Transitioning into remote can work very well if you know how to approach the shift. Formstack, offering online form solutions for managing information, was founded in Indiana in 2006 but quickly evolved into a global company.
Being partly distributed they regularly attract attention as an excellent employer and demonstrate that focus on talent and putting people first pays off. We reached out to Formstack to find out what ‘remote’ means to them and what their CEO Chris Byers thinks about the remote work revolution.
Where across the globe are Formstack’s remote employees based?
Roughly 50% of Formstack’s current workforce is remote, working from regions across the United States, as well as Canada, Poland, and the Netherlands.
Since deciding to go fully remote as a company, was there anything you would do differently if you had a chance?
Our process of going remote was extremely organic. It took place over a span of three years, so we were able to iterate and adjust throughout the process. I can’t think of anything I would have done differently along the way.
In 2013, Formstack was named The best place to work in Indiana awards. What makes a distributed company great to work for?
Despite our distribution, Formstack has been named one of the Best Places to Work in Indiana for four years in a row (2013–2016). This is because team growth and wellness are some of our top priorities, and we have a dedicated Talent Team that maintains a strong Culture Code and creates opportunities for both remote and local employees to build lasting relationships.
Working for a company with a remote structure in place is great because it gives employees the opportunity to travel more without taking PTO, which is especially helpful during the holiday season or in personal emergencies. It also offers more flexibility than a traditional work environment, which promotes greater work-life balance.
Camaraderie is harder to achieve in a remote team. How do you combat the challenges associated with that?
We are committed to keeping employee happiness at the core of Formstack’s brand, despite where employees may live. One way we do this is by giving all employees a monetary allowance—which they can use on things like electronics, office supplies, and coworking expenses—to help improve their remote work experience.
We also employ a full-time Employee Success Specialist who focuses on employees’ first 90 days at Formstack and setting them up for long-term success. This team member plans regular check-ins with new Formstackers, works with managers to develop success plans for new hires, and organizes the “Formstack Buddy” program to pair old and new employees.
Additionally, our Talent Team plans monthly and quarterly “Formstack Fun” events that engage both Indianapolis and remote team members. Past events have included a company lip sync competition, remote and Indy lunches, Halloween trivia, and Secret Santa. Company-wide service initiatives are also maintained for all employees. Formstack regularly participates in toy and food drives during the holidays, and remote employees can mail in their contributions.
What is the idea behind your ‘Chalice Points’ system?
The Chalice Point Reward System is a way for Formstack employees to dole out some love to other helpful ‘stackers. These points are mostly given as a way to recognize employees for exemplifying our Culture Values. For example, if someone helps a colleague on a key part of a project, that person might receive Chalice Points for upholding the “Help Others Succeed” value.
For fun, employees can also give Chalice Points for reasons unrelated to Culture Values (e.g., to celebrate someone’s new hairdo or thank someone for bringing donuts into the office). However, those points don’t count toward a winning total. A monthly winner (the person who received the most true Chalice Points throughout the month) is announced at our monthly all-company meetings.
Chalice Points are given through an online system that allows employees to state why they are giving someone the points and which Culture Value was demonstrated. The site also shows leaderboards for the week, month, and all time.
Company retreats, that you call all hands retreats, seem to be a solid part of your culture. What are your favourite team building activities to do at your all hands retreats?
We typically hold group brainstorming sessions around the company’s vision and goals since it’s not often that we are all under one roof. We also like to participate in some fun activities, like go-kart racing, obstacle courses, and scavenger hunts—which give us opportunities to get to know each other better outside the work setting. A good work:fun ratio for us has been 40:60.
Can you share your personal tips for motivating remote workforce?
I think the best way to motivate a remote workforce is through open communication. Remote employees and leaders cannot be successful if they aren’t intentional about communicating. Leaders need to make sure employees feel empowered and trusted to complete projects regardless of location and to speak up if they need help or feedback. This is best achieved through transparent communication across the company, where employees understand the company’s status and their own role in its overall success.
Jell, that you guys created, seems to be a great hit among distributed companies. Is there anything you still miss in terms of communication tools for remote teams?
We know that communication is key to maintaining a successful remote culture, so we take full advantage of several tools to keep the communication flowing efficiently among our distributed workforce. We use Jell to track company and team goals, as well as daily statuses. We use Zoom (a video conferencing tool) for face-to-face video meetings. And we use HipChat or Slack (instant messaging tools) for quick communication throughout the day. We also use tools like Confluence and Trello to plan and track projects.
What was the idea behind Where is my CEO and where is this project headed?
Where Is My CEO was created to help build culture on our growing remote team. In those early days we were all learning how to communicate and work in a new and different manner, and the blog helped us share those thoughts. Over time, the goal of the site has become to provide remote working insights from our own experiences and hopefully help other companies build successful remote teams.
What do you need in your physical work space to be productive?
All I need is a laptop and coffee.
Can you share your views on the current remote work movement?
Given the ever-increasing digital nature of our daily lives, remote working has become a real possibility for people across the globe, and I think more and more businesses will embrace it in the coming years. Why? Because maintaining a healthy balance of work and personal life is important, and remote work arrangements offer the kind of flexibility that’s often needed to achieve that balance. Also, allowing employees to determine where, when, and how they work best is empowering. Not everyone thrives in an office environment, so giving employees the option to work in their own optimal space can lead to higher employee happiness and productivity—and, in turn, increased success for the company as a whole.
What are the trends in the future of work that we’re about to see in near future?
Hopefully we’ll see better video, camera, and audio technology to assist with remote communication. Audio on video conference, cameras, and the ability to present a slide deck while still easily seeing people on the other side of the screen are all still a few steps away from a much stronger ability to communicate seamlessly via video.