Remote Work At Wordfence
* As of February 2020
Wordfence Remote Company Q&A
Mark Maunder, CEO - Interview with Remote.co
What does your remote-friendly company do?
Wordfence makes the most popular security plugin for WordPress. We protect over 1 million active WordPress websites to help keep attackers out and to detect intrusions. Our software has been downloaded over 11 million times. We block over 10,000 intrusion attempts per minute or over 14 million attack attempts per day on our customer websites.
How important is remote work to your business model?
It’s a critical success factor for us. Our team is able to spend less time in traffic and more time thinking about how to better protect our customer websites and businesses and more time making that happen. It also provides our team with a better quality of life. Here’s an anecdote to illustrate:
Wordfence is growing very quickly and over a year ago we were just a team of two. We are now eight people and are hiring as fast as we can. When one of our first team members joined us he came from a brick and mortar software engineering role. He would spend 40 minutes commuting to work and the same 40 minutes getting home in the evening. On his first day with us he sent me a photo of him and his family at the dinner table with the caption “First dinner at home with the family in weeks”. Besides making me get a bit emotional, it really brought home the tangible benefits to team quality of life that the remote model provides.
So to answer your question I’d say it’s critical to our business model – but that’s because it creates a lifestyle where our team can enjoy the things that are really important to them – like spending time with the people they care most about. That makes it easier for us to attract and keep people who are world-class at what they do.
What do you consider the biggest benefits of a remote workforce?
- Less time getting to work and getting back home.
- More quiet time. This is super important for the kind of intellectually challenging work that we do. You don’t have the constant distractions that you find in many office environments.
- Multiple timezones. At 5am in Seattle it’s 8am on the east coast and we already have a few people working at that time. If there’s an urgent issue we’re more likely to have someone on deck to deal with it.
- Our ability to bring on board people anywhere in the World. All our permanent team members are spread across the USA but we’re actively recruiting around the World. One of our contractors is in Paraguay and with Skype he might as well be in the next office.
What were the main reasons to integrate remote work into your workforce?
We’ve had physical offices as two co-founders in the past but when we started hiring we were working from home and it was working well for us. We tried it out with our first part-time remote hires and it worked great. Then we tried it out with one and then two full-time team members. That worked amazingly well. We scaled it from there.
What traits do you look for in candidates for a remote job?
You’ll notice this is a common theme with us, but “trust” is a big one. The ability to trust that your teammate is going to go away and do an amazing job and check back in when they’re ready to.
How do you conduct interviews for remote jobs?
We have one of our executives do an initial culture-fit interview. If that works out we do two technical interviews, both of them are one-on-one interviews. Then if we think the candidate is a fit and they still like us, we invite them to do a multi-week part time contract with us. We pay market rates and the time period may vary from 1 to 3 weeks. Most of the candidates who go through this don’t work out – and we have had some really great people who just didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.
Recently we had a candidate who did a three week evaluation with us and it just didn’t work out for that particular role. But we liked them so much that once we parted ways we kept thinking about him and when a contract role opened for a different position we invited him back and we’ve ended up working together again which has been great.
The evaluation we do before someone joins us permanently has worked out really well because we have a team where everyone is absolutely world-class at what they do. From customer service to engineering to marketing. They’re all amazing.
Do you use third party testing or evaluation services when hiring remote workers?
Yes, we do background checks on all our employees because we are in the information security space. We don’t use third-party testing.
How do you conduct onboarding for remote workers?
We have an onboarding information packet which includes all the necessary information, policies, guidelines and forms. “Paperwork Day” has become an inside joke with us because the first day you join can be a little overwhelming with all the forms you need to go through. However we’ve digitized absolutely everything we can and we use services like DocuSign which have really made things easier.
Do you have remote communication protocols for your remote workers?
No. “Trust” is a core value of ours and we trust that our team will get the job done and it turns out that they exceed our expectations.
Do you organize remote team retreats?
We will be arranging at least one team retreat this year and will be meeting at several industry events.
Do your remote team members meet in person?
We have had conversations with team members at other remote working companies (some of them big) and, while the company offers remote working, they end up flying around the country so much that it has a real negative impact on their quality of life. So we try to create opportunities to meet in person or attend industry conferences, but we make sure that doing that does not consume too much of our team’s time.
What elements are key to successful working relationships with remote teams?
We do mandatory Monday and Wednesday meetings with all hands. Some of the time is spent just sharing what we did over the weekend or how things are going. We also go around and everyone shares what they’re currently working on. This is a great way for the team to get visibility into the organization and connect with each other. Without a physical office space, these meetings and the smaller conversations and one-on-ones become quite important. We don’t do video – just voice because we find video is distracting.
What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce?
We haven’t really had many challenges in management but we’re also still a small team (8 people full-time with several part-timers or contractors). We’ve done a great job of evaluating people before they join us and so we don’t have a situation where anyone needs to be “managed”.
How do you keep remote employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture?
Our team is very passionate about what they do. We’re just so incredibly busy and the information security space is quite exciting so everyone is focused on getting things done.
In our team meetings, we chat about where the business is and where we’re headed which gives a sense of the bigger picture.
What is your BYOD policy for remote workers?
We provide all hardware and software. Just because you have remote employees does not make it OK to not provide everything they need. Our policy is to provide the best available equipment and whatever our team needs. So far most of our team has MacBook Pro’s with all the best features – a few use external displays we’ve provided. We provide awesome headsets, all other peripherals and can provide office furniture when needed.
What is your time off policy for remote workers?
