Online portfolio site Format hired their latest employee when she was in the midst of a yearlong, round-the-world trip. Here’s why management thought that was an outstanding idea.
There are casual remote workers — people who set up a small home office space and telecommute occasionally, and then there are extreme remote workers — those who travel the world with a laptop and Skype headset in hand. The latter category is definitely experiencing a boom, and the most epic example we’ve seen so far is Remote Year, a new initiative that unites 75 “digital nomads” to spend 12 months in 12 different cities, traveling together around the world (literally), while continuing in their respective jobs.
When Jaime Bishara first heard about Remote Year, she applied on a whim. “I was looking for a new opportunity, and really wanted to travel,” says Bishara, who was working as a marketing coordinator at a newspaper in Toronto. She realized that the program wouldn’t be a great fit with the deadline-driven atmosphere of her current job, so when she was accepted, she decided to leave her position and give freelancing a go while also applying for full-time gigs at companies that allowed for remote work. While on the road in Europe, she managed to quickly land a full-time position with Format, a Toronto-based company that helps creative professionals build portfolio websites. In addition to 35 employees at its main office, Format has seven who work remotely, some as far afield as Germany, Poland and New Zealand.
For Format, the idea that Bishara would be working out of a different city each month was actually an attraction. “We wholeheartedly embrace remote working as an option for several reasons,” says Lukas Dryja, CEO and co-founder of Format. First is that the company has users in more than 190 countries and offers 24/7 customer support. “In order to do so, we hire team members across different time zones so that our support coverage is continuous.”
Dryja also notes that they would always prefer to choose the best talent, even if that person is on the other side of the world, as long as he or she is someone they trust will do a good job. Toronto-based employees take advantage of work-from-home opportunities, and even in-office employees are allowed to take time off for doctors’ appointments and other needs without clocking in and out. “Our work from home policy, vacation policy, and even ‘bring your dog to work’ policy, are all centered around the explicit trust that we instill in our team,” says Dryja. “We treat each other as adults, not policing the time that someone spends in the office or micromanaging their work.” Everyone stays in touch via Slack for daily communication, Asana for task management, GitHub for reviewing code and Google Hangouts for meetings.
When Bishara applied for a customer support role, “It happened they were looking for someone in the European time zone, and I was in Croatia,” she says. After interviewing via Skype and Google Hangouts, she joined the team 10 months ago. For the first few weeks she worked on eastern time so that she could be available to train alongside her manager using Google Hangouts. After that, she switched to a local schedule.
“For the customer success team at Format to be effective at handling our geographically diverse user base, we’re required to have teammates across the globe,” says Stefan Pintaric, who manages the team. “Having someone on the move was actually an advantage,” because there are users around the globe, and every few months, Bishara could fill in holes in a different location.
As she jetsetted from Croatia to Istanbul, before moving on to Asia and then South America, Bishara worked 40 hours a week with clients in the time zone where she was based at each point, still leaving her ample free time to explore the various locales.
By the time the 12 months were up, she was more than ready for a straightforward office job and opted to continue in her position while working out of Format’s main office in Toronto. “I hadn’t met anyone here yet, so it made sense to spend time with the people that I talked to,” says Bishara. She has been back for a few months now and does work from home at times. At Format, the guiding philosophy is that if you hire the best employees and make sure their jobs fit with their lives, they’ll want to stay on board. “We truly value our team members’ lives outside of work, and that is why we strongly believe in offering flexible work policies,” says Dryja. “It is the trust that stems from having such flexible work policies that contributes to engagement and retention.”