Remote Work At Ushahidi
* As of February 2020
Ushahidi Remote Company Q&A
Nathaniel Manning, COO - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Ushahidi is a non-profit technology company with roots in Naiorbi, Kenya that makes open source software to help people raise their voice, and help those who serve them listen and respond better, particularly for crisis response, human rights reporting, and government transparency.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
Yes. We started out remote.
How important is remote work to your business model?
Remote work is important to our business because our tool is used around the world, and it allows our team to model our users. In addition, as an open source software product, a remote team shares many characteristics with the open source community contributing to the code.
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
As an employer: access to talented people who are passionate about the mission from all over the world, at a more affordable rate and from a larger pool of people. As an employee, it’s the flexibility and being judged on output, not hours in a chair.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
- We started that way, as a handful of technologists from Kenya but living in different places we creating a tool to respond to the 2008 political crisis in Kenya and try and understand what was happening on the ground back home.
- As an open source product, our first volunteers were from all over, and they became our first employees.
- As a non-profit gave us access to great talent who are driven by the mission at a price we could afford.
How do you conduct interviews for remote jobs?
Lots of calls. For engineers we do engineering tests. We look for people with a lot of initiative.
How do you convey your remote culture in the recruiting process?
We dedicate one interview with team members to look just for culture fit.
What is your hiring process for remote workers?
Previous remote workers are good. We look for people with a lot of initiative, who contribute to other open source projects. We look for people who value remote work, due to kids or anything else, and prefer this flexibility and therefore won’t take advantage of it.
We do now take time zones into account. We try and make sure the teams have at least 4 waking hours overlap with the rest of their team.
Do you organize remote team retreats?
Yes. We find one place that can host us all. Make sure it’s not in a city, you want everyone to be huddled up together and not be able to break off into groups and go elsewhere and opt out. Have fun! We always have a few fun days planned with adventures. Get a caterer so you don’t have to worry about food and get a facilitator to help manage the strategy part.
Do your remote team members meet in person?
Yes. This is essential. The whole team meets once per year. Then we have small hit teams with 5-10 people or so throughout the year.
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
This is very hard. We use a system called OKRs (objectives and key results) for everyone, and do quarterly reviews.
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
Accountability tracking. Time zones.
How do you keep remote employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture?
We have annual team meetings and smaller hit team meetings throughout the year. We do our weekly call, and we use video calls as default. We try and build a community of equality, where all meetings are documented, even ones at the HQ.
What is your BYOD policy for remote workers?
Company buys computers. 18 months at the org and the device is yours.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
As you need. Minimum 25 days/year. Get your work done, and if you don’t, it’s a problem.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
Organically, we have always been remote.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
Absolutely. But you have to work hard to garner it by using internal company jokes, slangs, and other fun stuff. A chat tool is essential, where employees can just share what’s on their mind, make jokes with gifs, and stay connected.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
The most important keys to successful remote work are:
- Building trust between employees.
- Creating really good systems for accountability, as you won’t have the benefit of knowing if someone is working until too late.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
You really do get so much more done when you can all sit in a room together for a day and hash out the big problems. Those big decisions just don’t get made on conference calls.
Time zones are a reality that just sucks.
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
- A weekly all hands call.
- A chat tool like Slack or Hipchat
- Lots of video conference calls, where we *try* to take notes and post them to a project management tool like Basecamp or Asana.
What has changed about how your remote team operates?
We have implemented OKRs because at the beginning everyone just “worked hard” when we were a startup. But as we got older, people burned out, or we had bad actors. This was sad, as it hurt the moral of the team, and we didn’t have systems for finding these folks before they needed help. We implemented an OKR system to try and allow people to set their own goals, and then use that to measure our productivity.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
I get up early and do calls, because of my timezone. I try and be active on our chat service. I often go to coffee shops to get up and around people. I try to not take calls or do work after dinner, unless something is due.
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
Structure without bureaucracy is essential.