Remote Work At Blossom
* As of December 2019
Blossom Remote Company Q&A
Sebastian Göttschkes, VP of Platform - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Blossom is a lightweight project management tool that brings every role of your modern software development team to the same page. It supports you in taking the right action at the right time in the day-to-day of creating software.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
Blossom was distributed from the start.
How important is remote work to your business model?
Being a globally distributed team gives us many unfair advantages. Here are just some of them.
- Even as a small team we cover almost all timezones without any struggle. This means that for support inquiries, we usually have somebody on top of it without our customers having to wait.
- We can hire the best people globally no matter where they are. Even if they want to work and travel. This would be impossible at other companies.
- Employees can integrate their work and life much better. If you like, you can work traditional hours. If you like to split up your day or have your most productive time at 2 a.m. in the morning, that’s perfectly fine too.
- At many companies relocation would mean the person has to find a new job and the company loses great talent. Being distributed by default means that it is no problem if people choose to relocate permanently or temporarily. You just need an internet connection.
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
I think the different work culture is the biggest benefit, at least for us at Blossom. It’s awesome to be able to just go for a run in the middle of the day if the weather is right. Sure, you still need to get your hours in, but you can choose when to be more flexible. As we don’t have any specific working hours we must work, everybody can just work as they see fit.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
Blossom was always distributed from the start. We never had a formal office. We still mainly use coworking spaces, cafes, drop by at companies from friends or just work from home. This also comes in handy whenever some of us are visiting family or traveling to conferences. There are no empty offices left behind that need to be managed.
What traits do you look for in candidates for a remote job?
Being able to communicate well in written form is a plus. Being able to show that you can work without micro-management and supervision is also pretty important. A red flag to me would be people who are sloppy when writing emails, not responding for a long amount of time without an explanation.
How do you convey your remote culture in the recruiting process?
For working remote, people need a specific skill set. Communication is one of the most important skills, and it’s possible to get a feeling for that by looking at the interactions the person had on platforms like GitHub or StackOverflow (in the case of a developer).
A thing we don’t do right now but might adapt is having a person work on a project as part of the hiring process. It’s important to make sure to compensate for the work and pick a project that’s a good fit (easy to get started on, something which resembles our work we do daily) but this gives you invaluable insights into how the person is working together with others.
What is your hiring process for remote workers?
The approach would be roughly the same, with video calls replacing the in-person meetings.
Do you use third party testing or evaluation services when hiring remote workers?
No, we don’t use any particular tool.
How do you conduct onboarding for remote workers?
As we are looking for people who are self-starters, the onboarding is not a defined process but a reaction to the needs of the person. Somebody, after having access to the Github repos (or other resources required for the role), is able to start without much help and can ask questions along the way. Others need more help with pairing sessions using Google Hangout or, if we see fit, having that person join somebody else for a few days.
Do you have remote communication protocols for your remote workers?
Not at all. Everybody should balance his needs with that of the company and act accordingly. As we don’t have working hours, people are not expected to be online at any time.
Do you organize remote team retreats?
We currently don’t, but I hear they are awesome 🙂
Do your remote team members meet in person?
It’s not a regular thing, but we do meet whenever possible (e.g. when somebody is in town as part of a holiday). No one has actually met our Australian team member in person yet, but this will change when he comes to Europe in Spring.
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
We don’t track time or something like that. We care more about outcome and measure KPIs that are related to how the product and our processed perform. We trust each individual employee to do their best work and create an environment where this is possible. We try to be empathetic with everyone and support each other wherever possible.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
The first thing that comes to mind is trust. If you don’t trust each employee to act in the best interest of the company, it’ll creep into the relationship pretty fast. This is especially true if you don’t have “core hours” or even specific working days. Another one is communication. Make sure to communicate early and often.
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
To me it was letting go of the idea that everybody is available at some specific time. I was always a fan of asynchronous communication, but sometimes you are blocked and need a team member to help you. With everybody in the same office working roughly the same hours, you walk over to their desk and ask them. Being remote and in different time zones with totally different schedules, you can get stuck. The solution (at least for me) is to have more than one thing on my plate so I’m able to switch over if I am blocked. I also make sure to think ahead and plan more time for things to be delivered.
