Remote Work at Tortuga
- Team Members
Tortuga helps people live on their terms by making luggage for city travel.
Jeremy and I started working remotely out of necessity. When we decided to grow the team, we saw no reason to change what was working for us. Plus, neither of us wanted to have to report to an office every day, even if it was our own office.
Essential. “Working on our terms,” which includes being remote, is one of our core values and an important part of our mission. For most companies, being remote is a perk. For us, it’s what we do and what many of our products are used for. Working remotely has been part of our DNA since day one.
We’re able to hire the best people, regardless of where they are, and help them to work (and live) on their terms. Luckily for us, people who want to work remotely are likely to share our values and mission, which makes hiring remotely much easier.
When we started the company, Jeremy (my co-founder) and I were living in different cities and working on other things. Jeremy was in film school in Los Angeles, and I was working for Google in San Francisco. We didn’t immediately quit either to work on Tortuga, so we started by working remotely. We’ve known each other for years and have a bit of a mind meld, so working remotely was easy for us. As we grew and started to hire, we stayed remote even before it was a trend that everyone was talking about. Now, being remote is a more popular choice with a strong community talking about it.
Every company is looking for “self-starters,” but this is essential for remote workers. Without anyone looking over your shoulder, will you still take initiative? Will you still have the drive?
We ask questions related to the job in the application process. Then we do phone screens for promising candidates. The finalists then move on to a role-based interview and a values-based interview.
We do all of our interviews via Skype. If someone can’t communicate well by text or video call, they won’t work well in a remote team. So we don’t feel any pressure to fly someone out to meet in person.
The book Who is an excellent resource for structuring your interview and hiring processes. It’s helpful in formulating questions and interviews for consistency to reduce bias in hiring.
The good candidates have already read about our culture on our website or blog. I’m often trying to convince them that this is really how we work, rather than conveying the details. Working remotely and having autonomy seem like common sense to me but are vastly different from the autocratic way that most companies operate.
I like to say that remote is only the first step. What we really want to build are more human companies. Remote companies can do more than just let people work from home. We can build 21st century companies designed around how people work best and how they find fulfillment in their work.
Yes, in-person time is important. For us, the most important part of the retreat is all of the non-work time. We plan a fun activity, volunteering, and lots of team dinners for our retreats. This is our top priority.
Please don’t spend your retreats sitting around a table looking at your laptops. You can do that the rest of the year.
Our work sessions on the retreat are meant to be inclusive of the whole team and focused on the future. We talk big picture ideas, brainstorm new products, and push our thinking. Being in a new location is helpful for getting outside of your mental boxes.
We focus more on priorities than on numeric goals. We set then frequently adjust those priorities. Productivity is measured by how much progress we make on those priorities in a given time frame.
The hardest part of management is keeping everyone on the same page. As I mentioned above, we try to do this weekly, monthly, and quarterly. As CEO, the highest leverage thing I can do is focus the team’s efforts on a single problem or area of opportunity. My job is to get everyone in the boat and rowing in the same direction.
Most importantly, we have a mission that everyone believes in and is working towards.
Each quarter, we set a “theme” for the company that everyone uses to set their individual quarterly priorities.
Each month, we send out team-level recaps discussing what each team is working on and the results.
Each week, we send individual check ins by email with what we accomplished that week, what we’re prioritizing for next week, and where we need help.
We offer unlimited vacation. I know that some companies have changed policies to minimum vacations, required vacations, or something else. As a travel company, our team has been pretty responsible about taking time off. If that ever changed, we may change course as other companies have. I try to set a good example by taking time off myself and by reminding people to take breaks, especially between big projects, to recharge.
I’m a first-time people manager and first-time CEO. My fears were (and still are) around leading a team of people. Being remote was never part of the concern. I didn’t consider myself a leader before Tortuga, so I’m trying to develop those skills, lead by example, and always put helping the team first.
Being remote happened organically for us, but we formalized it into our core values. We wanted our team to know that we were going to work this way even when it got difficult. That’s what makes it a core value.
If you’re going to do it, go all in. Remote doesn’t work well as an option or as a partial solution. Working remotely is a challenge. You have to design all of your communication and project management systems around being remote. If remote employees are the exception, not the rule, you will likely fail.
Slack chat, for casual conversations, and Slack video calls for one-on-ones and team meetings. Chat is good for more frequent but less important discussions. Video calls are for the more important meetings and for staying better connected.
As we grow, we build out more processes and planning. Done wrong, this could equal bureaucracy. Done right, these systems help us function despite not being colocated. Working remotely can lead to even more communication problems than working in an office. We use Asana and Instagantt to plan big projects like product development, product launches, and website redesigns. Having one tool “of record” lets us all share the same view and see the same plan, regardless of where we are.
I moved from San Francisco to Oakland a few years ago for more space. Now, I work primarily from my home office (second bedroom) and from a standing desk. When I become too much of a hermit, I’ll vary my environment by working from cafes and coworking spaces.
Freedom to manage my schedule based on what works for me. Even companies with flexible hours end up conforming to a schedule because of peer pressure at the office. Instead, I work the times when I’m productive. In the mornings, I do my high priority, focused work. Then I have lunch and go to the gym for a break. Then, in the afternoon, I do admin work like email.
Set rules and boundaries for yourself. Have a way to signal that you’re taking a break or done for the day. I have a separate room for my office, so it’s easier to have some physical distance between myself and my computer. I can close the door to the office as a signal to myself. I recommend building some signals or routines into your work that remind you when you’re “done.”
I read too much to pick just one. Here’s an entire list of my favorite business books.
I’m always quoting people, even when I only half remember the quote itself. Mostly, I have some mantras that I come back to. Perhaps the most important is “Play the long-game.” For me, that means do what’s best in the long-term, not just for today.
China because of the Great Firewall. I never realized how often I use Google and social media.
The best places have always been about who is there (then the Wi-Fi speeds). I enjoyed working from the Hive in Bangkok because of the great people I met there. We’ve also had great times on our retreats in San Sebastian, Montreal, Lisbon, and New Orleans.