4 Tips for Remote Companies to Engage Employees
During my time so far at Very, I’ve noticed several things that the company gets “right” about remote work, helping employees to stay engaged and add a lot of value to the company while still maintaining work-life balance.
1. Identify the Right People
Working remotely is not an ideal fit for every person or every position, so it’s important for companies to keep this in mind when hiring for remote jobs or looking at becoming a remote-first company.
As a full-service IoT application development agency, Very was able to go completely remote because so much of our work is done in the digital sphere, and there are a lot of great tools out there to make it possible — from Slack for communication to hardware simulation software for development purposes. Additionally, because so much of our work is focused on tangible outputs, we have high accountability on our teams.
When it comes to hiring, Very is diligent during the interview process to identify people who can be successful working remotely. The company looks for self-starters with proven track records of going above and beyond in their studies, in their projects, and for their customers. Additionally, they have to line up with Very’s core values of fairness, autonomy, and work-life balance.
2. Let People Care About Something Besides Work
I’m pretty confident that everyone who works at Very is superhuman. Marketing didn’t tell me to say that, by the way — it’s just plain honesty.
In addition to giving 110% at their jobs, so many of the people I’ve met during my time here have seriously awesome side hustles going on. From owning an award-winning hot sauce business to blogging about nomadic life in a camper, to working to improve gender equality in tech, Very employees fill their time outside work with unique and inspiring passions.
I’m also convinced that it’s not just good luck that this company is full of amazing, crazy-motivated people. Both the remote lifestyle and the culture at Very encourage people to care about something outside the 9-to-5 — whether that’s your family, your business, or your side project.
Side hustles don’t just make you happy or make you money — they make you a more well-rounded person and a better employee. For example, we occasionally work with companies in the restaurant and hospitality industries, and I’m better able to understand the challenges they face because of my own experience side-hustling in the space.
3. Be People-Forward
One of the first things I noticed when I started at Very is that this is a people-forward company. By “people-forward,” I mean that there’s a real drive to make decisions that put people first over rigid processes and bureaucracy. In my view, this is essential in any company, but especially for fully distributed remote teams, where it might be easier to feel isolated. A few ways the company has codified people-first values into its policies include:
- Practicing Agile development. Our delivery team strictly adheres to an Agile approach when developing software because it puts people before process, requiring business stakeholders and the product team to work together constantly to align the product with customer needs and company goals. Our developers and product managers are constantly checking in with each other, getting feedback from clients, and testing products on real users to make sure they’re delivering the most valuable solution in the shortest amount of time.
- Using pair programming. As the name suggests, pair programming is a software development practice in which two programmers collaborate on a single workstation at the same time (through remote screen-sharing in our case). Pair programming has a variety of benefits, including saved development time, higher-quality code, and better training and onboarding.
- Instituting holacracy. Holacracy provides a concrete framework for encoding autonomy, agility, and purpose-alignment into our organization. It’s basically a rulebook that everyone follows, from the most junior person to the CEO. Very uses it to define clear roles and processes and create accountability, whether you’re working from a coffee shop or an airplane.
- Adopting an open-salary model. Does a company really believe in transparency if it keeps salaries a secret? Very has an open-salary model that allows the company to recruit the best employees and helps reduce the gender pay gap.
- Launching a remote commission. We have a designated team at Very called the Remote Commission that meets regularly to address any reported remote working tensions and brainstorm ideas to keep people engaged — like fitness challenges, virtual trivia nights, and even digital pumpkin-carving contests.
- Hosting annual retreats. Working remotely is awesome, but few experiences can truly replace the value of face-to-face meetups. That’s why, at least once a year, Very hosts an all-employee retreat where the main purpose is getting to know each other and having fun so that we’ll work better together in the future.
4. Encourage Transparency
From my first day, I noticed how Very encourages honesty and transparency both internally and with clients. One of my favorite examples of this is embodied in a Slack channel that we have called #doggies. That shouldn’t be entirely surprising now that you’ve learned my dog is one of the reasons I most love working from home.
My dog is my best friend, and he’s a huge part of my life — and I think the same can be said for a lot of people with pets. It might not sound very important in a business context, but in a remote company, you don’t get as many opportunities to chat around the water cooler to help you build relationships with people. You have to create those moments through other means, and sharing pictures of your dog is just one fun, lighthearted way to get a window into someone’s life outside work and learn more about your coworkers.
Outside of the doggies channel, I’ve also noticed that people at Very are quick to be open, honest, and vulnerable, even in a public forum, which encourages me to be as well. It doesn’t feel like people are hiding their true feelings or actions because there’s really no incentive to do so when we are all on the same team.
That transparency, as with most aspects of company culture, funnels from the top down. Our leadership hosts a monthly “fireside” chat to share big company updates, and we have a forum where we candidly discuss things like changes to health insurance and PTO policy.
We also carry that norm of transparency through to our client interactions and relationships, which blew me away from my first client meeting. Every client engagement is a highly collaborative partnership. We hold frequent, consistent meetings throughout a project and speak honestly about what’s going on each step of the way. We use video conferencing to have face-to-face interactions with each other and with our clients. Because we have a tightly defined communication cadence with our clients, our customers feel just as involved in the development process as they would if we were on-site.
Making it Possible
If you’re an employer looking to expand into the remote work space, there are a lot of things you’ll need to consider, but these tips should provide you with a solid starting point for creating an engaging, fruitful remote culture.
If you’re an employee looking for your next remote gig, look for a company that knows how to take care of its remote workers and values the same things that are important to you.
On that note, Very is hiring! Check out out open positions here.