Secrets of Success for Working Remotely

Members of the DuckDuckGo Team

This is the third and final part of a series from Girl Develop It (GDI) and DuckDuckGo. Catch up by reading about The Women of DuckDuckGo and by getting An Inside Look at Informal Mentorship at DuckDuckGo.

Today we hear from Ashish Kundra, User Acquisition; Ali Greene, People Ops; and Mia Alexiou, Software Developer. We asked each team member the same three questions to learn even more about what makes working at DuckDuckGo so unique.

Aside from being remote, how does your day-to-day differ from your work at other tech companies?

This one is easy. The mission of the company — raising the standard of trust online — is so relevant right now in the era of Google and Facebook.

Online privacy comes up in person and online daily. Surprisingly, often (if not most of the time) the opening remark comes from someone *outside* the tech bubble, like a family member that works in another field, a clerk at a store or coffee shop waitstaff, etc.

It’s a constant reminder that I’m lucky to work alongside a brilliant, hard-working team, on a meaningful problem.

I love that no day is the same for me at work. The remote aspect has something to do with it because I can seek out surroundings that make me feel focused or inspired, depending on the task at hand.

I also think because we have been growing in an intentional way that there are often times when I am doing something new for the first time, and no one else in the company has done it before either. Being able to start from scratch, learn by doing, and decide what works best for us, instead of what has worked well in other places, is really rewarding.

A big difference is the level of autonomy that we have at DuckDuckGo. It’s really easy in this environment to decide, “Okay, there’s this problem, it’s quite important, I will investigate it.” And to just go off and do that.

Whereas, I think in other companies, I would have needed to perhaps flag the issue and take it up with someone else, a different group or someone responsible for a certain task. Here, if something’s an emergency, or important, I feel very empowered to just say, “I’m going to fix that. I’m going to push that. I’m going to make an app release.” There are far fewer layers, it is a small team, and we all have autonomy and responsibility, so we can get things done sometimes very quickly. I think that’s really fun, really cool.

How do you measure success and how do you celebrate wins?

In our work on user acquisition, our success is determined by our ability to design and execute thoughtful, impactful experiments.

For instance, suppose we believe that a particular business partnership would help us reach a new, large group of users. How do we efficiently validate (or invalidate) that hypothesis using some combination of surveys, market research, or live product experiments?

Ultimately our success will be measured in numbers (e.g. increasing our search traffic), but on the path to that success, the wins are more subtle: a well-articulated model, an experiment that’s simple enough to execute but answers critical questions, a conversation that yields information that saves months of work, etc.

The best form of celebration is seeing results from your work. It could be as simple as an ad campaign going live or getting the answer to a question you’ve been working towards for weeks.

As a company, we have focused objectives that we work toward and track our success toward hitting milestones on a rolling 10-week basis. Some of our standard work processes also help us measure success and create space for a “thank you” culture. You see this in project and objective assessments where we not only discuss areas for feedback but create space for identifying and informally celebrating what went well, too. Also, we have a “Green Bow Tie” award that is a mechanism for peer recognition during our All Hands meetings.

We celebrate small wins regularly. If something gets released, or a new feature looks nice, we just have this stream of encouragement over chat. This creates a constant feeling of excitement and enthusiasm, “Oh, that looks amazing!”

Celebrating bigger wins may be easier in an office environment; in a non-remote workplace, you might go out for a drink and celebrate a big event. But because we don’t have that, I think there is a missing piece for us because as a whole, we have a lot of big successes, and we just kind of wrap up the project, and move on to the next project. There is also an asynchronous aspect to it, where a success may not register for someone for another 12 hours because of their time zone. You can miss each other and it takes more effort in that regard.

I think especially because we’re remote, we probably do put more effort into doing those small gestures than we might in a non-remote environment, we are good at giving each other credit along the way.

What advice do you have for being a great team member in a remote environment?

Communication is key for a remote company — you don’t have the benefit of passive conversations around the office or at social events, so it’s important to be thorough and empathetic in your communication.

Making an effort to understand your coworker’s personal situation is crucial, too. Did they recently have a child or get engaged? What do they like to do outside of work? What motivates them and makes them tick? Deeply understanding a person, and what they find important in their life makes it far easier to be supportive as a coworker and friend.

For me, it comes down to three things: intentionality, effective communication, and transparency. In a remote environment there is less of a chance to bump into people to connect or share information so you need to be intentional about making sure stakeholders are well informed and there is a process in place for being inclusive and sharing information. The intentional mindset also impacts communication. Having awareness of your communication style and communication preferences of your teammates will help you to effectively work together despite different time zones and locations. Finally, being transparent not only on what you are working on, but the challenges you are facing will help you and your team be successful.

Managing expectations around time is important, like when one’s available or not available, or when things will get done. In a remote environment people can’t see you, so they can’t see when you’re busy and when you’re not busy. It can be really hard to know when a follow up to a question or an action will be taken. I like to set Asana tasks for myself, and I put a due date on them to communicate this.

I also think it is important to take moments away from work to ask fun questions. Like, “What did you do on the weekend?” This way people can have that interpersonal relationship, something they might miss out on when they’re in a remote environment. In an office, that just happens naturally. You’re at the water cooler, or you’re making coffee, and you have a chat. That doesn’t happen naturally in your remote environment, so it’s really important to try and strike up those random conversations.

Interested in a Career in Tech?

GDI is the national nonprofit organization creating welcoming, supportive opportunities for women and non-binary adults to learn software development skills. Find one of the 60+ GDI chapters near you and sign up to take a class and start your journey into tech. Visit our website and follow us to learn more about our accessible, hands-on classes across the US.

DuckDuckGo is the internet privacy company that empowers you to seamlessly take control of your personal information online, without any tradeoffs. DuckDuckGo is currently hiring for a Senior Frontend Engineer, Backend Roles, People Ops, and more. Visit DuckDuckGo’s website for the latest job listings.

Through classes, projects, and events, GDI students develop code, confidence, and community. https://www.girldevelopit.com/

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