The World Is Your Oys­ter

Half a dozen founders with re­mote work­forces share their se­crets for re­cruit­ing and run­ning a staff spread across ZIP codes and coun­tries.

Inc. (USA) - - STATE OF HIRING 2018 - By Kate Rock­wood

Years ago, Matt Mul­len­weg used to lis­ten to other founders fret about the tight tal­ent mar­ket in San Fran­cisco and feel an urge to climb to the near­est rooftop and shout about the so­lu­tion he was ex­per­i­ment­ing with: build­ing a team that’s 100 per­cent re­mote, in or­der to snatch up the best hires from any­where in the world.

To­day, Mul­len­weg’s com­pany, Au­tomat­tic, a ma­jor open-source con­trib­u­tor to Word­Press, has grown to 700 em­ploy­ees work­ing in 62 coun­tries—with zero square feet of HQ space. “It’s a bit­ter­sweet vic­tory,” the founder and CEO jokes. “I’m happy ev­ery­one knows about this re­cruit­ing se­cret, but it also means more of that global tal­ent is con­nect­ing to other com­pa­nies.”

Let’s jump right into the money stuff. What ex­penses are unique to dis­trib­uted teams? JOEL GASCOIGNE You’re pay­ing more for travel. One of our big­gest ex­penses is our an­nual re­treat and get­ting dozens of em­ploy­ees to Sydney, Thai­land, Ice­land, for a week. It costs up to $400,000. But that bal­ances out against what we’d be pay­ing for an of­fice, es­pe­cially in a big city. I think it still works out to be less ex­pen­sive.

MATT MUL­LEN­WEG Teams host in-per­son meet-ups once or twice a year from lo­ca­tions all around the world. We also have a $250 monthly co-work­ing stipend if peo­ple want to work from a co-work­ing space or a cof­fee shop—what­ever’s most pro­duc­tive.

How do you fig­ure out how much to pay, when one per­son lives in Tulsa and the next lives in Tu­lum?

JA­SON FRIED Ev­ery­one’s salaries used to be Chicago rates, be­cause we have more peo­ple in Chicago than any­where else. Then last year we switched to San Fran­cisco rates, be­cause we de­cided to match our salaries to the best in the busi­ness. We don’t have a sin­gle em­ployee who lives in San Fran­cisco, but we don’t want some­one ever to leave just be­cause they could get more money in a dif­fer­ent ZIP code.

JAKE GOLD­MAN We have a gen­eral range for each po­si­tion, but it’s in­ten­tion­ally broad, be­cause we don’t think we should have to pay some­one liv­ing in a re­ally re­mote po­si­tion the same amount as some­one liv­ing in Man­hat­tan. We may have to pay more for their travel to events or client on­sites. There are costs you might not think about, and that does in­flu­ence the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age for us.

Speak­ing of time zones—isn’t that a gi­ant has­sle?

GOLD­MAN If some­one’s more far-flung, we’ll talk to them about time shift­ing—at least for six months, while they’re get­ting ori­ented. But, in gen­eral, there’s the ex­pec­ta­tion that ev­ery­one’s avail­able, ac­ces­si­ble, and re­spon­sive dur­ing core busi­ness hours of roughly 9 to 5 your time zone.

FRIED We make sure there are at least three or four hours of over­lap with other peo­ple on your team. If you’re a brand-new de­signer and 12 hours apart from the rest of your team, that’s not go­ing to work. But most of our teams are in three or four time zones, so team mem­bers are six hours apart. What we don’t want is any­one work­ing the night shift, be­cause that doesn’t feel sus­tain­able.

How do you sniff out red flags that some­one will be mis­er­able work­ing re­motely?

JESSE MECHAM We did have one mis­fire. We hired some­one who thought she could do it, and it turned out she missed the en­ergy from an of­fice sit­u­a­tion. So we’ve learned you have to be re­ally up­front. If some­one hasn’t worked re­motely be­fore, ask if they de­rive en­ergy from peo­ple, and make sure they have a plan to get out and get that en­ergy. It’s pretty easy to solve, but they have to go into the role with eyes wide open.

