Remote Work At Jackson River
* As of July 2015
Jackson River Remote Company Q&A
Alice Hendricks, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
Jackson River builds software for nonprofits but ultimately we are a services company that happens to build software. We offer charities an innovative platform called Springboard that combines the best of modern CRM and Email Marketing Solutions with flexible, open digital fundraising and marketing software. Our services group not only implements our software, but also builds websites and provides our clients with incredibly high-touch consultative support. We consider ourselves a client-first organization, and our superior, consultative support is where we really shine.
We started out as a virtual company with the intent to be virtual. We wanted to embrace modern technology that had never been created or offered before in our sector (specifically for nonprofit organizations and NGOs), but we also set out to experiment as a modern and innovative work environment.
Remote work is huge to us, an incredibly important factor to our success. We are able to hire the best talent no matter where they are, and we find that independently-driven people who value a flexible, work-wherever-is-best-for-you professional lifestyle end up making the most dedicated and accomplished employees. Our clients are geographically distributed anyway, so there’s no need to be in a certain place to provide them with a face-to-face experience. Just like we can do great service and support remotely for our clients, so can we collaborate as a team without being in the same room.
Happier and more productive staff. People who have more control over their work places and work schedules are more inspired to create excellence.
As a technology company it just made sense from the very beginning. We also found that hiring was much easier with the whole country as a possible “office” where we could attract high-quality people.
I’m struggling with this question because I’d like to say that people who have worked on their own before (freelance) are usually successful, although sometimes that can backfire because they aren’t capable of or shy away from collaborative work. Most of the time, the fact that we are a virtual company is one of the main reasons we attract talent. They might really like our clients and our work, but they fundamentally want the flexibility and lifestyle. If we get the sense in the interview process that remote work isn’t a good fit for an individual’s work habits or they require more in-person time, or even mentorship around structuring their day efficiently, we’ll talk about it. Basically in the interview process we talk a lot about working remotely and we have specific questions we ask to evaluate a candidate’s ability to be happy effective in a virtual company.
We mention in our advertising that we are a virtual company and that it’s a remote-work job, but we dig deeply on this topic as we interview.
We only do one formal meeting each year, a 4-day annual retreat that tackles some operations-level work, but is mostly for play and social time. Various work groups get together informally during our retreat, including a day where project managers meet to talk process and developers plan product sprints.
Measuring productivity is the same regardless of where someone is located physically. If they are in the cube next to you, they can be as unproductive or productive as across the country. We do 360 peer reviews and have a silly weekly award that one employee can give out to another for great work. We operate by a billable hours model, so we have utilization targets for staff to meet, but the ultimate performance and productivity measure is always in the quality of the work. Ultimately, we measure our team’s success by the happiness and success of our clients.
It’s about making sure there is enough time to actually support staff, and that there are effective processes around what we expect our managers to do (a general frame for managing relationships, performance, feedback, and outcomes). This is as specific and prescriptive as how frequently they need to check in with their staff and how they can be supportive without face-to-face contact. Communication is key.
We buy people computers but expect them to use their own phones and make sure they have a quiet, comfortable space in which to work and focus.
We have a fairly standard PTO policy where people accrue time off for vacation and sick time. We have a high number of part-time workers too, in keeping with our beliefs about workplace flexibility.
Totally organically. We did what felt right, we learned from our mistakes, and we continue to evolve by listening to what our staff needs.
Success as a virtual organization or company that allows remote work really is about supporting each employee’s career, no matter what stage they are in. Not every person is suited to a remote environment. Many younger or less experienced employees really need (and deserve) to have in-person mentorship. Everyone, no matter how experienced, has to feel supported and tethered to the overall vision of the company – to feel every day like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
Creating a culture of good communication, mutual respect and appreciation is the most important thing to be aware of. You need formalized processes and clear expectations, but you also need a culture that supports the kind of communication you want. Many people assume remote work is asynchronous, but most of the time people need each other on a spur-of-the-moment basis, so communication needs to be immediate. It can also be easier to get interrupted when working from home or in co-working spaces, so it’s important to keep an eye on more than the methods or tools of communication. You need to actively steward the tempo, cadence and quality of that communication.
It can be a huge help to appoint someone in your company to serve as an ambassador for virtual work by ensuring that managers are well trained and that employees have multiple venues for communication with each other and with management. This is more of an internal cheerleader function than an HR function. Choose someone who is a strong leader but is a natural communicator – authentic, human, well-liked. In tiered organizations, training mid-level managers about communication strategies in the virtual environment is key.
Skype chats – we have tons of chat groups. We have project-based ones for each project, location-based ones for each region (wherever there is a mass of people) and by job role (our developers have a chat group and our PMs do too). At any given moment, you can be participating in multiple conversations. We also use Skype as our primary method of one-on-one communication with each other, whether through instant messaging or Skype calls when we need a longer conversation.
Second to Skype, we have a regular conference call schedule to coordinate our work and share updates. We do a weekly all-staff conference call, and the project teams have weekly calls, too. We manage our project work via a project management tool and documents on Google Drive, and we have an incredibly transparent culture – so people can see each other’s work. All of these things ensure that we are present and that we help hold ourselves and each other accountable.
I surround myself with strong, accomplished leaders – you can’t go it alone. That’s the big thing, and I am incredibly grateful for my business partners and colleagues. But every day I try to appreciate my own vulnerability, and accept the fact I can’t do it all. I have to be honest with myself, know my limits, acknowledge openly my weaknesses while confidently embracing my strengths, approach life and work with humility, and ask for help when I need it. Approach things holistically – there isn’t a different “work person” and “life person” – my goal is to bring my whole self courageously to work and to life, and I encourage our staff to do the same.
Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goldman