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Remote Work at SitePen

100
% Remote
23+
Team Members
Palo Alto, CA
Headquarters
*As of October 2015
SitePen Team

SitePen Team

SitePen Remote Company Q&A
Nita Tune, Director of Project Management Interview with Remote.co

Our team provides professional web development, consulting and training services to support enterprise development organizations.  Our customers look to us for expert advice on architecture, best practices in full stack development and helping them build teams that can create powerful, sustainable web applications.

SitePen’s deep involvement with the remotely-rooted open source community in addition to our CEO’s aversion to fluorescent lighting was what laid the foundation for SitePen’s preferred work environment.  While having physical office space was attempted in the early days, the idea of going into the office never quite took off.  It’s easy to see that SitePen’s organizational structure is wholly based on an open source software model – many individuals working remotely toward shared goals for the common good.  Remote work is like breathing for us – it just is.    

Very. By allowing everyone to work from their preferred location, SitePen is able to attract and retain highly-skilled individuals who value work-life balance. When we’re competing for talent with the giants like Google and Facebook, it definitely gives us an edge that we offer this kind of flexibility.   With a stellar team, we are able to consistently produce high quality results, which allows us to expand our business right along with our team.

The biggest benefit of being remote is the ability to hire the best people for the job, regardless of location and retaining amazing people who share our commitment to work-life balance.

We lean toward people who are active participants in outside communities. This demonstrates leadership, organization and passion being pursued by the applicant, all characteristics that we greatly value!  

Arrogance is what we don’t want infiltrating our team. Though we’re very good at detecting it, we’re always surprised that it comes through during an interview!

Oh, and we also really like people who think they’re as funny as we think we are — that way you know someone is laughing at your clever wit – even on a muted Skype call.

We conduct a series of graduated tests for all of our positions followed by up to two team fit interviews with various SitePen engineers and managers.  These are all done remotely, of course!   Our goals are to confirm hard skills while ensuring they have an adequate appreciation of puns and sarcasm.

We are very candid about the potential for isolation in a remote work environment and we stress the importance of taking responsibility for oneself in his or her role at SitePen.  We have multiple initiatives going on at any given time and beyond your customer projects, we’re expecting everyone to dive in and succeed!   Our team is loud and inviting but, as with everything, you only get out of it what you’re willing to put in and we have high expectations for very superb source code and quick-on-the-draw animated gifs.

We are proponents of team projects so no one person is out there working on their own.  With onsite Customer engagements, we’re afforded great opportunities for team get-togethers and bonding.  Many members of our team go out of their way to meet up if they’re traveling through someone’s neighborhood.

Every few years we hold an event called “SitePen Unplugged”, where we all head out somewhere for a week and partake in some relaxation time. We met last year for some low-key whitewater rafting

We measure the productivity of our teams by the success of project milestones.  We estimate the required effort for every challenge we take on and then do our best to meet our goals.  When a group of people value transparent operations, it’s easy to see when problems arise and we can quickly adjust accordingly to ensure we meet our goals. Overall, our productivity is very high and our customers are often amazed by our proposed (and met!) timelines!

The hardest part about managing a remote workforce is the propensity for terse communication.  Often times, people are chatting, trying to quickly accomplish something or just giving quick answers and through non-verbal communication channels, these can come off harshly or seem to lack empathy.  It’s important to remember the person sitting at the other end of the interweb is not a bot and to recognize how they may be perceiving certain things.  Face-to-face communication is often much friendlier and cordial so sometimes remembering to take a little extra care can be difficult.

SitePen provides all necessary computing equipment and software that is requested by SitePen employees.

On top of 10 company-observed holidays, SitePen offers four weeks of paid time off to start which increases with seniority. Very flexible and always provided when requested!

Organically.  We implemented policies where we felt we could do better and from lessons learned over time.  Team understanding (why we need it) and buy-in (how it’s going to help you) are necessary for implementing any work policy, remote or otherwise!   Our team is very opinionated and highly conscious of inefficiencies so we’re quickly able to identify what works and what doesn’t.

Everyone in the company is encouraged to provide ideas, suggestions and contribute to initiatives that they’re interested in and are excited about.  Decisions are laid on the table for people to provide feedback and everyone is given the opportunity to voice their opinion whenever they’re inspired to do so.  A few specific activities that spur engagement include:

  • We have an all-hands meeting first thing every Monday morning.  Here is where we talk through our company and customer initiatives for the week, ourselves and learn more about each other.  It’s a pretty great way to start the week!
  • We have many, many, many project chat rooms, one of which is the Lounge.  All topics welcome, usual banter includes cat gifs, earworm youtube videos, sportsball stats and anything else shiny or hilarious that catches our eye.  
  • Happy hour! Login to the dedicated google hangout on Friday afternoon and have a drink to wind down the week!
  • Mentoring & check-ups – we have an ongoing mentoring program and 1-on-1 checkups that keep people connected beyond our projects.

Communication through clear direction, purposeful discussion and thorough documentation should be your top priority.  Communication is about engagement, participation and having the right people who will consistently engage, participate and contribute will ensure remote working success!

Running into people who don’t have the self-discipline, work ethic, and passion to meet our expectations is one of the greatest challenges however I don’t think this issue is specific to remote work.  Though these people are probably better managed in an office environment, they’re often just a drag on productivity and team morale wherever they turn up.

Being remote, we spent a lot of time perfecting the best way to convey information so that content remained clear and intact.  Our current tools allow for complete visibility for collaboration and agreement in everything we do.  Email is no longer a primary communication method for us and no initiative lives outside of project tools.  

I live in a tiny house in northern Nevada.  One of the bedrooms is my office, and it’s pretty much a desk, treadmill desk, cat & dog beds, and an amazing collection of action figures and sci-fi doo dads. 

sitepen desk

I’ve worked from home for many years, even before SitePen.  Some things I’ve learned over the years:  have a designated office with a door you can shut, move around the house periodically for a change of scenery, and know when to close the laptop and go outside and do something else!  We have a flexible schedule, so sometimes I’ll break up my hours just for the heck of it.  If my brain is burning out, I’ll shut down and come back later in the evening when I have good ideas again.

Development is always prone to pitfalls and hiccups, and as consultants we often operate on deadlines.  When kicking off a new project, my advice to my team is:  Stuff happens.  Bigger stuff will happen if you tell me at the last minute.  

Worst: Crunching myself into the corner on a tiny table and chair in a hotel room in the hopes of getting enough signal from the wimpy hotel wifi out in the middle of nowhere, Arizona.  

Best:  Right in front of the fireplace in the middle of a snow day in winter.