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Remote Work at Packlane

100%
Remote
20+
Team Members
No
Headquarters
*As of July 2017
Packlane Team

Packlane Team

Packlane Remote Company Q&A
Miriam Brafman, Founder - Interview with Remote.co

Packlane is an online printing company that makes the process of ordering custom packaging easy and affordable for brands of any size by offering super low minimums and a user-friendly online design tool.

Once we had more than one person, we worked in a small office together for the first 2-3 months, and slowly transitioned to just working from home. At a certain point it just wasn’t necessary to be working in the same room, and everyone had a clear preference for their home office work environment over the shared office.

Our business model would be the same regardless of whether we had people working remotely or not. The main impact of remote work has been on our bottom line and our company culture.

  • Unique recruiting advantage, with access to a wider pool of talent
  • The costs savings are substantial
  • The convenience factor of not having to commute
  • The access to inexpensive tools that facilitate the process of communicating remotely
  • The ability to focus on work with fewer distractions
  • Unique recruiting advantage, with access to a wider pool of talent
  • The costs savings are substantial
  • The convenience factor of not having to commute
  • The access to inexpensive tools that facilitate the process of communicating remotely
  • The ability to focus on work with fewer distractions

We look for candidates who are self-disciplined, demonstrate commitment to personal growth and learning, have a very strong work ethic, and are process-driven—meaning that they naturally look for ways to improve their own workflow and the company processes they are involved with on an ongoing basis. With remote job openings, we also get so many applications that we have to be very selective about which ones we spend time on, so it really helps when the applicant takes some time to personalize their application and tell a story about themselves and their history.

We use Zoom, a video conferencing tool, to conduct interviews. We like to have the department manager on the call, and at least one other Packlane employee. This way we can easily take notes while being attentive and also have a little huddle afterwards to assess the candidate.

We look for experience working remote and/or very realistic expectations about what it means. If an applicant expects a completely flexible schedule or that they’ll be able to care for a very-dependent dependent during their workday, it’s not a match. I’ve noticed that many people who don’t have experience working from home think that it’s a dream, that they’ll never be stressed or be asked to 100% focus. They would ultimately be very disappointed working for Packlane if we were to hire them.

We start by giving new hires access to all the tools they need to do their job. We use some tools like 1Password for password management, and Justworks for payroll onboarding. We provide a set of documents that cover things like company policies and procedures, and we’ll also point them to the appropriate knowledge base articles in Confluence depending on their role.

For each new hire we also come up with a set of goals to be accomplished over the first couple of weeks at Packlane. These can include things like watching our skillshare video, performing some tasks with our internal tools, or scheduling meetings with relevant colleagues and supervisors. During the first week of onboarding we also schedule a brief “welcome” video conference that everyone at the company is invited to join and introduce themselves while getting to know the new hire in a casual format.

We do have guidelines, and they apply for everyone, including leadership. For example, if something isn’t urgent, we strongly encourage emails in place of chat—especially outside of someone’s working hours. Another example is that if anyone on the team is going to be unavailable for more than two hours during a workday, they need to notify their manager and their team.

We had our first company retreat less than a year ago in the Catskills when we were 12 people. I wouldn’t want to have a retreat with a bigger group than this for logistical reasons, as well as the intimacy you lose when having a large group. I would also recommend keeping it just under a week (~5 days) and giving everyone two months’ notice if possible.

A little over a third of our team is based in the Bay Area, and I’m usually meeting with at least one other team member in person every couple of weeks, either for meetings or to hang out socially.

It’s different for each department, but in most cases it really comes down to metrics and goals. We’re still a super small company, so it becomes pretty clear when someone isn’t being productive relative to his/her colleagues.

Weekly one-on-ones are the best way to establish rapport, problem-solve, and encourage ongoing work on difficult projects. I’ve heard that always turning on your webcam for these is really important, but many people aren’t actually comfortable with that and would prefer voice-to-voice or online chat to check in. I meet with my employees in the way I’m comfortable with and encourage them to do the same.

I’ve only ever managed a remote workforce, so I don’t know whether the challenges are specific to a remote workforce, but velocity of work, building rapport with a workforce that you don’t have much face-to-face interaction with, and, to some extent, ideation can be more difficult with a remote workforce.

We have weekly all-hands meetings that we conduct via video chat. This gives everyone a chance to hear what’s going on in the company and in other departments, get introduced to new hires, and learn about what we’re aiming to accomplish next. We also use a really great micro-bonus tool called Bonus.ly, which gives everyone the ability to send peer-endorsed bonuses and is a great way to recognize specific accomplishments in a way that’s visible throughout company.

We’re mostly a BYOD type of company, but we provide devices for those who need it.

Ten days of paid time off, plus nine public holidays.

Not being able to express when an issue is truly urgent. This is a problem, but it’s gotten easier the more we all work together. When we’re short on time and I say: “This is urgent” via chat, it’s hard to instantly convey what that means in the context of the other pressing matters that have already been defined as urgent.

It happened organically as a reaction to the work preferences of the first two hires. From then on it just seemed like the natural way to expand the company, and the traditional way of making everyone work on-site at an office felt forced and counterproductive.

Absolutely, any company can have a healthy culture if they nurture it well. We try to foster foster a strong performance-based culture by having a shared set of values, recognizing employees for exceptional work, holding employees accountable, and providing a high degree of individual flexibility in terms of work environment.

Since you typically won’t be meeting with employees for casual face-to-face meetings like lunches, you need to find some unconventional ways to build informal rapport with employees and coworkers to maintain good morale within the remote organization. Check in with each employee periodically to make sure that they have an opportunity to openly vent any frustrations or concerns they might be holding back.

Our communications stack is pretty typical for a remote company: chat, phone, email, video conferencing, regular meetings. Each of those channels can be extremely effective depending on what is being communicated.

We have much more discipline and structure in place for managing various processes. 

We have a very social and collaborative culture, where we talk about what we’re doing and what we’re up to personally. This tends to solidify in everyone’s minds that we’re far apart and have very different schedules. So, the communication adjustments have been mostly organic. Some employees use Slack settings to highlight their availability.

We use a shared calendar to easily communicate availability, and also stagger schedules so that there is enough overlap for collaboration. Some other members of the team noticed that approximating their work hours for everyone helps keep communication smooth, so they do this as well.

The flexibility of choosing my own suitable work environment, having the privacy to stay focused on work and tune out distractions, and the time and money saved by not having to commute to an office.

Every couple of months I like getting away from home and working from a completely new city for a few days. I find it really stimulating to take these mini retreats in new environments, and it becomes a good way to balance things you want to do in life (like visiting a new city) whilst staying on top of work. It’s also important for me to make time for maintaining a healthy social life, exercise, (non work-related) reading, and personal hobbies like producing music.

Get a dog. They demand your undivided attention at times, require long walks outside, and in some cases my dog even takes it upon herself to cut the cord if I’ve been connected for too long.

Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter

I think the concept of “hito-kane-mono” from Kenichi Ohmae has been particularly valuable business wisdom. It’s a Japanese phrase for “people, money, and things”: the notion that these three resources should be in balance for optimal management and performance.