Seeq Remote Company Q&A
Tabitha Colie, Director of Operations - Interview with Remote.co
We develop software for engineers and data analysts to rapidly find insights in process manufacturing data. Seeq software is currently being used in the Oil & Gas, Pharmaceutical, Specialty Chemical, Utility, and Renewable Energy industries to improve production outcomes like yield, margins, quality, and safety. We are headquartered in Seattle, Washington, with employees across the United States.
We have been entirely remote since the beginning (formed in 2013).
Remote work is critically embedded into our business model. We deliberately formed the company as a 100% distributed company.
There are so many benefits to having a remote workforce. For the company, it means being able to hire and work with outstanding talent no matter where they live. For the employees, it means having more flexibility in how we manage our working and non-working lives.
We integrated remote work right from the beginning because it was the only way we could create the company that we wanted to create with the team members we wanted. Our founding team was distributed and it was not an option to require people to move in order to be in one physical location together.
We conduct interviews the way we conduct most of our work – largely online. There are cases in which we’ve hired team members that we had never met in person, and only met in real life during a company meetup perhaps months after they had already been a valuable contributing member of the team. Most of our interviewing takes place over phone and video chat. If the timing works and we have an opportunity to bring a candidate to a meetup then we will try to do that.
Onboarding is done through a series of online collaboration tools. We have a new hire orientation on the first day, just as we would if we were co-located.
In the earlier days when the team was ~15 people, we would gather the whole company together for week-long (Mon-Fri) retreats in different locations 4 times per year. This was a lot of legwork for the planner and a lot of travel for the team…and subsequently expensive. Because of the time and expense, we would also try to cram a lot of different themes into those weeks: working time, planning time, culture & team-building events, customer interactions, Board interactions, etc. We found that by the time Friday rolled around people were exhausted and had quite enough of each other 🙂
Over time we have gotten more focused in how we use our time together. For one, we try to revisit favorite locations to save time spent researching and planning logistics. Also, we have cut down on the number of all-team meetups, opting instead for 1-2 all-team meetings and more small group meetings throughout the year. Those meetings are shorter, too, typically no longer than 3 days.
Lastly, we are more focused about how we use the time we spend together – it’s now almost exclusively for team and culture-building purposes instead of work time. It turns out we work and collaborate very well together already online and don’t need to use our face-to-face time for that.
We have two kinds of meetups that enable team members to meet in person periodically. When the company was smaller we would get the whole team together on a quarterly basis. Now that we have grown, we’ve pared back to 2 all-team meetings per year. Smaller teams (Sales & Marketing, Development, etc.) will also hold their own meetup(s) 1-3 times per year.
We are all held accountable to performance goals and we are measured on our contributions.
Communication, communication, communication. Because we must forego some of the natural conversations and interactions that happen when a team is co-located, we emphasize clear and frequent communication. For example, we practice Agile software development methods so our development team is in daily scrum meetings together. The ability to clearly communicate both verbally and in writing is a big factor for us when making hiring decisions.
In addition to regular team group video conference sessions, as in our daily scrum meetings, we meet as a company once per week which we call our weekly team “tagup.” During the tagup, which is led by our CEO, leaders from each key department in the company will give a brief overview of important news from their team. We strive for transparency, and people are encouraged to ask questions.
Additionally, we have regular “meetups” where we get teams together in person.
We have an open PTO policy, meaning that employees don’t accrue paid time off and we don’t track the time that they take. We measure our employees’ success based on their performance rather than their attendance.
We heard some small commentary from traditionalists when we started the company as a virtual company, wondering how we could manage remote workers effectively when they could theoretically be off watching TV or snoozing all day. How could we manage without walking around an office space and catching people and conversations on the fly?
We have hired outstanding employees with great communication skills and strong work ethics who value the benefits that come with remote work. We use collaboration tools like Sococo that enable us to have a certain level of visibility into who is online and available. And we set clear performance goals against which we hold people accountable.
Our remote work policy was a formal part of our business plan from the beginning. The company is now 3 years old (formed, 2013).
A remote company can absolutely have a healthy company culture. It’s important to keep the conversation about culture active. We try to broach the topic during our all-team meetups to keep people engaged and thinking about the culture and how it will evolve as we grow. Again, communication here is key.
We try to infuse fun into our remote work environment to nurture our culture. We do things online together like get festive for birthdays and babies, hold afternoon video chat Happy Hours after we complete a sprint, hold a weekly book club meeting, and have a regular get-to-know-you “Coffee Time” where people are paired together on cross-functional teams to spend an hour in video chat to talk about topics that aren’t work-related.
Go for it – there are new tools coming online that can increase the abilities of remote teams to collaborate. Making the leap won’t be without its pains, but clear communication and managing of expectations will make it easier.
Everyone needs to be very good at communicating so that little pressures have the opportunity to vent.
We use a variety of technologies that help us communicate. Our virtual office environment, Sococo, enables us to have visibility into who is “in the office.” Sococo also supports video, chat, and screen sharing, all of which we use heavily. We all frequently video chat during collaboration sessions throughout the work day. And we supplement with other communication tools like Slack, and knowledge share tools like Confluence.
I have a dedicated home office that contains my standing desk, computer, other hardware, and bookshelves. It’s painted a lively, energetic color (yellow) and there is lots of art on the walls. There is a big window for lots of natural light, and a large mirror on the opposite wall to reflect that light back. There are also several plants to add some life and help purify the air. The floor is carpeted to make it easier to stand all day. It’s the best office I’ve ever had!
There are so many benefits, but one of my favorites is that my office is totally pet friendly! My dog and cat keep me company throughout the day, and I am sure to leave the office and get outside at least once a day in order to walk the dog.
I have a lot of autonomy in my position as a remote worker, and can work when and how I am most productive. I keep regular office hours (8-5ish) but enjoy maximum flexibility if I need to be at an appointment or want to take advantage of a sunny day and get outside for a hike.