Remote Work At Go Fish Digital
* As of July 2015
Go Fish Digital Remote Company Q&A
Brian Patterson, Partner - Interview with Remote.co
We’re a digital marketing agency based out of Washington, DC. We help organizations, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, get better control over how they appear in the search engines. This means we help them rank better for keywords that can drive new business (SEO – Search Engine Optimization), and it also means that we help positive information and reviews show up for their brands rather than any negative or controversial stuff (ORM – Online Reputation Management).
We did start out remote back in 2009.
It is incredibly important to us. We realized early on that we wanted to build a business based on remote work for two reasons: 1. Quality of life – having been in the DC area for over 10 years, I know what it’s like spending 15% or more of your time commuting. It isn’t fun, and it doesn’t help with work/life balance. Happier employees means more loyal employees, so less turnover. That has proven to be the case thus far. 2. Hiring the best – we aren’t just limited to the best people we can hire who are also located within a 30 mile radius of our office. We can now hire the best candidate in the country, period.
You get the best and brightest people when hiring, not the closest to you. Employees are also a lot happier because they can balance their personal lives much better by not having to worry about commuting. And, as I mentioned, our talent pool for hiring grows exponentially.
There is definitely a transition period that happens for people who haven’t worked remotely before. It can be tricky at first when you are home all day and your spouse or kids think that means you can do whatever you want at any time. We encourage flexibility, but there has to be a balance with getting work done.
One thing we’ve found is that the more entrepreneurial-spirited candidates tended to have a harder time focusing on the tasks at hand when working remotely. I think the nature of remote work gives a sense of freedom, as it should. However, that freedom to someone who wants to run their own business can translate into them spending more time doing their own thing rather than their actual job. So we shy away from people who are ultimately looking to eventually start their own business.
We explain it as both a benefit and a responsibility. There are a lot of great things that go along with it, and many people know those. But we also talk about some of the harder things of working from home, like juggling demands within your household. We want to make sure that whoever comes on board has the proper expectations.
We don’t use any existing tools. Just a fair amount of sleuthing and reference checking.
We are starting to implement this a little more as we grow. We have a lot of de-facto standards just from having done this for so long, but as we add more team members we’ve realized the need to standardize some into policy. For example, we’ve standardized around core work hours of 9:30am-4:30pm. Before it was just “get your work done”, but we’ve noticed that we need to ensure more collaboration opportunities, so we want people to overlap their working hours as much as possible. We all work a few hours before or after the core hours as well. Additionally, “coming into the office” means both logging in to Sqwiggle and Attentiv.com, our core communication platforms. If you aren’t in those, we just assume you aren’t “in the office” yet. Definitely beats a traditional commute!
Our main tool for managing work effort is Basecamp. We use that both to schedule out the work that needs to be done as well as a review tool to see what was completed as well as the quality and timeliness of it.
While we aren’t big on meetings, we do have a regularly scheduled Monday meeting where we go over any admin items and talk about the big initiatives for the week. We make sure everyone has a good idea of what others are working and focused on. It also serves as a way to get ‘face time’ with everyone. As a remote team, it can be easy to lose touch with other team members who you don’t work with frequently, so this regular check-in makes sure that everyone can see each other’s smiling faces.
Also, because it is harder to have a ‘company culture’ remotely, we do things to keep people engaged on a personal level. We recently added new perks to our benefits package that includes Netflix, Spotify, magazines, newspapers, and race entries. This shows that we are a fun group and gives us things to chat with each other about to engage on a personal level. It’s also nice to have perks like good streaming radio when you are often in an office by yourself.
Remote working is great because you have the luxury of not using vacation days while traveling if you don’t want to. Our policy is that if you work, great, work from anywhere. If you want to take time off, that is fine too, and we provide vacation days for that.
Our biggest fear was that if we weren’t sitting right next to employees, it would be hard to ensure they are executing at the level we would expect. However, we’ve found that if you hire the right people and empower them to be successful, they will work at or beyond what you expect of them because they view remote work as a privilege. There have been some hiccups along the way, but definitely nothing more than the issues I’ve seen when working in an office.
It started day 1. We were an early company to be fully remote (6 years ago), so it is just so natural for us now. We started with almost no ground rules, but over time we’ve added in some tools and standards so that expectations and communications are clear.
First, make sure you have the type of people who can actually get work done at home (and thrive in that environment). It came naturally to my partners and I early on, but we’ve had some people who just couldn’t find motivation or the ability to be productive at home. It just doesn’t work for some people. So, if you are transitioning, give it a little time and do a trial period to make sure people can be productive at home. Set hard deadlines for deliverables on days people are working from home to ensure that they can complete tasks of the needed quality while remote.
We use several tools to maintain constant communication throughout the day. Sqwiggle is our on-demand video platform, Attentiv.com offers us a constant stream to communicate in, Basecamp is used for project and task management, and Google Hangouts is what we use for quick questions and thoughts.
I work on a treadmill desk (crazy, I know). I started with a standing desk a little over a year ago and eventually switched over to a treadmill desk, which I love. I’d feel like a total freak in a traditional office, but in the comfort of my own home I’m free to be a little weird and walk like a hamster while getting work done.
I try hard to achieve balance between my personal and professional life. As a business owner, I know that I have to commit more than the typical 40-hour week in order to be successful, and my family knows and understands this. I try my best to stop working at 5pm every day and spend at least 5-8pm with the wife and kids. Many nights I need to jump online and work for several hours, but I try to do that on a laptop alongside my wife.
On weekends and vacations, I try to slip away and get work done when it doesn’t affect family time. So if I need to put our youngest down for a nap, I’ll work during that time. Or I’ll wake up early or go to sleep late so I can work while everyone else is sleeping.
I also commit time to make sure I’m healthy. It sounds cheesy, but it is important for me to go to the gym ~5 times a week and eat really healthy meals. This does take some time, but in the long run it means I (hopefully) won’t be dealing with health issues or not able to keep up with my kids. It also sets a good example for my kids to follow (my wife has a similar regimen).
I’m not the greatest at balancing it all, but I try to have a clear approach to balancing work and personal life so that I have a solid framework to operate within.
I’m obsessive about all things productivity and efficiency. I believe working smarter and more efficiently is a better use of my time, and it leads back to my desire for a good work/life balance. I’m into a lot of the time management approaches for productivity and lifehacks. A favorite guiding quote along these lines is, “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” – Bruce Lee
It’s usually a family member’s house during a trip. Extended family and in-laws never seem to have good internet connections – it is like a rule or something.