Modern Tribe Remote Company Q&A
Shane Pearlman, Partner & CEO - Interview with Remote.co
We design and build software for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, educational institutions, and well-funded startups. With a team of 50+ creatives, we have a smorgasbord of expertise that we tap into to create inventive solutions around user experience, strategy, design, development, and R&D.
We love building cool stuff. In addition to our client work, we also maintain a portfolio of popular WordPress plugins with over 6 million downloads including The Events Calendar, Event Tickets, Image Widget, and Advanced Post Manager. Our events tools have evolved into the most adopted premium WordPress event management plugins in the ecosystem.
We started as remote. I don’t see that ever changing.
Remote work isn’t just a perk we offer our team – it’s the core of our business. As a 100% distributed agency, it allows us to tap into the right resources for each project, regardless of where that talent is located. We pride ourselves on being a lifestyle business, offering a foundation for the team to craft a meaningful balance between work, family, friends, fitness and play.
Personally, the enablement of a thoughtful and flexible lifestyle. As a company, access to a global talent pool.
Modern Tribe has never had an office until just recently, and those are simply a couple people who decided they wanted someone to arm wrestle with when they weren’t working with the team.
We began as a distributed collective of freelancers, collaborating on projects which were larger than any individual could handle on their own. While the company has evolved into different industries and now has employees as well as contractors, we remain predominantly dispersed. The reasons for the approach were varied. I cut my teeth on the dot com bust in 2001 and after losing five jobs in two years, I became very attuned to any approach to business that managed risk and cost. While I would not claim that distributed is cheaper as our company got bigger, it was a very nimble way to do business. Access to talent was a major incentive. I live in a small surf town. Close enough to Silicon Valley to make a day trip of it, but as a distributed company, I have access to the entire world. The natural flexibility of the lifestyle I was looking for as an owner is a very nice fit for remote work.
For sure – we look for outgoing, positive, articulate, curious people. When we meet them they need to be able to project their personality through a video chat. We look for someone that has both a passion for work and for life! Usually we connect through talking about what they do when they are _not_ working.
When working remotely, you really need to be a self-starter, with the discipline to actually accomplish the tasks you say you will rather than spending your days on Netflix binges. So people that have great habits in place for time tracking, organization, and self-management are an ideal fit for us. We always like to ask about the latest apps or tools that they might be testing out or using in their day to day. We recently found out about Calendly through chatting with an applicant and it has changed the whole work flow around booking interviews – hurray!
We do all of our interviews via video chats. This is a great way to break the ice and let candidates get a sense of our culture starting with the first time they meet our recruiter. Right off the bat, they can see it’s not your typical corporate background.
The first interview with Modern Tribe is a ‘cultural interview’ where the applicant meets the recruiter. We talk for a few minutes to start, ask some light questions to help them feel comfortable, and generally try to set the atmosphere to a conversational feeling. After breaking the ice, our recruiter runs them through some of the history of the company, day-to-day logistics, and more info about our culture and our expectations. We get this out of the way early to make sure we address the accountability and communication we expect from our distributed team members.
Since we are a remote company, each interaction with the applicants needs to strongly represent our culture – therefore we try and ensure that their first face to face meeting does a great job of setting the tone!
- Once a year we converge on a tropical location for our annual company retreat. (You can find a recap of our 2016 team trip here.) It can be tough to coordinate schedules and travel between such a large group of remote workers, so we usually wind up with about half the company in attendance. A few tips we’ve learned along the years:
- Find a location that can accommodate your entire team in relatively close proximity. When people are too spread out, you lose a lot of time to transportation and wandering.
- Include team building and individual downtime in your plan. Of course you want to maximize the work you get out of the trip, but you don’t want to burn everyone out in the process. Downtime is necessary to allow people to recharge, and team building activities help you reinforce company culture while strengthening interpersonal relationships.
- A well-planned trip is worth its weight in gold. Communicate expectations, schedule, and activities in advance so your team can hit the ground running when they arrive.
One of the hard parts we’re working through now is adding layers of management we didn’t have before. We’ve grown a lot over the past few years, and that means that now there are more moving pieces to look after.
We recently introduced a director level within the organization, which has overall been pretty well-received by our team. The challenge was communicating what that meant to everyone, since it’s not like we can just gather everyone in the break room to make an announcement. We chose to share the announcement at our team retreat earlier this year so we could have an open conversation and address questions with the bulk of the team. We followed up with announcements for those not present at the retreat.
Nearly all of our meetings are conducted through video chat. The face-to-face time helps people connect with their team members and build rapport. We’ve got some incredible project managers that lead weekly team scrums to check in on project progress and make sure everyone is aware of deliverable expectations and timelines.
Our video chats extend to company-wide meetings, such as our weekly lunchtime stories (where a team member shares highlights of a recent project with the rest of the company) and our monthly virtual happy hours.
All of our team members use their own devices. We build our own proprietary tools for our team, so device compatibility is baked into the design. We’ve also found that most 3rd-party tools are already compatible out of the box.
Accountability. The fear that people would simply flake, walk off into the distance, play video games instead of work. Sure they came true. And then we learned to recruit better. We learned to manage people in the void. While it can be an issue today, I personally suspect it is less so than in many collocated organizations.
We’ve been a remote company since the beginning, so I guess that makes it organic. When we hire team members, it’s always with the understanding that we’re 100% distributed and your office is wherever you park your laptop.
Absolutely. One of our biggest assets is our company culture, and we work hard to cultivate it. It starts with hiring the right people. There are lots of people that are really good at what they do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right fit for our team. Running a remote agency means finding the right personalities that can do more than just get the work done. We like working with people who make us happy and make the team better as a whole. That might mean our recruiting process is a little longer than other agencies, but it also means that when we find the right person, they want to stick around because it’s the right fit for them and for us.
Keep the company culture top of mind when recruiting your team. Communication and accountability are key. For teams to work efficiently without face-to-face time, you have to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right roles. You want people that are motivated to contribute, happy to be part of the team, and invested in the success of the company as a whole. Not everyone is built to succeed in this environment.
Communication is key on our teams. We use Slack as a central hub for daily communication, with clear channels to help team members know what topics are being discussed where. Scrums are done through video chat, whether that’s a weekly team meeting or a one-on-one check in between an individual and their manager. The face-to-face communication is important to maintain, because it helps keep us connected and more accountable to each other.
For a long time, we operated with a very flat team structure. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to maintain that structure at 15 people than it is at 50+. Growing in size meant slowly adding levels, such as our new director roles. Though all three managing partners are still very hands on in the business, it’s freed us up to focus on more of the strategic elements without being overwhelmed by the day-to-day management of individual teams.
Phoenix project or How I raised myself from failure to success in selling.
“Your income is in direct proportion to the value of the problems you solve. Want to make more? Solve bigger problems.” – I forget who said it, but it blew me away when I heard it.
“I can determine the outcome of your life by looking at your daily habits” – John Maxwell
I worked for a month from Barbados in 2014 and Hawaii in 2010 from a condo overlooking good surf. I love the flexibility my life provides. Perhaps the greatest place was from the NICU for a month while my son incubated. The high life is amazing, but the freedom to be there when my family needed me and still be able to run my business and engage with my team is priceless.