GOLD­MAN We place im­mense value on the in­ter­views. If some­one’s con­nec­tion is choppy or there is a ton of back­ground noise or they’re just re­ally slow to re­spond to emails and mes­sages dur­ing the process, that’s a good sig­nal that they don’t know how to make re­mote work well. Also, dur­ing the in­ter­view, I’ll say some­thing to the ef­fect of, “Some peo­ple think re­mote means less work. Let’s dis­abuse our­selves of that no­tion right now. You will be judged by your out­put, and I don’t want to have a hard con­ver­sa­tion in three months.” BRAN­DON GRIGGS Writ­ten ques­tion­naires and face-to-face hang­outs are per­fect for val­i­dat­ing re­mote com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. Even if a can­di­date was my next- door neigh­bor, I’d still in­sist on both.

How do you get new hires in­te­grated into the team from a dis­tance?

FRIED In some ways, re­mote el­e­vates the work over cul­ture fit, be­cause the work speaks for it­self. You can’t charm your way past bad work. But there is a risk that peo­ple will not like one an­other be­cause they mis­read some in­ter­ac­tion or just had a bad in­ter­ac­tion and never had the chance to go to lunch and get

over it. Things can fester a bit—that’s a big­ger risk. So it’s im­por­tant to see one an­other as hu­mans. Those meet-ups mat­ter. An­other thing we do is some­thing called a 5x12. Ev­ery month, one per­son picks five peo­ple from dif­fer­ent de­part­ments—some new, some old— who get five min­utes of ad­vanced warn­ing, and are told to get on a Google Han­gout for an hour. There’s no agenda, ex­cept we can’t talk about work. We talk about our lives, our kids, what­ever. Peo­ple get this re­ally rich, fun ex­pe­ri­ence, and then it’s tran­scribed and shared with the whole team. That helps bridge the gap be­tween those in-per­son meet-ups.

Sounds like video chat is a no-brainer. GASCOIGNE We have a gen­eral com­mit­ment to do ev­ery­thing via video. With video, you just get a lot more from peo­ple’s fa­cial ex­pres­sions. You can tell in a mi­cro-sec­ond when some­one’s con­fused. We used Google Hang­outs for a long time, but now we use Zoom. MUL­LEN­WEG We like Zoom a lot. The other thing that’s a lifeblood for us is P2, this set of in­ter­nal blogs that we use in­stead of email. Slack and P2 are com­mon across all teams. Other than that, if one team wants to use Trello and an­other wants to build its own bug tracker, they can do what­ever they want. It just has to have an in­ter­face for the rest of the com­pany to ei­ther read it or sub­mit things to it.

What if I al­ready have a lo­cal of­fice but want to start re­cruit­ing for re­mote work­ers— any words of wis­dom?

GOLD­MAN I do think you have to pick whether you want the team co-lo­cated or re­mote. We started re­mote and then opened a phys­i­cal of­fice in Port­land for 10 per­cent of the team, and it was re­ally clunky. Tack­ing on a few co-lo­cated work­ers is as awk­ward as tack­ing on a few re­mote work­ers. If you want to op­ti­mize your team, you need to pick one. FRIED You don’t want to build a lo­cal cul­ture and a re­mote cul­ture. The ear­lier in the busi­ness cy­cle you go re­mote, the eas­ier it will be to just make it part of the way you work. But if you’re look­ing to tran­si­tion later, my ad­vice would be to spend six months al­low­ing lo­cal peo­ple to work from home. That will give you prac­tice on what it’s like to not all be to­gether—to fig­ure out the com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the tools, what­ever. So the next em­ployee you hire, who’s all alone in Omaha, doesn’t feel like a guinea pig. She’ll feel wel­come.

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