A Primer for Building a Kickass, Remote Organization

Cursory discussions about remote work – and workers – abound (live your life! hire great people! be diverse!) but practical explanations of how, exactly, to translate this virtual promised land into a well-functioning organization are few and far between.

Enter Help Scout.

Right here in Boston(ish), Converge portfolio company and leading customer support tech company, Help Scout, has been blazing ahead testing, documenting, and recommending practical advice for building a remote organization for the past six years. As one of the most evolved, remote companies in existence, Help Scout has embraced the role of remote-first “expert”.

This primer on how to build and manage a remote organization is drawn from Help Scout’s journaling of their journey. (note: there is a wealth of additional information on Help Scout’s blog)

1.  The Future of Work is a short why, how and who overview that you should read mainly because what you’ll take away is that the need for honesty – with yourself and each other – is the key to success. Be honest about what you need, what you’re working on, what everyone else is working on, how you like to work and when you need help. While any organization is better off when these traits underpin culture, remote cultures simply can’t function without them. Not a bad requirement for success.

2.  It directly follows then, that a remote organization can be a huge advantage in attracting top talent. Help Scout has found that there’s a natural attraction between remote employers and people who take delight in the work:

“The best remote people have a particular passion for their craft, and one of the biggest reasons they love to work remotely is so they can focus on the work itself. Clearly, this characteristic has implications on your culture.”

This piece also goes into specifics on what to look for in a remote candidate and how to handle the interview process.

3.  Making it work across the entire organization – every day – is a little hard to imagine for the land locked among us. What stays, what goes, what gets replaced?  The following articles sum up some of the biggest learnings thus far.

Keeping communication flowing and culture building is the goal of the remote All Hands and Town Hall Meetings. The Help Scout team has sorted out how best to run these, what time and what to include and are kind enough to share some of their own content. You’ll see, and can read more about how, they rely on video.

4.  First principles of team management hold true in remote organizations – productivity, accountability, focus, appropriate collaboration – but the need to structural integrate these principals into everyday processes is amplified. It’s a lot harder to wing it when you’re in different time zones and working asynchronously.

But even with the best of intentions, planning and discipline, conflict happens. That which makes us creative, caring and charismatic occasionally mucks up the works. A real gem (for both remote and physical workplaces) is this step-by-step instruction on how to handle conflict.

Finally, what if the fit isn’t there and it just doesn’t work? Here’s some advice on how to say goodbye with compassion when you can’t be face to face.

5.  Drilling down, it’s no surprise that best practices are going to vary by functional team. Tools differ, communication styles and needs differ and collaboration requirements differ. Following are in-depth write-ups for a few of the larger functions within most organizations:

Remote for agile and engineers

Remote support team collaboration

How to manage a remote content marketing team

Adapting to the new responsibilities and freedoms that remote work offers takes some figuring out too. Serendipitously, Nick Francis Help Scout Founder & CEO is mid-move at this very moment and shared his thoughts from the road:

As for me, it’s probably worth noting that I moved away from Boston to push the remote culture forward and make sure there’s no single “center of gravity” for the company. I am adopting a new routine and making lifestyle choices that enable me to give Help Scout my very best. Only in a remote company does one have the freedom to create true work/life harmony. As a result, six years in and I’m more excited to go to work every day than ever.”

Incorporating remote work into an organization’s repertoire of capabilities has got to be intentional to be successful – and it can be extremely successful. Help Scout has scaled rapidly, delivered exceptional products and crazy-good customer experiences leveraging a remote-first strategy. The combination of opening up the talent pool, forcing disciplined management habits and valuing quality of work above all else are mutually reinforcing benefits that remote teams can deliver…definitely worth a think.