Best in the industry. We provide 21 days PTO. We thought through this carefully and we considered doing what Netflix and a few other companies are doing where we provide unlimited time off. But we felt that this creates a weird situation where, because it’s not specified, our team doesn’t take too much time off because they feel like they’re being judged. So we stated a specific PTO number and then told our team that we want them to actually use the full 21 days. That way we’re sure that they’ll take the breaks they need rather than being uncertain about how much is OK. 21 days is the highest we’ve seen in our industry.
How did you implement a remote work policy?
My co-founder Kerry takes all the credit for setting up our amazing guidelines, policies, compensation packages and benefits programs. She worked closely with a Seattle based HR expert who has helped guide us in all aspects of HR. Creating remote policy is not that different from traditional brick-and-mortar HR policy. We have had to set up things like 401k, medical, dental, PTO and so on.
We run a fairly relaxed environment and we have core hours from 10am Pacific time to 1pm. That ensures the team is guaranteed to all be online at the same time for a few hours every day.
Besides some basic guidelines and policies, we rely on being able to trust our team members will do a great job. “Trust” is a core value of ours – if you’re able to trust your teammate to do a great job and not have to constantly check in on how they’re doing, everything else almost takes care of itself.
Can a remote-friendly company have a healthy culture?
Absolutely. The key is having the right communication tools and connecting regularly. We use Slack for constant text based communication throughout the day. We find that text based communication really lets our team fully form their ideas and everyone has a say. You don’t end up with someone who is more dominant or with a louder voice dominating the conversation. It leads to a much more egalitarian culture.
We also have regular one-on-one Skype meetings or team meetings and we use voice only – no video which is distracting. That creates a great culture and we’ve had team members become good friends via personal messaging or chatting on Skype.
What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?
Spend a lot of time setting up your HR policies, procedures and guidelines. Work with someone experienced in the field. Get the best tools available for remote working like Slack and the SaaS providers and cloud services that are best in breed. That is the only way your team will interact besides chatting, so it’s important you get those right.
What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?
Finding people who are the best in the world at what they do can be challenging. So far we’ve managed to assemble an amazing team but it has taken work. The people we look for need to be great at what they do but they also need to be very good at written communication. When most of your communication is done via Slack and similar tools, you need to be able to express your ideas and feedback to team members effectively in writing.
What are the most effective tools for remote team communication?
Slack. Slack. Did I mention Slack? We use other tools like Skype for communication, but Slack is what we mostly gather around during the day and where we spend most of our time.
We’re all technical and use tools like Git along with GitHub and FogBugz to get things done. We also have a ticketing system and forum system we use. That allows us to pass work or issues among ourselves and communicate with our customers. So, while these apps aren’t strictly communication apps like Slack or Skype, using FogBugz or GitHub is an important part of our communication and our processes.
In Slack, we have our own bot which can do helpful things like post details of a bug in FogBugz if we post a bug ID that starts with ‘FB’. Or it can post the details of a customer ticket in Freshdesk if we post a ticket ID starting with ‘T’. It even draws an ASCII cow if we ask it nicely.
What is your personal remote work environment?
You really don’t want a photo of my desk right now. It’s covered in paperwork on the one side and a mass of USB cabling, backup drives and headsets on the other side. The spaghetti has turned into one giant spagh. However I’ll describe something that changed my life and I’m trying to get the rest of our team to try it out. I use a standing desk. It’s actually a standing desk that can drop to sitting position at the push of a button. I spend most of my time standing. When I sit I use an exercise ball most of the time, but I also have a chair that I occasionally use.
For meetings I always stand. I find that provides me with great energy when I’m talking to people. When I’m doing hard-core geeky stuff I’ll usually sit. I switch between positions if I’m feeling like my body is taking strain in one position.
The desk I use is a Jarvis sit-stand desk and I think it’s important to get a sit-stand desk so that you can shift positions.
How do you personally manage work-life balance?
To unplug I run and I mountain bike. I’ve found that exercise is absolutely critical, especially as a software engineer, exec and entrepreneur, to keeping your sanity. I used to spend a lot of time at the gym, but I find that getting outside into the mountains or putting a few miles behind me on the road is a great way to keep energized and create some separation. (Even in the rain – we live just outside of Seattle). I also have an Australian Cattle dog who is a great company-keeper. There’s nothing better than stepping away from your desk and wrestling with your dog for a few minutes. I highly recommend dogs for remote-workers.
I tend to start at 7am in the mornings and get my meetings done early. Then I’ll focus on work that requires quiet time like coding, operations or writing.
As a founder it’s difficult to unplug. Our team works regular office hours and they almost never work late. Once they’re done for the day they’re usually completely offline until the next day. We don’t work weekends – I think one Saturday I was online and three of our team showed up on slack and I was a little startled – I think they were startled to see each other. They have weekends and evenings off and that gives them a good work-life balance.
It’s really cool to run a company that is able to provide that kind of balance and quality of life for our team.
What is your favorite business book?
“Good to Great” by Jim Collins. He really has a handle on real-world business and why some companies are able to create real value for their customers and shareholders.
Do you have a favorite quote or bit of business wisdom?
“The journey is the destination.” (My dad wrote that on the inside cover of a book by management consultant Gary Hamel which he gifted to me back in the 90’s)
Where is the best or worst place you’ve worked remotely?
Worst was in the car at a rest stop off the I90 freeway. I had the laptop on the car roof to try and boost the cellphone signal while fixing a broken server.
The best has been a family home in Colorado where I’ve come up with every major successful product idea I’ve had, usually while there on vacation. I think it’s something about the 6000ft altitude. Perhaps oxygen deprivation has a positive effect on the mind.