Skillcrush Remote Company Q&A
Adda Birnir, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
Skillcrush is the country’s largest online tech education company with a mission to help women of all ages, ethnicities, and levels of education (and others traditionally excluded from tech) to learn the digital skills they need to enter high-paying and flexible careers.
Skillcrush has always had a fully remote team. When I founded Skillcrush, the idea of starting a remote company was really exciting because it allowed me to keep costs low while still being able to hire talented employees who were looking for flexible work!
Remote work is a cornerstone of Skillcrush’s business because it provides the flexibility and fulfillment that both our students and employees value most. Many of our Skillcrush students come to us because they feel stuck in their current jobs and are seeking higher salaries, better job security, and more flexible careers.
More and more people are looking to work remotely because they want a career that integrates with their lifestyle and that means finding work that sees them through new chapters and challenges—everything from growing families, health conditions, and relocations. It is Skillcrush’s core mission to show them that they can achieve just that by learning tech skills!
The thing I love most about Skillcrush’s remote culture is that our team is made up of top talent from around the world that bring such unique perspectives to the table. Since we are an online tech education company, the lives that we are able to touch are limitless, and that all starts with our globally diverse team.
A remote workforce not only allows you to hire the best and brightest, but it also helps to keep them working with you through whatever life changes come their way—relocations, new babies, and new side hustles.
Remote work is the number one way we’ve found to give ourselves flexibility, and to stick with our intersectional, feminist ideas that say if we’re going to create a company, we’re going to create a company that can work for anybody—where people from all over the world with different life experiences can contribute, and most of all, feel welcome.
As CEO, I care deeply about creating the best possible work environment for the Skillcrush team that offers them freedom, flexibility, and happiness—and for us, that means remote work. As Simon Sinek (Author of Start with Why) says, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
The top traits we look for are self-starters who are motivated without much oversight; they have a passion for what we do and how we do it; and bonus points for anyone who has experience working remotely already!
We have a series of interviews that often includes paying candidates to complete a real-life project that gives us a sense of their thought process and the kinds of ideas they bring to the table. In the final rounds, we typically have the candidate present the project to the team they would be working with and have an informal Google Hangouts session to see how everyone gels.
We put a lot of love into our onboarding because it really sets the stage for what their experience will be like at Skillcrush. Aside from making sure they get a special care package of Skillcrush goodies, and have all of the necessary tools and software in place, we pair them up with a “buddy” who they can go to for advice and just chat with for fun. We also put together a ton of resources to make sure they understand the Skillcrush mission and how we do what we do.
We don’t require it, but we do have hubs of team members in New York and Florida, and try to get together and cowork as often as possible. Whenever we’re in town for a work conference or even a vacation, we make it a point to grab coffee together. Next on our wishlist is to visit one of our colleagues that just moved to Italy!
As Skillcrush continues to grow, we make it a priority to stay connected with each other and dedicate time to all of the team-building activities you would expect from an office setting—happy hours, one-on-one video hangouts, and chat rooms solely for sharing Corgi GIFs and ridiculous memes.
Open communication is really key—and as CEO, I believe that my team deserves the respect and security to know what’s actually going on in the business. By promoting full transparency in everything from revenue to how salaries are determined, I’m sending the message to my team that they have a seat at the table and that they deserve to have all the same information everyone else has.
Skillcrush has been a remote company from the start and because remote work aligns so well with our mission and lifestyle, it was a no-brainer! Here at Skillcrush, our entire team is scattered all over the world from Finland to Florida, and we have the freedom to work from wherever we choose—whether that’s at home with our dogs, at our favorite coffee shop or coworking space, or even while paragliding in Romania (one of our designers once logged into a team meeting doing just that!).
That’s the beauty of remote work. It’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s about what fits YOU best.
Running a successful remote company really comes down to trust and accountability. You have to have the right people on your team that you can count on. If you’re thinking about going remote, make sure you have employees who really care about your mission and always keep your company’s best interests in mind (without someone looking over their shoulder all the time).
One of the biggest challenges of running a remote company for me personally has been to remember to have a life outside of work. I often get asked the question, “How do you make sure your employees are working eight hours each day?” It’s counterintuitive, but I find that the opposite is true. I really have to emphasize the importance of setting boundaries with my team, so they don’t burn out. Get outside. Meet a friend for lunch. Take that yoga class.
I try to set that example, although I am the worst at it. Those who can’t teach, right?
HipChat is our go-to tool for staying connected throughout the day. We have a ton of chatrooms for different teams and projects and it’s the easiest way to direct message each other when we need something ASAP.
Each team also manages their projects using a process called SCRUM/Agile that is commonly used in the tech world. Skillcrush teams get together daily to check in on their current projects, discuss any roadblocks, and adjust their workloads accordingly. It’s super collaborative and gives everyone insight into what every team and team member is working on at any given moment.
One of the biggest achievements for Skillcrush is that we have adopted transparent salary tiers where every team member has insight into what their colleagues are making and a clear idea of their own growth path.
Over the years we’ve also had to drill down on our processes. When it’s just a handful of people, it’s easier to wing it, but once your employees climb into the double digits, it’s essential to start defining structured processes for team collaboration, communication, and accountability.
When you’re in an office, communication gaps and missteps can be patched over in person, but when working remotely, they can easily get out of control! Working in SCRUM and using a suite of collaborative platforms helps us stay on top of our work and in constant communication with each other.
The glamorous answer is that I get to travel and work, which is true!
The cool answer is that I get to work with amazing people from all over the country and the world, and I love getting to know them and the lives they’re living that are so different than mine. Having employees all over the world has also brought world events into intense focus. You really see things differently when someone you’re talking to every day is being affected!
The less glamorous, but also really important, answer is that I’ve been able to build a big business relatively quickly without completely sacrificing all my personal relationships. If I had worked the hours I worked in the first few years of business in an office, and not been home to at least see my husband for dinner…it would have been terrible! I am so thankful that I didn’t have to choose the business OR my relationship, I got to have both.
Inspired by Marty Cagan! It’s AMAZING, it’s my business bible.
In the book Marty explains how to create product management processes that allow you to test and validate (or invalidate) all your business and product ideas before you launch them to virtually guarantee you success.
Seriously, we live by it.
My parents live on the West Coast and I usually spend Christmas with them in California. Although we have West Coasters on the team, the majority of the team is in Central or Eastern time zones, which means that by the time I wake up in California they’re already going! It’s wonderful to be able to travel and see my family while still working, but sometimes it also totally stinks. No one really WANTS to work from bed over the holidays. I remember one day doing a bunch of work early in the morning from bed and thinking “It’s awesome: I worked from bed, but it’s also terrible: I worked from bed!”
My family is originally from Iceland so last year my husband (who’s a teacher) and I spent four weeks at my family’s home in Reykjavik, the capital city. It was an amazing luxury to get to be there for so long and not have to even give my work a second thought because it just came with me!