Remote Work At Sticker Mule
* As of July 2015
Sticker Mule Remote Company Q&A
Anthony Thomas, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
Sticker Mule makes it easy to buy custom stickers. We offer free online proofs, free shipping and fast turnaround. With prices starting at $19 and more than 30,000 customers including top brands like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Coca-Cola & The New York Times, we aspire to be the Internet’s favorite sticker printing service.
We started out as a small team that was primarily focused on manufacturing. Our first hire in software development was in England and that went over incredibly well. A few months later, our customer service lead asked if he could relocate. Initially I was concerned but then we saw it as an opportunity to improve our processes so that we could support a remote customer service team.
We haven’t aggressively recruited until recently, but we’d often stumble across someone talented that we wanted on our team. These people were rarely local but it was usually obvious they’d make a great addition so we didn’t stress their location. After a while, it became commonplace for our team to be remote.
It’s been critical to our success. People make businesses and going remote is the only way for us to hire the best possible people.
I think remote teams end up being more productive than local teams. Yes, there’s an upside to face to face meetings, but there’s a downside to being in the same office too. Namely, a lot of time gets wasted chatting with your coworkers about random stuff. Since our team is 100% remote we rarely waste time talking about nothing. Everyone’s always getting stuff done. Occasionally we ping each other for a quick chat, but overall productivity seems a lot better with a remote team than what I’ve seen previously in my career.
From the start we wanted to fuse technology with manufacturing, but the best developers didn’t live in our region. We turned to open source to find our first developers by engaging with the Spree Commerce team. It’s fairly common to see open source teams spread out across the globe so this conditioned us to believe that remote teams are viable.
Additionally, in manufacturing there’s a common belief that putting customer service in the factory allows you to provide the best possible service. The usual thought is having people next to the machines let’s them quickly react to customer demands. We looked at this differently and felt that if customer service was constantly engaging with the factory it meant something was wrong. By letting our customer service team go remote it forced us to fix a lot of flaws in our processes that ultimately made our operation run much better. Long term the improvements we were forced to make so that we could support a remote team have paid dividends.
I haven’t found any particular traits that indicate a person won’t be a good remote worker. Occasionally, we talk to people that say they would rather work in an office environment. In those cases we try to clearly set expectations so they know what they’re getting into if they join us. Some people might not enjoy the culture of remote work and that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to put anyone in a situation that didn’t make them happy.
This is an area where we could improve. We mention it briefly in our job descriptions but it’s not explained well.
No, we don’t have any rules or communication norms. Certain teams like to do regular calls while others do not. Personally, I dislike scheduled meetings or calls. We mostly hang out on Slack and ping each other when we need help. Team members respond at their convenience.
Yes, we try to meet once or twice per year. Usually we do it in smaller groups as it’s hard to get everyone together since we’re spread out across the globe.
In person meetings are important, but we often remark how unproductive it’d be for us to meet more than twice per year. For the most part, our roadmap is so strong that in person meetings tend to just pile more ideas on top of an already sizable queue of work. That said, most of our best ideas still come from us hanging out in person but we’re pretty happy about our ability to generate a solid action plan with limited face time.
We don’t stress individually productivity too much, but we have metrics for each functional area that we try to improve all the time. RJMetrics makes it easy to build and share metrics so everyone can see how we’re doing.
We don’t track time off but expect people to take roughly 4 weeks vacation. Most of our team doesn’t have set hours so it’s really at their discretion how to approach work.
My biggest concern is worrying about the happiness of our team members. It’s easy to tell how someone is feeling in person. Fortunately, we haven’t had any unexpected surprises. No one’s left Sticker Mule since our inception. I’ve been thinking about developing a survey to gauge internal satisfaction to overcome the challenge of monitoring workplace happiness with a remote team.
It was completely organic. We noticed that we had more success with remote workers than local talent so we stopped caring about the proximity of our employees and focused on hiring the best people regardless of location. We don’t have a formal remote work policy. Our attitude is simply to try to hire the best possible people and accepting remote candidates let’s us do that.
I think adopting Slack has been the biggest improvement to our remote culture. It’s a lot more informal than Asana which lets us have more personal conversations.
Selecting and getting buy-in from the team to use remote collaboration tools is essential. Without Slack & Asana remote would be a lot more difficult. Make sure anyone new you onboard is comfortable with your remote collaboration stack and is properly trained on how to work with your team.
We track projects and tasks in Asana. Most of our communication happens within Asana by commenting on specific tasks. Outside of that, we constantly use Slack to chat about work, life, strategy and anything that falls outside of tasks within Asana. Finally, if we feel it’s necessary, we’ll have a call using Screenhero or Skype.
The biggest change for me is that I’ve gone from directing what everyone does to having teams that operate independently and set their own agendas. That’s been nice to see happen.
Lately I’ve been traveling a lot so my work environment tends to be airplanes, hotels or my apartment. At home I have a 27” iMac and on the road I use a MacBook Air.
I tend to follow a work hard play hard philosophy. I can’t say if this is really the ideal thing for people to do but it’s been working for me. I work a lot, but if an interesting social opportunity presents itself I try not to turn it down.
I’m not a fan of business books, but I like The Strategy Process by Henry Mintzberg, et al. It’s a series of essays that often refute each other and it taught me that there’s rarely a correct way to approach business. There are lots of acceptable answers to how to approach business problems and you need to decide which solutions work for you.
I don’t really have a best and worst location. Anytime Wifi isn’t working it’s a problem but that could be anywhere. Recently, we had a mini retreat at a cabin in Upstate, NY and that was quite nice.