Remote Work At VIPKID
* As of February 2020
VIPKID Remote Company Q&A
Jeff Deutsch, Digital Marketing Manager - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
We give teachers from the U.S. and Canada the opportunity to teach Chinese kids ages 5-12 online.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
Our founder, Cindy Mi, started the company as a chain of offline schools. She planned and created the online company with a few technically knowledgeable colleagues after 10 years of offline business success.
How important is remote work to your business model?
Our business model is only possible with remote work!
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
For us, it makes recruiting teachers much easier. That’s how we were able to scale to 14,000 teachers in just a couple years. No need to deal with relocation, visas, or language barriers in daily life.
There are also great benefits for our teachers. Most of our teachers are stay-at-home parents who have to be at home to care for their own kids. The time difference to China from the U.S. (12 hours for New York time) actually works to the teachers’ advantage.
After their own kids go to bed at 8 or 9 p.m., they can log on and teach a few classes to make some extra money.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
Our students want to learn from American and Canadian teachers, but it’s not possible for them to study overseas. There’s also a limited number of Western teachers in China.
With our model, Chinese kids can get a Western education experience from home. Also, teachers can run their own classroom from their home. It’s a win-win!
What traits do you look for in candidates for a remote job?
All teachers must be from the U.S. or Canada, have a bachelor’s degree, and have one year of teaching experience. Aside from that, we like to bring on teachers with lots of energy who love kids and enjoy the Total Physical Response (TPR) style of teaching.
How do you conduct interviews for remote jobs?
Through our own platform. Candidates schedule an interview and we send them a lesson plan and hours of videos to prepare. They go through a mock class with our Chinese interviewers, who assess how well they’ve prepared for the class and pass/fail them based on that.
How do you convey your remote culture in the recruiting process?
Mostly through videos, advertising, and documentation that shows that the teacher will be online, teaching from home.
What is your hiring process for remote workers?
Like Uber’s drivers, our teachers are contractors so we sign a contract with them. It’s not hiring per se. Some teachers feel this works to their advantage though because it gives them more working flexibility. They truly are their own boss and this is like an entrepreneurial experience that they love.
Do you have remote communication protocols for your remote workers?
There are very tight guidelines for communication around classes, and we expect immediate communication if there’s any reason a teacher needs to cancel a class—we like to keep the teacher no-show rate as close to 0% as possible. Kids really look forward to their classes with VIPKID teachers so we don’t want to disappoint them.
Do you organize remote team retreats?
Yes! The events count as one form, and they love to meet up for potlucks and meet and greets. We’ve also sponsored two successful trips for a selection of teachers to come to Beijing and a third one is upcoming.
Do your remote team members meet in person?
Yes, through company events and meetups.
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
Classes taught, student homework completion, and parent ratings.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
Having very clear guidelines about exactly how to do the work. Documentation—especially training videos and reminder emails—are crucial.
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
The IT issues. China to U.S./Canada Internet connections are hard to manage, and it’s a good thing we have such a talented tech team to handle that.
How do you keep remote employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture?
We have a whole team in charge of teacher community in China and the U.S. that keeps our teachers informed through the portal. Emails from this team, as well as social media run by our social media manager, Ekitzel Wood, do the rest.
Ekitzel does a great job updating our social media—especially our Facebook page and our Instagram account—with the most interesting stuff coming in from teachers. Our teachers are so creative, with teaching tips specifically geared towards Chinese kids. They also make fun stuff like cupcakes and knitted versions of our mascot, Dino. By sharing these, our teachers have a strong sense of community—even though it’s all online.
What is your BYOD policy for remote workers?
Our teachers have to use their own equipment. We have a team of hard-working IT support employees called “Firemen” who are ready 24/7 to jump in and support whenever there’s an IT issue on either side of the class.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
Teachers make their own schedule! They can teach one class a month or 100 if they like. It’s totally flexible and lets teachers be their own boss.
What were your biggest fears in managing remote workers?
We’ve always been worried that they wouldn’t commit to teaching online in the long run, because most of our teachers are busy with a full-time job or young kids at home.
Those fears have absolutely not come true.
Our teacher retention rate is amazing. We’ve found it’s a challenge to get teachers started with us, but once they’re in, they stay and love the company.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
It was planned with the release of the VIPKID app. Our founders realized that recruiting teachers to come to China was a challenge. Setting up a teaching portal online was a natural conclusion.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
Yes. It’s important to have someone manage the community and for those on the local team to stay aligned on how and when to communicate with remote workers.
How do you nurture your company’s culture in a remote work environment?
Our head of community in the U.S., Kevyn Klein, is critical for this process. She understands our teachers so well because she talks to them on the phone and through email all day long. She organizes dozens of events and meetups for our teachers every month and puts her heart and soul into them.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
Try it! It’s good for workers, good for the environment, and can greatly reduce operational costs.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
Getting the word out that teaching online is even a thing.
We find a lot of our teachers are either confused about the whole concept or suspicious whether it’s a real thing. Our teachers earn an average of $19/hour working from home on their own schedule. That just sounds too good to be true. We struggle to get the message out that “Yes, this is real and we are a real company!”
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
We have a back-end portal, run by our head of teacher management, Daniel Charvat, specifically for communicating with our online teachers. Every time they log in, they see their calendar and tasks clearly inside that portal.
What has changed about how your remote team operates?
Our team has just gotten a lot bigger. Our head of teacher recruiting, Bel Chan, has done an amazing job with that. When she started just a couple years ago VIPKID had only 200 teachers. She grew that to 14,000 through dedication and improving the recruitment process along the way.
How does your team address different time zone challenges?
Mostly that’s a challenge for our teachers. Class schedules have to revolve around Chinese kids’ lives. In New York time, class slots are open starting at 4am in the morning and after 8pm at night.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
During working hours, the Pomodoro Technique is the best for this. It keeps you focused for 25 minutes out of every 30 and lets you play with friends (check Facebook, reply to personal messages, etc.) the other five. This way, you stay productive without getting burned out.
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!” – Richard Branson