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Remote Working: No Bad Hair Days at Wordfence

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous, Wordfence on February 23, 2017 by Mark Maunder   6 Replies

The core team at Wordfence is now 13 full-time employees, and with contractors we are a team of 29. We are still at that really fun size where you can have a full team meeting and everyone has a chance to have their say. Every day feels like a hacker conference where everyone knows everyone else, and we are here to help our customers be more secure.

I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about why our team is so amazing. Did we get lucky? Is it our hiring process? Are awesome people predisposed to work in information security? Perhaps it’s a bit of all of that. But one thing that has occurred to me relatively recently is that the way we work is unique, and it may be a contributing factor.

Our team is 100% remote, and all our interaction is either via collaborative applications or voice calls. We don’t do video calls. We either use voice calls on Slack or an application called TeamSpeak, which is the most reliable VOIP system we’ve found. TeamSpeak actually grew out of the gaming community.

Improving Signal-to-Noise with Voice Only

Being 100% remote and using voice-only communications has an interesting effect on an organization. It filters out a lot of noise. Communication becomes more about relating to others at a purely intellectual level. Whether you’re making a joke (I make very bad jokes), solving a problem or just sharing an idea, it’s not about who has the biggest presence in the meeting room or whether someone has a new hairstyle. You are interacting with your colleagues in a purely intellectual capacity, and that changes the dynamic quite radically.

Our team is incredibly effective, and I think this way of interacting is one of the reasons why. It really improves the signal-to-noise ratio. If you think about a brick and mortar organization and how many daily distractions you have: Commuting to work, finding parking, walking into the office, sitting down to work while other people wander into your office to chat, the endless in-person meetings that could have been a 1 minute conversation.

Working remotely with audio only strips away all that and makes you and your team incredibly effective.

For larger team meetings, we use TeamSpeak, and we all use push-to-talk or PTT. What is great about this is you can have a barking dog or noisy kids or a construction crew in the background, and the rest of the team can’t hear it.  When you want to speak, you hit your PTT button and the audio quality is amazing. If it gets bad for some reason, we can see packet-loss for each person connected and so we can figure out within seconds where the problem is. It usually results in someone moving closer to their WiFi hub.

For meetings with two or three people, we tend to use Slack voice calls. Those calls don’t require PTT and you can hear everyone all the time. That creates a closer feeling, kind of like a coffee shop. Now that Slack seems to have ironed out the bugs, Slack voice audio quality is usually awesome.

Occasionally I’ll have to speak with someone outside the company and do a video call. That usually means making sure I don’t have any dog toys lying around the home office, getting rid of the heavy metal t-shirt and putting on something gray and boring and making sure I don’t have crazy hair. I find it’s quite a recalibration when you’re used to just walking up to your desk and doing quick and easy voice calls with anyone in the team. Suddenly you have to worry about looking at them or looking at your camera. You can’t just stare out your office window as you focus deeply on the idea they’re conveying, because they might wonder if you are not paying attention.

Entering the Golden Age of Online Collaboration

In the past 10 years, user-friendly mainstream tools like Slack have emerged that make remote working incredibly easy and allow a company to have a remote working culture. Adjusting to this new reality will take time, even for companies that appear to be innovators and technology leaders, which is perhaps why so many tech companies still insist on brick-and-mortar offices.

Working remotely doesn’t come without challenges. There is the honey do list that your spouse or cohabitants may think you are permanently and constantly available to help with during your new job. A few conversations explaining that ‘remote’ doesn’t mean ‘pretend’ usually helps resolve that.

If you have a family, working from home can be life changing because you get to spend more time with your kids. Some of our team were in jobs before joining Wordfence where they worked long hours and would really only spend quality time with their kids on weekends. Being able to be home based has been transformative for them.

We have evolved the way we work and the tools we use over time. What we have today at Wordfence is an incredible remote working environment where we relate to each other at an intellectual level as remote workers and we trust each other and love working together. It is better than any workplace I could have ever imagined.

If you are a developer, security analyst, QA guru or customer service engineer, Wordfence is hiring. We would love to hear from you.

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6 Comments on "Remote Working: No Bad Hair Days at Wordfence"

Casey February 23, 2017 at 10:33 am • Reply

I would like to know what program(s) you are using for managing workflow and staff.

Mark Maunder February 23, 2017 at 10:59 am • Reply

We use many of the standard tools used by software engineering organizations. GitHub, Fogbugz, Slack with our own automation integrated. We have several tools built in-house that are designed to help with automating certain tasks. Google Docs is also fairly core. Then we have a wide range of other apps or services we use. But those are the core ones used by most of the team.

We also have several financial and HR applications we use. For reasons of confidentially I'm not going to post which those are.

DP February 23, 2017 at 10:41 am • Reply

Excellent! What a relief to hear this from a trusted source! While people are still stuck in the mode of putting a "face to the voice," in most cases that only appeases our personal comfort levels, inability to listen carefully, and distracts from the discussion. Client base broadens, trust factor based solely on performance increases, and distractions are fewer when visual contact is no longer a priority.

Interestingly, there is also no loss of relationship, but often enhancement.

Gerrit Visser February 23, 2017 at 4:25 pm • Reply

I think part of the reason for your success with remote working is that the people you have hired are good employees. In that I mean that they see that they contribute and thus hold themselves responsible and accountable for their actions and deliverables. I unfortunately never saw a team like that when working remotely. Instead for too many it was an opportunity to not drive to work and do other things while on a conference call. You could tell they weren't "really there" by asking them a question. You always had to repeat it with some of them :-) You clearly are attracting good individuals.
The newer conversation related tools also help, what I found difficult in the 90's to mid 2000's was the lack of a 'hallway conversation' Those are often the change conversations that provides the seed of a solution to some dilemma.

Good on your team that they work so well together, it is precious.

Dean February 23, 2017 at 4:43 pm • Reply

Like Workfence, we at Accelerant are made up of remote working employees. Our tool of choice is a browser-based software call Sococo.com. It's the coolest virtual office space ever! It has a virtual office space layout where everyone gets their own office and avatar. You collaborate through audio, video, chat and screen share in a super simple interface. The best thing about it is that you get a great feel for what is going on in the office. Who's in and available, who's chatting with who, who is having a group meeting. You can pop in on a co-workers office, close the door, knock on the door, invite others to join, invite people from outside the office to join without installing any software. Includes Slack integration and soon to have Skype integration. Definitely worth a look.

Mark Maunder February 23, 2017 at 5:12 pm • Reply

Thanks Dean. Interesting. I watched their video. Slack works well for us without having a physical office metaphor. The channels serve as rooms and I think trying to constantly relate some of the complex integrations and communication styles that develop with Slack to a physical office space would become tedious after a while.

Just my 2c.

Mark.

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