This month we will tackle one of our most requested topics: how we operate as a distributed team (each working from home in Arizona, Colorado, Dominican Republic, New York, Oregon and Washington). We are continuously adapting based on the challenges we have faced, but we have learned a tremendous amount over the past year and a half and would like to share some of our learnings with you. This Founder's Note will focus on the three team values that have made working remote work for us: Trust, Communication, and Autonomy.

Trust. The common misconception is that if people don’t come to the office they might not get any work done and no one will know. At the heart of this loaded misconception is a lack of trust leading to a fear-based management style rather than one mutual intent. Whether you work from home or the office, if you don't trust your team's intentions to push the company forward, there is already friction slowing down your team. Remote work requires one extra level of trust: not only do you need to trust that someone has the best intentions, but also that they have the ability to self-manage themselves. It’s not a skill that everyone has naturally but definitely one that can be honed. If you hire someone who knows how to self manage, chances are the are better at prioritizing their work, planning their days weeks and months, and thinking long term about their role and the company. But it all starts with trust.

Communication. Day to day communication is key. When we had an office, we were notoriously bad communicators. If someone missed a meeting or didn’t happen to be in the kitchen when someone had a brilliant idea they would be lost when the conversation or idea resurfaced. When we decided to go remote, we were extra attentive to how we communicate with the goal to over communicate everything. One of the great advantages of being a remote team is nearly all communication is documented. We use Slack for all day to day conversation and if someone is offline (as I had been for two weeks last month for my wedding :-), they can spend some time catching up on the past Slack conversations and relatively quickly get back up to speed and able to hop back in to work. When we need to ask someone for something specific, we often skip Slack all together and send a to-do task through Flow, directly assigning the person a due date and any relevant notes. Flow is a great task management tool in that it keeps people accountable and prevents things that need to get done from getting lost in a conversation.

Aside from daily conversations, we have a few practices for ongoing communication that help keep everyone on the same page.
  • Weekly Team Check In. Every Monday afternoon (though for some of our team it's still morning!), we all hop on a group video chat. (We have used Appear, Google Hangouts, and Skype - at the moment, Skype seems to be the most reliable and successful group connection). During the call, we talk through a team-wide roadmap (saved down as a Google Spreadsheet) with each person sharing things they are working on as it relates to the roadmap. The meeting ends with the weekly “joke-master” (a different person every week) sharing a riddle or remarkably corny joke :-) We found the jokes to be a more fun way to end the call without the awkward video chat "goodbye". Having gone through so many jokes, we have evolved the tradition to riddles, poems, book excerpts, and guided meditations.


  • Reporting. Every month we gather all of our key performance indicators (KPIs) into a single Google Spreadsheet that calculates revenue by Channel, Expenses, Subscribers, Traffic, Conversion Rate, etc. We use this information to create a monthly report we send to our team, advisors, early investors, and family. We also use this data to compare our actual numbers vs. our projected numbers for that month. For each KPI that we meet or exceed, everyone on the team gets a bonus. Our goal was to make the most important information accessible and to fully align everyone on the goals of the company.

  • One On Ones. At least every two weeks, either Mike or I have a one on one meeting with each person on the team. Mike usually takes an HR approach - talking about work/life balance, opportunities, and people’s general fulfillment level. I usually talk about more work-related items like new ideas or identifying roadblocks to be removed. Without the traditional "water-cooler" talk as a remote team. this is also a great time to share what is going on in each of our personal lives outside of work.

Autonomy. Once someone fully understands the goals of the company (KPIs) and the way their role can have an impact, our next step is to empower each person. Autonomy is also the reason that I was able to take two weeks off last month without a worry. Everyone on the team knows what needs to be done, how to do it, and no one needs to ask permission. As Daniel Pink wrote in Drive, autonomy, along with mastery and purpose, are the biggest contributors to someone's sense of motivation and ultimate sense of fulfillment. At Holstee, autonomy isn’t just about being able to work free of micro-management. It also means you can choose a work schedule that fits both your life and work goals. Autonomy is at the core of why we started Holstee in the first place.

We would love to hear your thoughts and experience, and any follow up questions in the comments below - looking forward to hearing what you think!
P.S. Does Holstee sound like a work environment where you would thrive? We are preparing to hire a new Marketing role in the next few months. More details to come, but sign up here to be the first to be notified!

P.P.S. We just launched a Corporate Gifting and Services program just in time for our team's holiday gifting! We would love to work together with like-minded organizations!

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