Remote Work At Simple [A]
* As of February 2020
Simple [A] Remote Company Q&A
Cruce Saunders, Founder - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
[A] works on giant, content-heavy websites, mobile applications, and enterprise technology.
[A] simplifies complex technology for agencies and institutional clients. [A] content engineers plan and orchestrate complex customer experience management (CEM) implementations across multiple desktop and mobile channels. Often the projects involve integrations with CRM, marketing automation, ERP, and other external systems.
Agencies, healthcare, government, non-profit, higher education, advanced marketing departments, and public sector entities work with [A] as an extension of operations. From the inside, [A] engineers and consultants help clients orchestrate content strategy, content management, and content marketing platforms, systems and technologies.
How important is remote work to your business model?
[A]’s culture emerges in part from our distributed nature. We’re flexible, nimble, constantly learning, working across roles, teams, industries, and skills. It would be difficult to imagine operating [A] in a single location with fixed desks in fixed places. Our distributed nature allows us to grow our brain power, capabilities, diversity, effectiveness, and collective intelligence without the constraints of four walls in one geography.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
[A]’s reasons for working in a distributed team include:
- Access to the best [A]gents wherever they reside or move.
- Ability to hire local [A]gents where our clients live and work.
- Improved diversity of all kinds.
- Improved efficiency and time impact versus commuting and managing physical logistics.
- Reduced physical constraints to growth.
- Improved experience for our [A]gents.
- Providing our clients and partners a strong distributed platform for project collaboration, improving their experience with [A].
What traits do you look for in candidates for a remote job?
These are the guidelines we look for when hiring a candidate:
- You like to work from your own home or other workspace, and do not need step-by-step guidance by a supervisor.
- You can communicate well with the team through the day.
- If you do not need a single well-defined job or limited set of responsibilities.
- If you are available during working hours (8:30 AM – 5:30 PM) based on Central Standard Time in the US.
- If you’re proactive, even heroic, and fundamentally an honest person.
- If you work well as a team member, and love both learning and teaching.
What is your hiring process for remote workers?
The process to become a full-time [A]gent has multiple stages and takes a long time. Our process weeds out people who are looking to quickly switch jobs, or who are not looking to get to know the company little-by-little. We believe no matter how good the interviews and tests are, you really don’t know somebody until you work with them. And likewise, they really don’t know what the experience of being an [A]gent is going to be like until they’ve tasted it.
We want to make sure there’s a good long-term match before we jump in to hiring anybody. So our recruiting and onboarding process has multiple steps, culminating in a test project.
The test project is a way for us to get to know each other by working together. We believe that too many times interviews do not give us enough of a clear idea of what it’s actually like to collaborate and work with someone. By working on a project with [A], applicants also get to know some of what the real world looks like behind-the-scenes and decide if it’s a good environment that works well with the way she or he likes to operate and experience life.
After we have a contracting agreement in place, candidates go through an Onboarding and Orientation process. This involves getting to know the relevant systems the candidate will be working with like email, JIRA, source control, QA and communication tools. The process continues for successful candidates towards either an ongoing contract role, or towards full-time.
Do you have remote communication protocols for your remote workers?
We have general guidelines for communication and signaling within our distributed team, but we anchor a lot of communication around daily and weekly synchronous rhythms, such as scrums, reports, and standard emails. We find it’s best to not micromanage work styles or even tools, but to provide a framework. However, we do have a strong dependence on work hours being managed in a single time zone, and we currently do not work with anyone full-time that’s more than 3 hours away from Central Time.
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
We rely on the outputs from both independent and team work to understand how individual [A]gents are doing. We also are able to evaluate detailed time logs, kudos received from other [A]gents, client feedback, project quality measures, and overall performance of an account team, practice group, or knowledge area.
We find it helps to have an object-oriented system of record, which allows for taxonomy relationships, or tagging to relate knowledge areas, industries, expertise, skills, practice areas, geography, along with an [A]gent and clients with which they work.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
Truly, a distributed company operates with all the same leadership dynamics and laws of physics a traditional, co-located company does. Culture matters first and foremost. The organization needs to have a shared and well-communicated clear vision, values, and stated goals. Organizations need systems in which teams can communicate and work effectively, signal issues and problems, facilitate creativity, and celebrate success.
In order to be effective, participants need to be able to know and trust each other, and have common language for collaboration, as well as systems and patterns which support effective work. All of this is true in a traditional work environment, but in a distributed company it is even more important. Because we cannot rely on ambient or environmental awareness in a distributed company, we need to actively signal to each other, and build patterns which prompt communication. This can include regular project scrums, discussions, dashboarding, reporting, and developing systems of record which provide the awareness everybody needs in order to succeed in their roles.
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
Knowing what to do with all the awesome.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
We have a fairly standard PTO plan for full-time [A]gents.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
When introducing any change as significant as distributing operations, we recommend defining discrete steps and rolling out any change in iterative phases that adapt based on feedback and real-life experience.
In my first distributed company, we started out co-located in an office with whiteboards on every wall, desks that rolled around and could be reconfigured in a large, open space, a pool table and foosball table, large conference room, rest areas, and a lobby area.
Such a layout seemed great, but when that company had to downsize due to the .COM bust, we ended up in a much smaller space working with a lot of folks on contract who were operating remotely. That forced us to build systems to work well with our remote contractors. Then, when our lease was running out on the smaller office, we decided to rent executive suite space temporarily while we looked for the ideal new central office.
At first we met at the executive suite every day, then eventually that became weekly, then monthly, then quarterly. We found we were more effective in a distributed environment than we were with our office, and employees started moving out of the area, even out-of-state, for their own personal reasons, and they could continue to work with the organization.
If an organization was looking to get started with remote teaming, perhaps they would best start with a small number of trusted, long-time employees working from home several days a week, and working together to build systems that make their presence as effective in a distributed environment as they were in the office.
So, one step at a time.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
This question is well-phrased because it uses the word “integration” instead of “balance.”
I used to find myself carrying a lot of guilt and stress when I thought of work and life as completely separate entities which needed to somehow be balanced precariously while walking on a tightrope over a giant pit where the remains of workaholics or work avoiders were strewn.
But when it started to dawn on me that work and life are actually an integrated continuum that requires care and cultivation, I felt better about both spheres.
Personally, I find that having a workspace that is distinct and separate from the home space is helpful. I also find it helpful to maintain strong routines, patterns, and rituals at both home and work. I’m getting better at curating my own attention in order to be more present in each moment. When I’m in a work conversation, I need to be able to be fully present and focused on that, not distracted by something at home. And likewise, when I’m at home, I need to be able to be fully present as a dad and spouse.
It’s certainly not perfect, and often the worlds end up blending into one another, but being conscious about where my attention is helps improve the experience all around. There are lots of other tips, tricks, and lifehacks that distributed workers learn, but the guiding Greek maxims remain relevant in the digital present:
“Nothing to excess.”