Remote Work At Project Ricochet
Bay Area, CA
* As of February 2020
Project Ricochet Remote Company Q&A
Casey Cobb, Partner / Developer - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Project Ricochet is a full service digital agency that provides cutting-edge web development and design services utilizing Open Source. We specialize in Drupal Development and lightweight Node JS frameworks like Meteor, with an emphasis on responsive mobile design. We also create stunning mobile applications with Cordova & Phonegap.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
We have been remote from day one!
How important is remote work to your business model?
I believe that the core of what we stand for as a business could do fine with or without a distributed team. However, sourcing talent from the Bay Area is extremely challenging and turnover is a problem in such a competitive tech hot spot. Being distributed allows us to spend less time recruiting and retaining talent. Because we are distributed, we also know that we have to work harder to stay connected so on the whole, I believe we are better connected than we would be if we were in an office (where we didn’t feel as compelled to try as hard by default).
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
The flexibility that it affords is key. I’m a big proponent of efficiency and I know that not having to commute to an office gives our team hours back each day that they can instead spend making their lives better. Remote work makes the world a better place because of this.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
Neither my partner nor I wanted to schlep to an office every morning. We love the freedom that remote work brings and we assembled a team over the years that shares those values. Distributed was always the default, so we’ve never really had to make a “choice” per se.
How do you conduct interviews for remote jobs?
We start with qualifying questions on our application process, which whittles down a significant number of applicants. From there, we conduct 15 minute Skype interviews to get a feel for the candidate. From there, we conduct 3-5 one-hour interviews where we discuss all aspects of the job, their relevant experience, and their temperament to get an idea for whether the candidate will be successful. This process has worked well for us.
How do you conduct onboarding for remote workers?
We use the onboarding feature from Bamboo HR to ensure that all the right forms and documents are read. We identify opportunities to further cement our culture and SOPs through our one-on-ones and regular weekly meetings to gauge how the new hire is doing.
We also keep a close eye on the metrics to make sure everything is going smoothly. We’re able to identify most issues with this alone.
Lastly, we encourage them to engage with the team in our company Slack channel. It’s important that they feel comfortable enough to joke around and we know we’re on the right track when they finally do.
Do you have remote communication protocols for your remote workers?
We expect our team to be available and responsive during business hours, but we don’t have any strict guidelines around response times. If a team member’s communicate style or level of responsiveness is incompatible with a project, client, or team he is on, then we provide targeted feedback and coaching around that particular point and the issue always melts away.
Do your remote team members meet in person?
We fly our entire team out for a conference once each year. This is our opportunity to spend time together, get to know new team members, and have fun. We find that this is a hugely important part of our model and although it’s expensive, we find that it’s very much worth it.
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
We have a host of metrics that we ingest from several sources and make visible to our team using a Periscope Data dashboard. Each team member has a set of metrics that are important to his or her role.
In our weekly one-on-ones, my partner and I review performance and provide guidance and coaching, and we put our weight behind organizational change and improvement when we find that the organization is doing something that is making it hard for someone to be successful by our measures.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
Feedback, coaching and one-on-ones are absolutely critical to a good relationship with employees.
Whenever I see something good or bad, I call that team member up and deliver feedback in the following way: “When you do [whatever I saw], here’s what happens: [the impact of that thing].” Then I follow it up with either a “Nice work! Keep it up!” or a “What do you think you can do differently next time?”.
It usually takes all of 5-10 seconds – even for the corrective feedback. It’s not meant to be a huge thing or a big deal. And every time I do it, I’m cementing our relationship and helping the team member grow.
During our weekly one-on-one (and it happens *every* week with each team member!), we spend ten minutes letting the team member talk about whatever is important to him or her, ten minutes for me to communicate important things about the company, details of upcoming projects, review the employee’s dashboard metrics, and/or the Top Priorities document for the employee’s respective role, etc.., and ten minutes for the team member’s growth. This could be a book the employee is reading, or it could be coaching around specific points that we both agree need improvement or refinement.
When someone is struggling with something more serious, we craft a coaching plan that is more thorough and may require extra time and discussion. I have never encountered a situation that hasn’t been improved through coaching and feedback.
I feel that these three things are absolutely essential to our success with our team.
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
The hardest thing for me is that the tools we use to communicate can contribute and enable an organization-wide urgency addiction that makes it hard for people to prioritize, focus on their craft, and achieve a flow state in their work. Slack, for all its greatness, can cause people to jump from conversation to conversation and it can very easily lead to burnout.
At Ricochet, we spend a lot of time making sure people don’t get sucked into false urgency. Each team member makes a plan at the start of the day and we go over their ability to achieve their plan during our one-on-ones. If they are unable to actualize their plans each day, it means they either need coaching on doing what they set out to do (or discerning between true urgency and false urgency), or the organization needs to get better at its own planning and needs to stop throwing urgent tasks at people (which can easily lead to burnout).
How did you implement a remote work policy?
We’ve been distributed from day one. Our only requirements are that our team be available for our morning scrum, that they track both their billable and unbillable time in Toggl (our time tracking software), that they are available for the projects they are a part of, and that each team member is available for a weekly one-on-one with either my partner or me at a time that works for each of us.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
Create a culture where folks track all of their time. I believe that it keeps people focused on delivering value and also helps you see when folks are close to burnout (working too much).
We developed a real-time application that let’s everyone see what everyone else is working on (all time entries require a ticket number) and this helps with passive connectedness and lets people see when they can or shouldn’t interrupt someone. It also helps PMs see if someone is working on what they expect without the need to follow up with the team.
Also, follow the advice from the website Manager Tools. Listen to their “trinity” podcasts about feedback, coaching and one-on-ones. If you do these basic management practices consistently and wholeheartedly, 95% of the problems your company is facing right now will evaporate. It’s especially important for distributed teams because you don’t get as much of an opportunity for passive relationship building.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
The biggest challenge we’ve found is when we encounter verticals that aren’t able to handle an “officeless” company. One of our team members worked for us right out of college on a student work visa and we attempted to sponsor him for a visa once that expired. We were told that it would be nearly impossible for us to succeed with this because we didn’t have an actual office.
We also don’t have a company “mail room” per se, either. This isn’t a huge problem, but when someone gets mail, we have to scan it or forward it over to them, which can be time consuming, especially when it’s a bulky gift.
On a more philosophical level, when you are distributed and when you have a group of a certain size, you end up with an environment where something I call “Accidental Evil” can thrive more readily than it could in a more traditional office setting (but it happens there too). I’ve written and spoken about this at length, but it’s up to the leaders of the organization to put in place measures to fight against it. It’s not easy, but it’s ultimately very rewarding.
What tips do you have to disconnect when working remotely?
I make time to exercise daily. I do ten miles on my bike each day at sunset on a bike trail near my house. I also bought a sauna and spend a bit of time in it each night. The intense heat and steam has a really calming and stress-melting effect on me.
Whenever I find that I am carrying stress with me throughout the day or after-hours, I solve the immediate problem, but then tackle whatever is happening in my organization that allowed stress to get to me in the first place. It’s taken years of iterative improvements, but these days, I have very little stress in my life – and in fact I have less as we’ve grown large
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
I live and die by the 80/20 rule. Whenever an 80% solution is good enough, I take it and do what I can with it, knowing that I got it in 20% of the time, energy, and money that the 100% solution would have taken.
The challenge has been identifying (and helping my team identify) what the 80% solution looks like, especially when I personally really, really want the 100% solution.