Remote Work At Plex
Los Gatos, CA
* As of October 2015
Plex Remote Company Q&A
Keith Valory, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
Plex is a media app that organizes all your music, video and photo collections, making them beautiful and easy to stream to all of your devices. The service is packed with features to make your media experience easy and enjoyable and is available on 40+ smart TV, mobile, streaming device and gaming platforms including Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox, PlayStation and more!
Plex is continually innovating and striving to improve your media experience – just last week we announced the Plex Media Player, which delivers the highest quality media browsing and playback experience. You can learn more about it here if you want.
Yes, we started out remote.
Having a remote workforce has been instrumental for Plex in a variety of ways. First, it’s opened up our hiring capabilities to anywhere in the world so we can find the best person for the job, not just the best person within 50 miles of the office. This helps us reduce hiring competition with the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook. Talented people live everywhere, not just Silicon Valley, so we don’t care if you live in an igloo as long as you are talented, dedicated, passionate, kind and have a good Internet connection!
It also helps develop a more culturally sensitive product, something that’s critical for a company whose service is used all over the world. This goes beyond having local language support and includes things like being sensitive to linguistic nuances, user interface preferences and customer use case priorities.
Having people in distributed time zones is also an advantage because the company is always “on” and working around the clock. I should point out here that in order to manage a company this way you do need to implement a set of strong communication tools, but once you have that in place this becomes an absolute benefit.
I have found this culture to be just as friendly and intimate as an office setting, if not MORE so. Our chat rooms allow newcomers to build rapport with many more people in a shorter period than they could build in an office environment. For quiet and introverted team members, especially on engineering teams, we have found that many of them are even more comfortable, at least at first, interacting in a chat environment. So people just communicate more than they typically do in an office setting and thereby develop more, and better, relationships quickly.
Employees are constantly sharing experiences, thoughts, and photos, asking about each other’s days and weekends, or challenging each other to keep fit and healthy with an exercise lottery in Slack. All of these things happen while we multi-task, meaning much less wasted time. And when these teams do get together in person, it is like a reunion of old friends, not one of those cold and awkward office social events. The bottom line is that you don’t have to sacrifice a tight-knit culture in a remote environment.
Having remote workers opens up a world of possibilities with hiring and developing a truly global product. In addition, we save on facilities costs (although it’s worth noting that we do have a small headquarters for meetings with partners, investors and other third parties).
We look for people that are “capable, humble and kind“ (we stole that from another remote company, but I can’t remember which one). Being capable is kind of an obvious requirement, but humility and kindness are absolute must-haves for us too. You might be able to hide a pompous ass in the very back row of a soul-sucking cube farm and tell him or her not to talk to anyone, but that doesn’t work very well in Slack :-).
After an initial informal chat, we typically have people work 5-10 hours per week for a few weeks to make sure there is a good fit. Again, you may end up missing out on candidates that don’t have the time to do this, but it is the best way to make sure there is a good fit.
Yes we have regular company retreats because we understand that nothing beats face-to-face contact for getting to know people and helping to build trust and strong relationships. There are many options for getting people together – team and company meet-ups, for example. The money saved from not having to lease expensive office space should more than offset the expense of getting your teams together, and will go much further toward creating amazing memories and building strong, long-lasting team camaraderie.
Communication is key. I’ve found in a remote environment people actually work harder at communicating because they have to. Especially if you’re dealing with an international team that is communicating in a single language, you have to make extra effort to be clear and thoughtful in how you deliver messages. Just like it’s often hard to convey the right tone in written communication, cultural nuances are easy to misunderstand and must be accounted for. Ultimately teams have to be more considerate as they work together – and that is a good thing!
Also having online real-time communication tools (we like Slack) enables employees to get constant feedback and input from people in every corner of the organization, not just those closest to them. This encourages fresh perspectives and makes it easy for people to request help when they need, whether from a teammate, intern or the CEO.
In addition, chat tools show the “presence” of all employees at any given time, which reduces the sense of distance and geographic separation and really makes it feel like you are working side by side with your team.
I also have to say above and beyond anything else that kindness and helpfulness are huge – in fact we have made these qualities two of our top hiring criteria. A friend in human resources once told me that she measures the health of an organization by how helpful its people are. I’ve still not found a better measure for either office or remote environments. If you really focus on hiring kind and helpful people, I guarantee that communication won’t be a problem — even if your tools and processes aren’t perfect — and you’ll have a very healthy organization.
Not being able to have regular face-to-face one-on-one meetings with people is a bummer. Nothing beats grabbing a lunch, beer or coffee with someone and just getting to know them. That said, getting people together at least once per year helps a lot.
We let everyone choose their own devices, computers and operating systems, and reimburse a set amount for each employee every 3 years. We do have certain apps like Github, Slack, Gmail etc. that everyone uses.
We have an open vacation policy. People typically take around 4 weeks. We don’t track it, but we do ask that employees make sure their teammates have plenty of notice and that important projects don’t fall through the cracks.
Because we have always been mostly remote-based it wasn’t necessarily a policy that had to be implemented – it’s just how we have always worked and even though we have a small headquarters it’s important that everyone keeps a 100% remote mentality so that our culture doesn’t develop a sense of “us vs. them” (meaning office workers vs. remote workers).
We realized fairly quickly that we had to have a set of tools that could stand on its own in the absence of daily in-person interaction. We developed a simple, yet powerful, dashboard that provides real-time visibility for everyone in the company. It includes information like who is currently working on what team, company priorities, team priorities, project due dates, weekly status updates etc. In addition, we use a number of great commercial productivity tools such as Slack for real-time communication, Github for code management, Hangouts and Zoom for video conferencing and Trello for project prioritization. Whether your team is distributed or local, it is so important to implement the right tools for clear communication, visibility and context setting. Having everyone sit in the same room won’t necessarily solve the communication challenge for you.
Plan ahead. Get the right communication tools in place. Also consider that working from home might not be right for everyone. For that reason I’ve found a good practice for distributed teams is to bring potential new hires on in a project capacity for 5-10 hours a week over a trial period to make sure it’s a good fit for the team and the employee. Without exception, employees who go through a trial period really appreciate the opportunity to get to know the company and their future teammates before going “all in.” The trial is more for the employee than the company. You will certainly miss out on great candidates who are just not willing to do that, but it mostly eliminates the possibility of a bad fit.
Working remotely isn’t for everyone. It is well documented that it can be lonely for people who rely on work for most of their in-person social interaction. We’ve also found that hiring recent grads can be challenging if they are looking for the “campus environment” that a Google or Facebook provides. It’s important for both the employee and the company to make sure that the employee’s social life is a good fit so they are happy on your distributed team.
We use a number of great commercial productivity tools such as Slack for real-time communication, Github for code management, Hangouts and Zoom for video conferencing and Trello for project prioritization. Whether your team is distributed or local, it is so important to implement the right tools for clear communication, visibility and context setting. Having everyone sit in the same room won’t necessarily solve the communication challenge for you.
A friend in human resources once told me that she measures the health of an organization by how helpful its people are. I’ve still not found a better measure for either office or remote environments. If you really focus on hiring kind and helpful people, I guarantee that communication won’t be a problem — even if your tools and processes aren’t perfect — and you’ll have a very healthy organization.