Today, I woke up and talked to my co-founder, Richard Castle, who happens to be working remote out of North Shore, Oahu, attended a virtual stand-up meeting with our VP of sales in Florida, spoke to our developers in the Ukraine, and had a lunch and learn with our new hires in Dublin.
Last week, we had our entire team on a virtual fireside chat, then broke up the group into five teams to work on a team-building exercise with the click of a button. There is nothing in this world that fires you up more as a startup Founder then seeing 140 smiling faces staring eagerly through their cameras at you from 23 different countries.
That is right, our startup, Cloudbeds, currently has 140 people in 23 countries. While we do have three offices, 80% of our team works remotely, whether from their home, a shared office space or a coffee shop. We would like to think we are at the cutting edge of this trend, but, today we are seeing more and more companies ditch traditional offices and allow employees to work from wherever, whenever.
In fact, Automattic, the company that owns WordPress.com, made news that they recently closed their San Francisco based 15,000 square foot office. My read from the outside is it was a waste of money and did nothing to promote their culture.
Why We Work Remote
Our reasoning behind building a company with a remote and distributed workforce was simple. To compete on the global stage and against companies who are much bigger we knew we would need to win with grit, intelligence, and agility. To ensure that came true we set out to hire the best people we could – wherever in the world they were.
From this, we’ve built a people-centric culture – one that was based on personal connections, even though many of our team members have never met one another face-to-face. We use a strategy that combines constant communication and clear transparent goals, and the results have created something truly special. Not only are our remote team members equally or more happy than the rest of our teams, in all of our surveys they report more alignment with their peers and managers, and also better clarity in their responsibilities. TinyPulse, a communication tool for culture and people ops, also reported similar findings in the following U.S. survey.
As our workforce grew and became more distributed, we’ve had to make deliberate decisions on how to hire the right people and direct culture. Here are a few of the principles which we use to manage our distributed workforce.
People Are the Number One Priority
When Cloudbeds looks for new talent, we’re focused on finding people with the right skillset, regardless of where they’re located. Of course, we try to find people who have a particular set of skills within timezones that work well for the team. We approach this by creating what we call “centers of excellence.” Currently, we have these centers in the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia.
Creating the right culture starts with finding the right people from day one. Every candidate goes through a video screening process irrespective of where they are. We use a tool called SparkHire to streamline this as much as possible. The goal is a comprehensive virtual screening session giving us a front seat to how the candidate behaves on camera on the fly through a series of job and psychological related interview questions.
Once we’ve found the right people, they tend to stick around too. Currently, our attrition rate is less than 5%. While our people love working for Cloudbeds because of the many perks, like unlimited paid time off, flexible work schedules, and work remote privileges, we’ve had to put more time and effort into making this a great virtual workplace over the years.
When things get hectic and crazy, it’s easy to forget that your team members are experiencing many of the same feelings. So, we’ve found tools that help us stay in tune with how our people are feeling and open the lines of communication to make changes.
As leaders, Rich and I have always valued transparency. Last year we added a cool tool called Officevibe which has a bot built for Slack that regularly nudges people to take surveys. Officevibe offers us insight into employee satisfaction, employer promote score, gain direct feedback/suggestions from staff, and overall general well-being of the team anonymously. We’re happy to report that our employee satisfaction score is 97% and our employee net promoter score (eNPS) is above 72!
From this feedback, we implemented a new form of all-hands on meetings via video conferencing to increase transparency and build relationships with our entire team, no matter where they live. And to go even further we now also hold open “office hours” which allow anyone to scheduled 1-1 meetings with us to talk about whatever is on their mind.
Using Innovative Tools to Better Connect Our People
Technology drives connectivity, and as a tech software company, we’re happy to use as many tools as it takes to make people feel more connected. We believe that it’s possible to create a virtual office environment that allows people to build real relationships and connections, even if they’ve never met face-to-face.
Cloudbeds connectivity is driven by tools like Slack, Zoom, Trello, Aha!, and countless others. We’ve found unique ways to build relationships and community through these apps. For example, in an office setting, employees will regularly grab a coffee or lunch together. Physical coffee dates may not be feasible, but we use a Slack bot called Donut that randomly matches colleagues from different offices. The new matches then schedule a video conference to talk about anything, as long as it’s not work-related. But we don’t stop there. Another bot reminds you to tune off for 5 minutes each day by a quick recharge session from a curated meditation series.
We also use our messaging system to create channels like ‘Shoutouts’ which allow our people to call out their co-workers for their hard work and bots that give virtual gong ringing when a new sale comes in. As a travel company, we value globetrotting and have a channel dedicated to sharing vacation pictures. We’ve found that it’s the little things that matter much more than the expensive office environments of other startups. These brief moments allow us to build relationships and learn each other’s personalities outside of work.
Establish a Strong System of Accountability
Working remotely doesn’t mean letting go. We hold individuals accountable for their performance and measure success by tangible outcomes, not by the amount of time they sit in an office chair. We give our people the option to work from wherever they want, and when they choose a place, they’re free to keep moving. The only requirement is a strong wifi signal and a hard-working attitude. We have openly discussed an internal home swap program, so team members have opportunities to explore new places. Cloudbeds has several people who have migrated from one office to another or somewhere completely remote.
A 2014 study showed that one travel company’s productivity increased by 13% by allowing people to work from home. 9% was attributed to working more minutes due to fewer breaks and sick days. The other 4% was attributed to more calls per minute because it was quieter and more convenient. While we haven’t put in place an accurate test to compare the productiveness of our team members in and out of the office, we know how to keep our people happy.
A good culture stems from focusing on the team rather than on the process itself, as we learned in Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet. We focus on bottom-up accountability and allow our people to get their work done how they can. But, this only works if our people are trained properly and become experts of their position.
Cloudbeds uses 360-degree assessments and active goal tracking to keep every person accountable and aware of their performance. Every quarter, they review themselves and members of their team where they’re able to offer praise and constructive criticism.
The Future for Cloudbeds
As we move forward, we’ve made it a goal to create more systems and processes for a new hire to succeed. I make it a personal goal to meet every new person and hold our leadership team accountable for developing personal connections with remote team members. We’ve also made key new hires in HR and learning and development to ensure sure we continue to scale the company and culture together.