Remote Work At StudySoup
San Francisco, CA
* As of February 2020
StudySoup Remote Company Q&A
Sieva Kozinsky, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
StudySoup is a marketplace where students can buy and sell study materials to help each other succeed in college.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
I’ve worked in both types of environments before, but we started this company as remote.
How important is remote work to your business model?
We started as a remote founding team, which has now grown to over 20 full time employees and thousands of contractors worldwide. I think having a remote team early on forced us to create clear communication and process structure early on which later allowed our company to scale very quickly nationwide.
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
- Employees get to choose where they work from
- No commute time!
- Lower office and salary costs
- Better access to high quality talent
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
Early-on we didn’t have much of a choice. When we started the company, Jeff lived in Santa Barbara, while Sieva was living in San Francisco. As we started interviewing and hiring people we noticed that they hated to commute to work, and we could find high quality talent all across the country. Also, this allows us to keep our costs down.
How do you conduct interviews for remote jobs?
We run 4 rounds of interviews for all of our candidates. Everything is coordinated through google Calendar and Google Hangouts. Some of the interviews are 1 on 1, while others are 2 on 1 with the candidate.
How do you convey your remote culture in the recruiting process?
We try to have a pretty high bar for expectations from our team during the interview process.
How do you conduct onboarding for remote workers?
Once an employee makes it through our interview process, we include them on all of our critical tools: Gmail, Google Drive, Daily Standup meetings on Google Calendar, Trello and Slack.
The new employee is then taken through our “Company and Culture introduction”. In most cases, I (Sieva) get to personally take them through this presentation which is an overview of what we’ve accomplished to date, where we are headed and their role in the company.
Do you organize remote team retreats?
Twice a year we organize a team work retreat. We just returned from a week in Lake Tahoe, CA. Our retreats aren’t really “vacations for brainstorming”, but instead we get everyone in the same room to iron out any outstanding issues. We also do fun activities like hikes, snowball fights and cook team dinners together! It’s an opportunity for natural conversation and synergy to occur which is a bit tough over video chat.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
Clear communication guidelines are very helpful. Miscommunication happens all the time in person, and happens a lot more over Slack or email. Just recognizing this forces people to make the extra effort to join video chats to discuss issues or have debates. Avoid Slack for debates!
Having a consistent meeting structure. When you’re in the same office as someone you can just look-up and see if they’re around to answer a question. It’s much harder to call an impromptu video chat. Someone might not be checking slack, or may be away from the computer. Having Daily Standups and using Google Calendar religiously allows us to sync up when we need to collaborate and avoid any potential frustrations.
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
How do you keep remote employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture?
We do weekly planning meetings on Monday, then a recap meeting on Friday. We also do a monthly all hands on Google Hangouts. These are all great opportunities to hear what co-workers are working on, and discuss how it fits into the bigger picture.
What were your biggest fears in managing remote workers?
My biggest fears were around not being able to manage work output, and not having clarity into someone’s projects. For the first 6 months this was definitely true, but I’m proud to say that we’ve implemented systems and strategies to overcome this. It really just comes down to planning through Trello and constant communication with each other including our daily standups.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
Our culture dictates people’s remote work within the company. It’s not a formal process, but I think people catch-on pretty quickly.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
I feel like we have a very healthy company culture, and we’re constantly working to make it better. We do little things sometimes like spend 15 minutes just making jokes or bantering before our weekly recap meeting on Fridays. We have a Slack channel called #WatercoolerChat for any random or fun convos.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
Making the transition from office to remote work can be tough. Set-up some clear processes around communication, planning and constantly iterate. Don’t give up on the idea. If it’s tough in the first couple months…your team will learn to adjust.
Also, be sure to only hire people who can work autonomously and in a work environment. Not everyone is meant to be part of a remote team, even if they’re a great employee.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
At first we tried to have a casual meeting structure. This was extremely stressful and kept different team members in the dark about what others were working on. Since then we’ve implemented Trello and a consistent standup/meeting structure to avoid this.
Onboarding new employees and making them feel like they are part of the team is a bit of a challenge. In an office setting you can take people to lunch, or drinks afterwards and really bring people into your culture. In the online remote environment, this type of bond takes A LOT longer.
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
Everything is communicated over Slack & Trello.
What has changed about how your remote team operates?
Our planning process used to be off the cuff, and mostly done in the meeting with the whole team. We’ve moved to a planning process where my co-founder and I plan our priorities for the week, and then connect with individual departments about what they can accomplish that day.
What is your personal remote work environment?
I work from my living room, or from our HQ in SF.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
I work all day everyday! One of my big ways to refocus myself is to do Yoga or workout, which I try to do 5 days a week.
Sometimes I like to go on hikes, overnight camping trips or if it’s winter, skiing! The great thing about being remote is that I can work from a cabin all week without any decrease in productivity.
What is your favorite business book?
- The Power of Habit
- Titan, John D Rockefeller Biography
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
“Play like you have zero lives left”
Where is the best or worst place you’ve worked remotely?
The worst location is one where I don’t have a fixed schedule + location to work. I need some basics to be a successful remote worker. This includes a consistent place to call home, an easily accessible gym membership, a place with internet and a quiet spot.
The best location is probably my home, or Lake Tahoe cabin (see below).