Remote Work At Sococo
* As of February 2020
Sococo Remote Company Q&A
Cliff Pollan, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Sococo is an online workplace that allows distributed teams to work together in a single place, bringing together people from any location. Whether you’re in a headquarters, satellite office, home office or in an offshore contractor location, Sococo recreates the personal proximity and functionality of a physical office needed by teams in an online experience. Teams co-locate online in an office space that is based in a visual map with avatars representing team members, so they always feel like a team, even when everyone is scattered across the country or around the world.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
Our company did start out as remote: a few guys in Oregon, California and Iowa figuring out how to collaborate better together. Our product was born out of that desire to work remotely.
How important is remote work to your business model?
Remote work is critical, absolutely critical to our business model! Of course, it is the focus of our product functionality, so we need to live the life of a distributed team in order to understand what our customers need, the gaps in communication presented to them, and how best to address them.
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
The ability to recruit talent anywhere in the world, to me as CEO, is massive. My team is the most important factor in our success. I need to be able to select from the best talent the world has to offer, and not be limited by something as irrelevant as physical location. Additionally, a happy team is a productive team – our team has no commutes, more time with family, flexible schedules… all of these are important factors in keeping our productivity and motivation high.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
Our company was founded on the principle of work flexibility. It’s the reason for our very existence. We couldn’t have an online office as our primary product and then require people to work in a physical office!
How do you convey your remote culture in the recruiting process?
First of all, we use our product – an online workplace – to screen and interview recruits. This instantly conveys the importance of remote-ness in our culture. We ensure they understand the priority of thought leadership in our emerging workplace, and of course, introduce them to our goofier employees to make sure they get the general sense of humor with which we operate. And of course, if they can agree on policies with the IT guy – who is obsessed with security – that’s a huge win as well!
Do you use third party testing or evaluation services when hiring remote workers?
We don’t. We rely on a rigorous interview process, personal recommendations, and gut feel to vet our potential hires. When we get bigger, this will likely formalize quite a bit, but for now we are reliant on our instincts.
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
We’re an Agile organization, so self-examination is built into our workflow very naturally. We set goals, then examine and measure progress, output at regular, discrete intervals. Being so small, setting formal KPIs is still down the road for us as a formal process. We keep pretty good track of each other, and the team self-organizes really well. It’s pretty obvious if there is an issue, and I can act very quickly to address it.
What is your BYOD policy for remote workers?
Our employees get a laptop for administration work, as well as a display, keyboard, and mouse. The software developers and QA team may have different equipment depending on their job function. In terms of software, we are pretty informal and evaluate needs on a case by case basis. We have a great IT team who makes sure everyone has what they need to get the job done.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
Pretty basic – any PTO needs to be checked with your team and cleared with your manager. There’s nothing more formal than that in place, as our Agile framework keeps communication really clear on the team. On a small team, even one person’s absence can have an impact, and recognizing this emphasizes the importance of clear communication.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
As is typical with many startups, it evolved organically. Given that facilitation of remote work is at the very core of our existence, it was only natural that we support a remote workforce from day one. We truly are a location-agnostic company.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
Absolutely! The most important thing is for the leadership to actively discuss and decide what the company values are up front, and then act upon those values to build the culture into the team around them. It’s important to establish and reinforce these values consistently with your team, lead by example, and provide them opportunities to demonstrate how these values translate into your culture.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
A successfully managed remote team is directly proportional to the skills of the leadership team’s ability to lead that team. As long as you lead by example, are clear about your expectations and values, and have a strong sense of trust on the team, you’re set up to succeed. Be prepared for the potholes, don’t ignore problems, and you will be off to a great start!
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
Our company was built on its foundation as a remote organization since 2007, so it’s always been in our DNA to examine any challenges through that lens. Frankly, most of our challenges have had very little to do with being remote, and everything to do with being a startup.
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
The ability to spontaneously connect with one another in our virtual office is honestly the best way to keep everyone connected. Those hallway conversations that you miss in physical offices are really important, and we encourage those casual chats that lead to great ideas.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
I’m a bad person to ask that question! I personally work quite a bit, but that’s mostly because I love what I do so much. I would say that my family takes an active part in reminding me that I need to enjoy doing things other than work!
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
It’s about the journey, not the destination.
Where is the best or worst place you’ve worked remotely?
I’m a pretty mobile worker, so I’d say I have always worked remotely no matter my location or job. However, I’ve had two experiences working remotely full time. First was back in the 80’s, when my wife started grad school at University of Minnesota. My company in New York allowed me to telecommute so we could move out there together. The second is working here at Sococo, and working out of my home office. I’d have to say, that the tools we have at our disposal in this day and age make working at Sococo much, much easier than my time talking on the phone and using faxes and modems to share data!