When Canadian serial entrepreneur Liam Martin met his eventual co-founder, Aussie Rob Rawson, at SXSW, he wasn't planning on jumping back into the startup world. He'd just sold a company and a mutual friend suggested he and Rob meet. Two weeks later, they were working on TimeDoctor.
The team productivity analytics app now helps businesses around the world limit distractions, improve productivity, and gain a competitive edge. We talked to Martin about why he and Rawson decided to build TimeDoctor as a fully distributed company.
What does TimeDoctor do and what do you do there?
We run what we call 'Time Analytics' for remote and in-house teams. We basically sell Google Analytics for your work day so you can figure out not just how long people work, but what they actually do throughout their work day.
How many people are at the company now and how distributed are you?
I believe we're at 82 people and we're in 26 different countries. We have satellite offices in a few countries, but we're primarily remote.
Why did you start working remotely?
Because working in person sucks, the mission statement of the company is to enable people to work whenever they want, wherever they want.
What is it about working in person that sucks?
The biggest reason why people quit a job is politics. There are a lot of longitudinal studies showing that working remotely makes workers happier, healthier, and more engaged in their work.
How do you keep everyone feeling connected?
Skype/Slack, yearly meetups that we have all over the world, a lot of project management and task management systems and video calls every single time we chat virtually.
What are the biggest challenges you face working remotely and how do you overcome them?
Asynchronous communication and lack of processes inside of the business are the two major issues I see with remote teams, making sure you have solid digital processes inside the business and that you have bridge hours in which you can communicate in person are critical, in my opinion.
What is the biggest benefit that working remotely has afforded your company?
Lower costs, higher productivity and the ability to scale much faster than if we were all located in a single location.
Do you think you lose anything by working remotely?
Yes, you lose the personal touch of learning about everyone's day. I think it's a loss I'm willing to take, however, to scale much faster.
Making sure you have solid digital processes inside the business and that you have bridge hours in which you can communicate in person are critical.
What do you think is the most important thing a distributed team can do to ensure successful collaboration?
Documentation of processes and abiding by those processes is, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do.
What are some of the benchmarks you use to make sure the team is in a good place, both mentally and operationally?
We use internal quarterly reports, we also have developed a tool that asks you what your main focus is for the week and whether you achieved it (we call it a rock task) and of course, Time Doctor.
Talk about the company culture you've built at TimeDoctor. What's it like? Is it harder to build cohesive culture across geography?
I actually think we've built a pretty solid culture, building a company where remote is the norm is pretty weird, but we actually hire specifically for that, so it's been pretty fun to see what kind of characters come out of that kind of recruitment process.
What are some unique things your team does to form bonds with each other?
We play DOTA every month, I personally don't play it anymore but a lot of the team still play every month and it's pretty weird.
What do you look for in an ideal remote employee? Are there any qualities that make someone more successful at working remotely?
Three things in order of importance: The ability to take action, reliability, and skill level (i.e., skill isn't important if you can't show up on time and take action remotely).
I think a lot of people... need to [work outside the home] to stay sane.
How do you make sure the people you hire have those traits? When you're communicating only remotely, what sort of things can you to do properly evaluate potential hires?
We have three major tests. Test one is a task that we find important. Lets use a "linker" as an example, we'd have them get us a link without us teaching them anything. Test two, we have them do that for a month and overload them with a lot of work and not enough time to do it in (i.e. we don't show them the shortcuts yet and see if they can innovate on their own) which takes about a month. Test three, we give them all the tools they need to go as fast as possible and see if they can innovate on top of that (about three months).
The whole process takes about four months from beginning to end and we call it the crucible, as we usually burn off the people who can't deal with the speed at which we go.
Describe your personal work environment.
I have a desk I sit at every day with a few monitors, I connect my MacBook Pro when I'm working from my desk, but I often travel, as well. I'll be in four countries over the next two months, as an example.
How do you manage work/life balance when working from your home?
I don't, I actually work outside the home and I think a lot of people also need to do that to stay sane. If that's not an option, creating a focused work space is really important.
How do you keep distractions to a minimum? How do you personally measure productivity?
I actually use Time Doctor for all of that, It's currently taken me 4 minutes and 22 seconds to answer these questions, 4 minutes was spent on Google Apps and 22 seconds on Skype. If I go to a distracting site like Facebook I'll immediately get a popup through Time Doctor asking if I'm still working on writing an email to Josh...
What are some of the tools you couldn't live without as a remote company?
What do you like to read? (blogs, books, etc.)
I just finished Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman which was great. Generally I push audiobooks and podcasts into my head while I'm exercising or traveling and it's about 50% business books, 50% philosophy.
What advice would you give to a company heading down the remote working path?
Hire slowly and build your processes before you scale with remote hiring. You need solid processes in place to scale operations and without them you'll fail.