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Remote Work at Fire Engine RED

Team Members
Philadelphia, PA
*As of May 2017
Fire Engine RED Remote Company Q&A
Chuck Vadun, Communications Director - Interview with Remote.co

Fire Engine RED is an innovative marketing, technology, and data solutions company that’s served the education market since 2001. We’re named after our CEO’s favorite color, and we have four divisions that reflect our company’s expertise: Student Search, CRM, Software Products, and Predictive Marketing. We have more than 550 clients, including 370 admissions offices.

We started out as a virtual company in 2001, and we’ve been one ever since!

It’s crucial to our business model. As a 100% virtual company, we’re able to hire the very best people, regardless of where they live. Our team members have experience working on brands such as Apple®, DIRECTV®, Disney®, eBay®, Intuit®, Razorfish®, and Vanguard®. And of course, by not spending money on office space, we’re able to invest more in serving our clients better.

The fact that we can hire the most talented people, no matter where they’re located, has contributed dramatically to our success. We’re not asking people to take a chance and move to Philadelphia; it’s a big decision to relocate. In addition, we’ve hired many of our teammates through referrals; our team members have been great at recommending people that fit our culture.

As stated in above, we aim to hire the very best people. Also, people who fit into our model tend to be highly entrepreneurial – at Fire Engine RED, a big part of our culture is “thinking like owners, not like employees.”

Our candidates usually have a first-round interview with the hiring manager, a second round with team members who’d be working closely with him/her, and a third round with a member of our senior leadership team.

Final-round candidates have the “Why You Don’t Want to Work Here” (WYDWTWH) call. It helps the candidate better understand our virtual environment, and provides him/her with full disclosure of what it’s like to work at Fire Engine RED. On the call are three or four team members, usually from outside the department the candidate would be joining, and excluding the hiring manager. It’s not a “cheerleader” session; team members are honest and upfront about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Not often, but as needed and/or depending on the role.

Through our annual review process. We simply ask, 1) What were your key accomplishments? 2) What lessons did you learn? 3) What are your top goals for next year? 4) What skills do you want to improve? and 5) How can your manager help you?

Our company provides computer hardware and software to all our team members.

My first opportunity to manage a full-time employee came at Fire Engine RED! I had previously supervised contractors and freelancers … but now I was going to have my first actual direct report! And he lives 3,000 miles away! I’m happy to say that none of the drawbacks I’ve read about with regard to managing remote employees have manifested. Now I have two direct reports on my team, and I’ve developed an excellent rapport with them, via IM, conference calls, and one-on-one Skype chats.

One person at a time! We’ve been all-virtual since our founding in 2001. When we were hiring our first team member, the “perfect” candidate lived in Colorado, not in the Philadelphia area. We decided not to let her location stop us from hiring her, because our services aren’t location-dependent. For our second hire, the “perfect” candidate lived in New York. Again, we hired her despite her location. After these two initial hires, we realized that by allowing people to work virtually, we could attract and hire top talent no matter where they lived.

Absolutely! It’s important to help everyone feel engaged, and we do this in a variety of ways. Our CEO holds an all-company meeting via conference call every two weeks. Many of our teams have short production or “stand-up” meetings each morning. We have a virtual walking club and a virtual book club. And of course, every day at Fire Engine RED is “bring your pet to work” day!

We also hold events like our “REDuce Your Bills Day.” Our CEO put together a tip sheet with practical ways to lower our bills, and then gave our team the entire day “off” to call our cable providers, cell phone companies, insurance agents, and others to get better deals. (Our team’s annual savings totaled $25,000.)

Be sure you’re willing to put in the time and effort to hire people who are a fit for the remote culture. Are they independent, self-starting, entrepreneurial, and disciplined? Are they good at, and do they enjoy, using technology to stay engaged with their teammates? Are they driven to provide exceptional client service that gets unsolicited compliments like “Great work, Fire Engine RED team – rock stars!” and “We are thrilled with our summer campaign – it exceeded our expectations!”

Advances in technology have made communication between team members – and with our clients – faster, easier, and more reliable.

Personally, I stick to a “morning routine” that’s the same as the one I had when commuting to my previous job/company – eat breakfast, shower, put on clean clothes (t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops!), take kids to school … then head back upstairs to my spare bedroom-slash-home office. For lunch, I’ll often go out and meet up with friends for a sandwich (or tacos on Taco Tuesday). When the kids get home, they know to come say hi, but to “keep it down” when Dad’s on a conference call. And at the end of the day, I leave my office behind … I just don’t have to get in a car. So, for me, being able to collaborate with smart, skilled co-workers AND do so without commuting is a total “win-win!”

“Remote: Office Not Required” by Fried and Hansson