How do you keep remote employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture?
We use quarterly OKRs (objectives and key results) to align everyone. Similar to Google, Netflix, Twitter and other companies we define them on the company level and from those we derive individual OKRs. One thing that’s a bit difficult to do and probably even more important in a distributed team is celebrating successes. Since you can’t just share some cake in the kitchen we use gifs and emoji cakes.
What is your BYOD policy for remote workers?
We provide devices and tools for everyone but all our work lives in the cloud. This makes it easy to provision new or additional devices. We’re also quite pragmatic about trying out new things. If you know of a great new text editor, design tool or similar we’ll give it a try.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
Every employee has 45 days off (this also includes official national holidays). This way we balance the fact that some countries have a lot of public holidays while others have not.
What were your biggest fears in managing remote workers?
To me, making the work visible was a big fear. Even in traditional companies, there are people working nobody knows what they are actually doing. In a remote environment, those people are nearly invisible. But it’s actually the other way round. Because everybody knows how important communication is, people make an effort to keep the team updated on what they are up to and what their progress is.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
We don’t have a formal remote work policy like tracking time or something like that. We mainly look at defining outcomes that we want to see using OKRs and then work towards them individually or in pairing sessions. This has worked quite well so far. I guess it helps if you have a team of people who are already familiar with remote and distributed scenarios.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
Sure! Clearly defining the culture and hiring with that in mind is important. One thing we do that is through pairing sessions but also by sharing what we read and care about. Also obviously a key part of the company culture is the fact that it is a distributed team so it makes sense to make sure whether this is a good fit for the people who join.
How do you nurture your company’s culture in a remote work environment?
Our culture is the product of everybody involved, so we try to reflect if the culture we have is the culture we want to have. Everybody is responsible to bring issues up and improve the way we work, so it’s not something that comes from “the top”. If somebody identifies something that can be improved they bring it up and if it makes sense at the time it gets implemented. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
When you consider a remote or distributed structure I think it helps if you start by defining “why” you are doing it and what you expect from it. This will help to make sure everyone understands what is happening and where you are going as a company. Talk to other companies that made the switch and what they’ve learned.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
Keeping everyone connected and feeling as a part of the company is hard. I often struggle with having nobody to “chat” with or go for lunch. You miss a lot of these informal conversations. In a traditional environment, people can do various activities outside work and get to know each other, which translates to a better work environment.
Being remote from the beginning helps, because you don’t have to transition people who are used to an office and might not even like working with remote workers. Everybody at Blossom joined with a clear idea that there is no office and that meeting co-workers in person is not regularly possible.
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
We obviously use Blossom to communicate on the strategic and tactical level. We use GitHub for code reviews and Slack for informal conversations. We do not use email internally and are rather explicit with our tasks (both in terms of description and status updates). It’s important to keep everybody in the loop. If we need to discuss or have a pairing session, we use Google Hangout.
What is your personal remote work environment?
I own a self-build standing desk with a MacBook Pro in top as well as an external monitor. Sometimes I move to the couch or kitchen table, especially when I’m tired of standing. One day a week I join a local co-working space to get some air. I also try to work more from coffee places to mix it up a bit.
What are the biggest benefits of being a remote worker?
With the flexibility I have right now, I can take care of my daughter way better than before. I’m able to get her from kindergarten in the middle of the day and just put in some more hours in the evening. I also recognize how I am more aware of how I feel and act accordingly, e.g. taking a nap if I’m really tired.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
That’s something I still struggle with I guess. Even though the company does not require it, I keep track of my hours worked to get a feeling of my worked hours. I also try working “normal” hours to not have to work late at night or on the weekend if I don’t want to.
What tips do you have to disconnect when working remotely?
I like meeting people, so I make sure to have at least one meeting over coffee each week. I also work from a co-working space once every week where we take lunch together.
What is your favorite business book?
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
“Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Le Petit Prince (The little prince) by Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Where is the best or worst place you’ve worked remotely?
The worst would definitely be the trains from OEBB (train operator in Austria). No wireless, almost no space to move and always crowded. The best is my home office on a sunny afternoon when the sun shines right to my desk.