Formstack Remote Company Q&A
Chris Byers, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
Formstack is a technology company that understands big marketing problems and how to fix them. We use our robust online form building software as a medium to help our customers capture more leads and pinpoint the strategies that help them drive more conversions. We are moving toward becoming a full-scale conversion platform that helps users totally understand their tactics that drive the most leads.
Remote work has become an essential part of our culture. Our goal as a company is to “change lives through inspired software,” and I can’t imagine us working toward this goal now without our fantastic team. Because of remote work, we’ve been able to attract hard-working Formstackers around the globe who believe in our mission and have a blast while accomplishing great things. We’ve created a structure of communication and transparency so that we all feel connected no matter where we’re located. It’s been amazing to see us celebrate big wins together.
Recruiting top talent is an obvious benefit to remote working. New hires don’t have to leave their cities or uproot their families, which makes us a more attractive employer. And current employees have the flexibility to move if desired.
Additionally, remote working results in a more flexible schedule for our employees. Instead of taking time off to wait for the cable guy or go to a doctor’s appointment, our team members can put in a full day’s work from home.
Formstack was founded in 2006, so we existed as a fully local company for seven years before making the decision to transition to a remote workforce. In 2011, we decided to hire our first remote employee, a developer based out of Poland. Not too long after, my wife was offered a job in Oklahoma that led me to try my hand at remote leadership. Our official decision to go remote was formally made after several organic discussions about other team members moving out of state. As previously mentioned, several of our former Indy employees now live in other states, and some of our early decisions with remote working made that possible. We’ve had several trial-and-error experiences with technology, communication, in-person meeting best practices, and other remote working aspects, but we’re strengthening our remote team every day.
Some of the questions in the culture interview are pretty goofy, so one big red flag we have seen before is just a general bad attitude. When candidates act too cool to answer the questions or like the culture portion isn’t worth their time, it’s generally a sign they won’t really mesh with our team. We know that scissors probably aren’t that essential to pizza delivery, but when we ask candidates how they would use scissors if they worked for a pizza shop, we hope they approach their answer with a sense of humor.
Formstack interviews are notoriously long, and candidates speak to a lot of different people in the company. We deliberately do this to make sure we find the best culture fits for our team, whether someone is local or remote. For remote candidates, we create a video chat link for everyone to join. Oftentimes, everyone on the interview is remote, including decision makers.
Our interviews are broken up into several steps. We first start out with a peer interview, which includes team members from the department of interest. Then, we conduct a “culture” interview. This portion of the interview is dedicated to making sure we find the best candidates for the role. We ask questions specifically tailored to our values as a company and incorporate a few fun elements into the chat.
We have historically used StrengthsFinder and the Predictive Index to help during an assessment. More importantly, every person hired is required to complete a small on-the-job project during the hiring process. This allows candidates the ability to show their actual work, creativity, and ability to solve problems.
Yes! Every fall, we gather for our annual “All Hands” meetup with our entire team. We started doing these meetups in 2013, and they have become essential to our growth as a team. For some employees, All Hands is the only time they’ll ever meet certain team members in person, so we try to encourage new conversations and interaction between departments. It’s a good mix of company-related collaboration and fun activities—we’ve done scavenger hunts, bowling nights, and improv comedy, to name a few. Additionally, we’ve started conducting department-specific All Hands to create this environment halfway through the year.
Productivity is roughly equivalent to answering two questions: 1) Am I meeting the goals I’ve set out? and 2) Am I gaining progress on key projects on a daily basis? For us, we’ve built a powerful tool designed to increase team satisfaction. It’s called Jell. Jell allows you to communicate your daily status to your team, track goals, and give teammates feedback along the way. It has been a great tool to help keep a pulse on things in our respective departments.
The biggest challenge is the “if only we were together (physically)” thought that pops into your head on those days when you want to call a 20-minute brainstorm or quickly tackle feedback or a conflict that arises. It takes effort to delete that incorrect belief from our brains and remember that we just need to develop ways around those perceived limitations.
We supply all of our employees with the tools they need to get their jobs done. All team members are provided a laptop and an electronics allowance. However, because we are often in video chats, it’s imperative that all employees make sure their home (or other workspace) internet is in top streaming condition. This creates less frustration when trying to communicate on a regular basis.
All employees are offered 18 days a year of paid time off, which is built up over their first year on the job. Over time, their PTO offering is increased. We do cap PTO accumulation so as to encourage vacations. We have the belief that unlimited PTO actually increases the number of days people work.
My biggest fear is that one day I’ll wake up and simply be too frustrated that I don’t get to physically hang out with other Formstackers on a daily basis. Video chat does get the job done, but it can’t always overcome the need to physically be around people, and being on video too much during any given day can actually be rather taxing. I once also feared that I’d have trouble trusting people to get their jobs done. That went away quickly when someone taught me to “give people your trust and let them earn your mistrust.” Said differently, until they break your trust, expect that they are doing a great job. That was a life-changer for me.
Having fun is a really essential part of the Formstack culture. We rely pretty heavily on weekly team meetings, fun IM chats and, of course, gifs and memes to nurture our remote culture at Formstack. We have a Talent Department that plans “Formstack Fun” events for both our local and remote team members. Some past events have included a lip sync competition, team video lunches and poster competitions.
You might wonder if this flexibility results in less productivity from our workforce. We’ve actually found this to be the opposite in many cases; when you are able to work from anywhere, you find it harder to unplug at the end of the day. We’ve had to be really intentional about emphasizing work/life balance with our employees. To drive this point home, every Formstacker who works with us for five years is allowed to take a sabbatical, which can last up to six weeks. I recently completed mine and found great value in extended vacations from work. I’ve been encouraging my team to consider taking longer vacations from their offices as well.
We use Hipchat, a company instant message platform, to communicate as a team on quick or fun topics. You can devote rooms to certain themes or chat someone one-on-one. It’s not uncommon for people to start pun threads or other hilariously awkward conversations in certain rooms. For bigger discussions, we encourage video chatting via Google Hangouts or Zoom. Additionally, we use a project management platform to document meeting agendas and other team efforts.
I work in a co-working space in Oklahoma City that a friend of mine curated. He owned a building and garages in an industrial area and converted the garages to individual offices. I’m around a number of other startups and software companies that are thinking about some of the same challenges I do on a daily basis.
For the most part, I still work a pretty routing 8-5 day. That said, I obviously do some work outside those hours sometimes, and when I travel, it’s usually an 8-10 day each day. But as long as I’m not traveling, I try to limit my hours to a normal 40-esque unless a big project is going on.
Anything by Patrick Lencioni. Start with “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” There is nothing better to make sure your team is aligned, fulfilled and moving forward together.
This is a tough one. I’m not one to think that the best place is on a beach somewhere. When I’m working best, I’m probably either in a coffee shop with great pour overs or I’m in my office depending on what type of project I’m working on. The worst place is always where wifi is terrible.