being constrained by location. It’s also a fantastic draw for good employees who might crave more flexibility in how they work. Not everyone works well in a 9-5 office environment. Younger employees, or those with families, find the ability to work from home or when traveling immensely helpful. It allows them to work when and where they’re most effective, so you get their best work.
The remote working aspect was part of our company from the start. Bill began the company out of his home office and hired contractors from his professional and personal network who tended to be in different locations then him. It worked, and so we continued hiring based on skill rather than location.
It’s so crucial for anyone working as part of a distributed team to have great communication skills and that can be obvious from the first couple of interactions. Anyone who writes a clear, well-presented note and includes all the requested enclosures with their application is going to get our attention. Even more so if they reply in a timely manner to our initial response. A confused (or confusing!) application email, with missing enclosures (no CV or cover letter) is a sign that an applicant is not going to follow written instruction well and is not going to give clear updates on project status.
We also love to see signs that a candidate is self-motivated and tends to proactively look for ways to improve work processes. There are ways to show this through any type of past experience, great candidates don’t have to have had the most amazing work history to show their potential.
Good writing is crucial for the job posts: We have excellent writers on our team who we draw on to make sure that we’re being clear about what the role entails, that it is 100% remote and to give a flavor of our team’s personality and culture. Fitting all that into one short job post is tough, so we look to each of our skill sets to make it happen.
We usually have two rounds of interviews. The first round is with peers so that it’s a more level field for getting to know the candidate, and for them to get to know us and feel comfortable asking tricky questions about what it’s like working here. The second round is with the team lead and direct supervisor, where we go more in depth. In that second round, we like to go over some of the unique benefits and challenges to working remotely. We ask candidates to think about how that will work for them and whether it will truly be a good fit. After all, we want our team members to be happy and productive, so if there’s any doubts it’s much better to figure that out early.
Strictly speaking, we measure it in their output. What’s most important to us is that the work needed is getting done, and that our team members are putting in their best on every project, delivering high quality work. We do track time (using Harvest), but that’s for project analytics rather than to keep tabs on how many hours our team members are logging and when.
All our team members are welcome to use their own laptops and phones. There are some cases where we provide additional equipment that belongs to the company, rather than the team members, for example extra-large monitors for our designers.
All our team members have at least 10 days of paid vacation per year, in addition to Federal holidays. The number of days increases with tenure. We also provide paid time off for illness, and paid leaves for maternity / paternity leave.
This was absolutely an organic development, rather than something we decided to focus upon.
Absolutely! It really comes down to a lot of communication and leading the way from the top down in the company. It’s very similar to a company that has a central office: you want the leadership to reflect the values that you want to promote within your company. We just have to communicate it differently, using the means available to us. For instance, we have group activities and group meetings to bring the team together, but they are on Google Hangout or Skype rather than in a meeting room.
If you’re considering it, just try it out! The worst that can happen is that you find out it doesn’t work for your team, in which case, you can end the trial and go back to status quo. If you decide to go for it, make sure that you set expectations about how it’ll work and how team members should stay in touch and keep on top of their work. Ensure you have technology that works well for you, so that you can continue to manage effectively, even when your team isn’t all under one roof.
The biggest challenges are logistical and infrastructure based, much the same as any company, I’d imagine! Unique to us as a distributed company are the specific hurdles with having team members in multiple states. We have to meet all the regulatory requirements, be registered for taxes for each of those states, and each one has a different application process and requirements. Likewise, for anything that you need to support employees, such as healthcare and workers compensation, it has been frustrating to find that our options are very limited. Finding experts to help navigate these areas is an absolute must for distributed companies, where a company based in one location can likely manage most of these themselves.
We use Slack for individual and group instant messaging: this is invaluable for all those quick conversations that you’d usually have in an office by leaning over to the next desk. It’s also a great way to share files and images. Also, having voice calls on Google voice or Skype is so helpful if you need to talk about something a bit more complex or to have a longer discussion.
I’m in the process of converting my spare room into an office, after my previous office got turned into my kids’ room, so currently I surf between a few spots in the house. My husband’s desk in the front room of our house has lovely views of our neighborhood, but is lacking in space, so I also use the dining table where I can spread out notepads and any books or correspondence. When I’m taking calls or doing Google Hangouts with my team, I have a comfy armchair in the corner of the spare room.
This is such a tough one! I think like everyone who can do their work from home, it’s such a temptation to keep going til the wee hours or to check email during dinner or True Detective, so I set myself limits. There are times that I won’t take a phone call or look at emails. If I need to work late, I’ll make sure I take time out for family time for a while, then go back to it. Myself, my co-VP and our President decided a while ago that we do not text or email each other about work after 9pm at night, and we likewise avoid sending emails to our team that late. That’s what Boomerang (the Gmail add-on that lets you schedule an email to send later) is for.
Worst location is a rental car, while my husband and I were driving from Ohio to Oregon on a summer road trip in 2013. Phone data coverage was spotty a lot of the time as we got out West and I would spend ages trying to send a single email. Best location is my friends’ house in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria in the UK. They have a view out over Morecambe Bay from their living room and it was a spectacular backdrop to my work day.