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Remote Work at WooThemes

Team Members
Cape Town, South Africa
*As of August 2015
WooThemes Team

WooThemes Team

WooThemes Remote Company Q&A
Michael Krapf, Chief Fire Officer (Head of WooThemes/WooCommerce Support) - Interview with Remote.co

We started off creating WordPress Themes. We now offer a range of themes and plugins to extend WordPress, including the fastest growing eCommerce solution, WooCommerce. With the recent acquisition by Automattic, we’re now part of a larger distributed team.

WooThemes was born remote so it has always been an important ingredient in our recipe for success. Freedom of location has created a melting pot of ideas and influences that have shaped our products and culture. We pride ourselves on a quirkiness that naturally developed as a result of our diversity.

The primary benefit of a remote workforce is freedom to find the best team members regardless of location.

Our co-founders met and started WooThemes before ever meeting in person. Since we weren’t influenced by a history of working in an office together we were undoubtedly forced to find solutions rather than ponder alternatives.

At WooThemes, the hiring process included two interviews, initial and panel. The initial interview involved a Skype voice chat with the standard interview questions. The panel interview took place via Google Hangout and included existing team members. The questions were geared towards cultural fit and gave the team interview experience. We’re currently blending our previous hiring process with the established process at Automattic.

It’s discussed thoroughly in the interviews and evaluated in an essay question: “In a remote/distributed work environment, what does Fun, Action, Communication, Transparency and Trust mean to you?”

We meet at various times throughout the year at conferences and retreats. The schedule is constantly evolving based on team needs, but the one constant is the all hands meet-up once per year. At the annual “Grand Meetup” we have the opportunity to share handshakes, work together in person, and maintain our sense of the company’s growth.

Productivity isn’t black and white and therefore measuring it requires an understanding of the work being done and the people doing it. In short, it comes down to the relationship between team members in overlapping roles.

Some questions you might ask to measure productivity:

  • Is progress being made?
  • Are challenges being identified/overcome?
  • Are we accomplishing our goals?
  • Are timelines being met?

Computers, monitors, peripherals, desks, chairs are provided by Automattic.

We have an open leave policy which reinforces our hierarchy of needs. Take care of yourself/family first and your team second which will create the healthiest environment for us to take care of our customers. Healthy environments foster teamwork, focus, clarity, etc.

We knew no alternative so many policies were as natural as breathing. We tried to develop and lean on trust rather than develop policies.

We focus on the pillars of our culture: Fun, Action, Communication, Transparency, Trust (FACTT).

  • Fun – Meetups, video chats just to make each other laugh.
  • Action – The reason we came together in the first place. Doing good work is satisfying.
  • Communication – It’s the oxygen. Don’t assume. Text chat can be interpreted differently depending on the mood of the recipient. If in doubt, voice chat to convey intent.
  • Transparency – Creates a sense of ownership. Insurance everyone is on the same page.
  • Trust – A remote culture will crumble without trust.

Focus your efforts on developing rapport with your team. The stronger the bond, the greater the trust, which will allow you to focus on the work rather than keeping tabs on everyone.

In a word, “scale”. As the company grows the challenge of maintaining relationships grows as well. Since success in business is highly dependent on successful relationships, we’ve had to adapt by becoming more intentional about our team sizes and communication flows.

We use all the normal apps like Email, Slack, Skype, Github. And the not so common P2. But at the end of the day, it’s less about the tool and more about the interaction. Progress is about identifying problems and finding solutions. You can’t do either without regular communication with your team and customers.

As the team has grown we’ve had to introduce a bit more structure which just comes down to subdividing into smaller teams. The smaller teams have allowed us to focus our attention and maintain relationships.

I work from a laptop in every room of the house.

It’s not easy. Even though working remotely affords complete freedom, I’ve learned that I work best on a schedule. My most productive time is in the morning, so I typically start my day around 6:30am. Starting early also allows for a couple of extra hours of family time in the afternoon.

Remember that:

  • Losing is part of winning.
  • The more you play, the better you get.
  • The better you get, the better your team gets.
  • The better your team gets, the more you enjoy the game.
  • The more you enjoy the game, the better your chances of improving your score.