Remote Work At Toggl
* As of March 2019
Toggl Remote Company Q&A
Alari Aho, CEO and Founder - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Toggl is the leading online time tracking tool for teams and solo users. It allows users to track the time spent on various projects and analyze productivity. It’s cloud-based and can be up and running from scratch in less than a minute. You can use Toggl on the web, as a desktop widget or on your mobile – all your data gets synced in real time.
The Toggl team also builds Teamweek. Teamweek is an online project planner and team calendar that helps project managers make and change their plans easily to save time.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
We went remote about a year ago, and we put a lot of thinking into it. We laid out the pros and cons, talked to our team members and did some research. Once we started going remotely, we had a lot of questions about staying productive remotely, maintaining a company culture and managing a distributed team and we all learned together to make it work.
How important is remote work to your business model?
We believe remote work is extremely important to our culture and business model as a company can’t grow without its employees growing and feeling happy and most productive wherever they are. Also, since all Toggl employees are location independent, this helps us hire the best people and broaden our search for great talent.
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
Commute. No travelling. No commuting. People are working from their homes and do not have to spend time for going from one place to another. This could save hours.
Interruptions. In case a person feels most productive at home, then why stop them. Office environment often has too many distractions for focused tasks or some people simply prefer the solitude of their own place.
From 9 to 5. These have been the working hours for ages now. Not making any sense for some modern professions. If one’s daily routine is different and tasks do not require co-working with others, let the employee choose when and how they do their things. It’s about productivity, not hours spent in office.
Amount of candidates. By removing the country-borders for the job, the selection of people is much, much bigger. And we can get the best of the best. Not just the best who are available in the region.
Support. As our products need to have a fast customer support, with the remote people working in different time-zones it is much more reasonable and efficient to be available during more hours.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
Most important reason is because we became too monocultural. Our users are the World, but our hiring-radius was 10 km. We wanted diversity, different angles and backgrounds. Why hire a consultant to know how things are done in the States when you can hire a person from the States to work full-time and bring the knowledge in the house.
Secondary reason was the competition in the market. As in everywhere, there is a huge deficit of good developers also in Estonia, especially if you narrow it down to specific programming languages or skills.
What traits do you look for in candidates for a remote job?
One of the most common traits is previous experience with remote working. This helps the new team members fit in easier and also helps us learn from their experiences. Everyone contributes to the culture at Toggl.
How do you conduct interviews for remote jobs?
We have a test-first hiring process so this makes things easier. The candidates go through this first level and then we arrange Skype interviews with the team and usually me. We have a principle: Hire hard, manage open. We are not in a hurry when hiring people. A wrong decision means months of agony. We look for people who can first and foremost operate independently. And then as team members. We want people who do not need to be spoon-fed and like to take charge of their own work.
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
At Toggl, we have a result oriented culture and everyone’s productivity is measured by their results. We have small teams working together: back end team, front end team, mobile team, marketing team etc. Every team sets their own goals and works towards achieving them. We also track time with Toggl but the productivity is measured based on the results and not on how many hours you have been working. It works perfectly as we put in a lot of trust into our coworkers.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
Open Communication – no blame games: The best way to overcome problems is to discuss them openly. Try to work towards a solution and avoid blaming others. In remote teams, it’s really important to even overshare information. Many misunderstandings are caused by mistaken assumptions, lack of information and insufficient communication.
No Kindergarten. Freedom + Trust = Reliability: Toggl team members put a lot of trust into each other. Based on our experience, this is the most efficient way to cooperate. Freedom of action combined with a lot of trust keeps away the ‘Kindergarten Syndrome’, which would force managers to control and monitor many aspects of the team members’ lives. We don’t want to do that. Instead, we want to have colleagues who put in a lot of effort to be reliable, and thereby earn each other’s trust.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
First of all, we have a flexible schedule and the only condition for the remote team members is to have at least some overlapping time with the rest of their team.
As for vacation, each employee is entitled to 28 work days off and everyone celebrates the national holidays of the country they’re located in.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
We knew that in order for it to work, everybody in the team had to become “remote” workers and adopt the new mindset. So the switch from the old system to the remote work affected everybody, even those who are based in Tallinn, Estonia and choose to come to the office every day – they also needed to adopt the reality of remote team.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
We keep a constant communication flow in Slack, organize team meetings weekly and also throw weekly hangouts where our new employees introduce themselves or current team members share their plans and exciting news from conferences every team member visits.
We also have yearly team events such as summer retreat in Estonia and Toggl Challenge that takes the whole company to a new country for a week to work together and compete against each other in building/creating something innovative that’s not directly work related..
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
Teamwork cannot suffer after changing your workplace philosophy, so it’s important to have the team be involved since the planning stage. Also some face-time is important for team building. It’s a good idea to arrange some get-togethers a few times a year.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
Changing the mindset is the hardest part. Everybody in the company has to be on board with it.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
Work/life integration is not too complicated, as luckily all the family members are out at work/school/kindergarten during the day. What’s complicated, are the evenings, as quite often I find myself drifted behind the computer, attention away from the family. So yes, it takes special effort to set up time with my close ones.
What is your favorite business book?
“From good to great” by Jim Collins
Where is the best or worst place you’ve worked remotely?
I strongly prefer not to use any coworking spaces. I find these really odd. I guess it’s my personal freaktivity thing, as many people love these. The best places are where it’s easy to focus – no need for specific setups.