When Dave Nevogt and Jared Brown started employee time tracking app Hubstaff in 2012, they were utilizing freelance talent spread all over the world. As the company grew, it was only natural to hire and manage their team in the same fully distributed way.
The Hubstaff platform has grown in the years since to include payroll, timesheets, and scheduling features, as well as the freelance talent marketplace, Hubstaff Talent. Hubstaff, which is now used by over 8,000 teams worldwide, describes its platform as a way to help "businesses with distributed teams operate more smoothly."
Here is cofounder Dave Nevogt on how Hubstaff is eating its own dogfood and building its remote team.
What does Hubstaff do and what do you do there?
We help companies scale their use of freelancers. We do this via time tracking software, a freelance marketplace and project management software. I set the vision, strategy, run marketing and support.
How many people are at the company now and how spread out are you?
33 people and we are all over the world. I think ~10 in the US, ~10 in Europe and ~10 in Asia.
Why did you decide to build Hubstaff as a fully remote company?
I've been running companies since 2003 and I've only run one in that time that hasn't been remote (and they were the 2 most unhappy years of my life). So it was a happiness thing for me and feels more natural. My personality needs it.
How do you keep everyone feeling connected?
Slack does this for the most part. We also have a culture development team and try to do things to show we care. We talk about regular things on Slack and are planning our first retreat.
Given the nature of your business, you obviously work with both full-time employees and remote freelancers. That's an increasingly more common occurrence for startups. How do you keep freelancers looped into the company values and vision? Do you think it's easier when the entire full-time team also works remotely than if you were all in an office together somewhere?
This is something I have been working on. First you've got to actually develop the vision, and most of the time that happens after you've hired a lot of people (as in our case). But I do think think it's important that everyone understands what we are building and why. So we'v been trying to work on everyone contributing ideas to the product development team, everyone writing blog posts and everyone working on customer support - if you know your customers and target audience then you'll have a lot better idea of what the vision really means.
The main advantages are that you can find better people for less money because of sheer quantity.
What are the biggest challenges you face working remotely and how do you overcome them?
Priorities are the biggest challenge with remote work. It's a little easier for problems to continue and never be resolved because you don't have that opportunity to really get together in the same room and work on a problem until it's solved. So there needs to be a good manager in place to really work on priorities and look at bottlenecks from a high level and work on widening those.
What is the biggest benefit that working remotely has afforded HubStaff?
Talent and cost. The main advantages are that you can find better people for less money because of sheer quantity. There may not be a great, available graphic designer in Indianapolis for $45,000 annually. But maybe in Bulgaria there is a world class talent, or maybe they exist in rural Kansas where they need to live because they are taking care of their mother at home.
You also get cost savings based on lower overhead and team members not having to commute.
Do you think you lose anything by working remotely?
You lose the feeling of tight friendships in the workplace, I think, which can lead to people not feeling as committed to the mission of the company.
What do you think is the most important thing a distributed team can do to ensure successful collaboration?
One thing is staying small. In our experience the CEO, for example, cannot be connected effectively to 30 people remotely. So we've made the decision to keep the team smaller and keep the vertical management structure so we can continue to collaborate with each person and know them individually.
What are some of the benchmarks you use to make sure the team is in a good place, both mentally and operationally?
I check in with people personally and ask if they are happy and if there are changes that need to be made. For operations, we have a whole document that we update on a monthly basis that tells us where the business is. We are also a transparent company, so all the financials can be found here.
It's hard to really get to know someone closely from thousands of miles away despite working together for over 8 hours a day.
In talking to dozens of remote teams, a commitment to transparency is a theme that has come up time and time again. But as you said, Hubstaff goes a step further by sharing a lot of its core metrics not just internally, but publicly. Why did you decide to do that?
We decided to do this a long time ago and it was something we considered closely but in the end we felt that the positives outweighed the negatives. The main reason for doing this was that it felt like being transparent would help give our company an identity and it's worked really well. It helps us tell our story better.
Describe Hubstaff's company culture. Is it harder to build cohesive culture across geography?
It is harder to build a culture I think. It's hard to really get to know someone closely from thousands of miles away despite working together for over 8 hours a day. All of that being said I do think that our culture is good, and it's driven by using data vs. opinions and planning products and marketing before we start building. These are really the phases where our team works well together because it's not about one person making a decision, it's more about dealing with facts and working through those and moving forward.
What are some of the unique things you do to keep employees motivated, connected, or on the same page?
I don't really allow email for communication because it's a one on one environment and things get lost. So we really require that communication takes place in our project management tool (just released into beta). This way everyone can see what everyone else is doing, and it contributes to transparency as you mentioned earlier.
What do you look for in an ideal remote employee? Are there any qualities that make someone more successful at working remotely?
This is one of the most important things that I do, I believe. I am the one who finds most of our team members and something that I take pride in doing. When looking for a remote employee I look for honesty, accountability and experience as the top 3 things. 2 of the 3 are personality based. I am really looking for someone thats going to be a good fit for our team and THEN that they have the skills.
Describe your personal work environment.
Posture has become important to me because I spend so much time in front of the computer. So I have a monitor at eye level. Most of the time I am sitting in an office chair with the monitor into a built-in cabinet. Jared and I joke that we are "hunkering down in our caves," but really we don't want to change this way of working. We don't see the advantages or going to the coffee shop a whole lot, or going to a lot of events. Just being heads down and cranking things out works well for us. We are usually listening to music and just getting stuff done with our teams.
On an individual level, do you manage work/life balance when working from your home?
It's gotten a little harder now that I have kids because there are school pick up times, more noise, etc... I try to spend a lot of time with my kids and for the most part they leave me alone when I am working. Working from home was never a problem for me at all in terms of focus, but there is more and more going on and I am finding smaller chunks of time to truly focus. I try to get up early in the morning when things are very quiet and I am morning person by nature. I usually don't work at night other than trying to clear some emails.
How do you keep distractions to a minimum? How do you personally measure efficiency?
Keeping distractions to a minimum usually involves locking the door and cranking up the music (usually jazz if trying to focus). Personal productivity = if my team is filled with work and I am knocking priority items off my to do list (which is all tracked via our PM tool).
What are some of the tools you couldn't live without as a remote company?
What do you like to read?
I used to read a ton. Now it's mostly golf books, though, because I feel that we know what we need to do in order to grow, so I try to focus on other areas.
What advice would you give to a company heading down the remote working path?
I'd say start small – start with 1-2 days a week and see how it works. Or start with a few employees and see what happens. If you don’t find negatives with that setup then expand it.