Remote Work At Vork Inc
* As of February 2020
Vork Inc Remote Company Q&A
Mark Turrell, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Mobile app to connect, share, and solve problems in trusted networks.
Did you switch to remote or start out that way?
It started out as remote.
How important is remote work to your business model?
Remote work is critical to our model. We can take advantage of the best talent anywhere in the world without the overhead of a fixed office, without limiting our search for talent to a commutable distance, and therefore we can deliver world-class functionality faster and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional software business.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
The founding team started remote—one in New Zealand, the other two in Berlin, but with the CEO always in another country. In addition we had relatively little money from the founders and other investors, so we wanted to get as much high-quality functionality delivered for a reasonable (low) price. We found this combination in Ukraine and our dev team is based there.
What is your hiring process for remote workers?
We hire for tasks rather than people. For the tasks, it has been fairly clear. And for important tasks we have, we outline the requirement in writing and have a Skype call to set the scope and agree deliverables and expected outcome and timeframe.
How do you conduct onboarding for remote workers?
We have not had the need yet, but we have a plan to put in place an onboarding process for new people covering the technology we use, our working practices, how the company fits together, and how the product works.
Do you organize remote team retreats?
No we have not organized retreats and it is likely that we would not do so for at least another year. This partly is explained by how we are organized. We have used a development company with a dedicated team to build our application, so they are our people…and at the same time they are not. As we have limited budget, plus one person working in NZ, it makes no financial sense to bring everyone to one place.
Do your remote team members meet in person?
We have never all met in person! As the CEO I have met almost everyone working on the project, apart from some of the engineers, but I am the hub in the wheel. We have though met virtually on Skype calls, so this almost counts!
How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
As the CEO I like deliverables—I am not big into the value of culture and feeling good outside the context of delivering on commitments. So for me it is about delivering what you say you will do. At the same time we have found that discussion often leads to better solutions to problems. We have these chats quite often, sometimes prompted by someone getting stuck on a problem and just wanting a chat to share the thinking requirement. This has lead to some real breakthroughs that have developed amazing functionality, or dramatically reduced the work needed to deliver.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
Regular communication facilitated by technology—we have people in New Zealand and in Ukraine with a significant time difference, so we use technology to communicate asynchronously.
Clear objectives for what needs to be done—and when (timeline).
Share the overview of what the business is doing and the big goals so that people know how their work fits into the big picture. Often things are not serious…until they become serious because they are not done yet!
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
The hardest part is maintaining discipline for management to make sure that we are active in all the key areas of the business all the time. It is also hard when the CEO travels so much to maintain a regular schedule of activities.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
We implemented our remote work policy formally from the start. We never had the intent of starting with a fixed team sitting in an office!
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
You need to spend time exploring the technology to run a remote team, such as Skype, Trello, and Atlassian Jira for projects, and invest in management and team time to set expectations, make goals clear, and hold each other accountable for delivering on commitments.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
One of the biggest problems is finding a team to build the application with the right skills at the right cost who are available when we need the project to start (and get finished). There is a lot of money to be spent, plus risks of delivery quality and timing, plus a small risk of loss of intellectual property. In order to find a team we actually sent out our request for proposal to several vendors, mostly suggested by connections. In the end we used a company in Ukraine that was already known to the CEO who had also done work with a colleague of ours based in Kyiv.
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
We use Slack as our primary communication tool, both within our team and with outsiders. This gives us a way of alerting people quickly on all kinds of topics straight away on our phone—without causing lots of mails and without encroaching on our personal lives (i.e., not done with Facebook Messenger).
We do regular and ad hoc Skype calls with screen sharing—this is extremely productive to go through software bugs in Jira collaboratively to get awareness and make quick decisions.
What has changed about how your remote team operates?
We have only been going as a team for just over a year. Some things we did change was a move from Google Docs to manage key processes, such as product management, to using more structured tools like Trello.
What is your personal remote work environment?
Almost anywhere apart from my desk! When I am at home in Berlin, I work from the couch upstairs, shifting my position for Skype calls to get the best background lighting. Otherwise it is in coffee shops, airport lounges, nice long train rides, and very occasionally in hotel rooms.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
I only have one life. 🙂
I have always been an entrepreneur and so for me I am happy if I am thinking, building things, and persuading people to buy things that they value (that my team and I have created).
Normally when I have free time I end up thinking about extra things related to the business, such as new concepts, features, and more.
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
My leadership tips to myself: Focus on the end goal. Leaders lead. Be honest. Handy way to make decisions in a complex world.