Skipping the commute, working on the couch, sipping tea from your favorite mug, avoiding office drama — working from home sounds like a dream. After all, you could decide to drive to a cute coastal town on a Tuesday, work from there and be back in the city by Thursday for that brainstorming session at the local coffee shop. Ah, the flexibility of it all can seem irresistible.
However, remote work isn’t as easy and as carefree as many people think. Just ask Zapier.
San Francisco-based internet company, Zapier, is a 100% remote team that gives everyone internet superpowers. They help people easily connect and automate the apps they use every day so they can get more work done with less effort. In the same vein of efficiency, Zapier’s team lives and works all over the world and has been since the company was founded in October 2011.
We caught up with Wade Foster, CEO & co-founder of Zapier to get his advice on being a remote worker. He hires dozens of remote employees, so who better to tell job seekers what they’ll need to be an attractive, informed candidate and a kick-ass remote employee.
Glassdoor: Remote work isn’t a win-win for every employee or every company. What skills are needed to be a successful remote worker?
Wade Foster: Remote work requires you to be a problem solver and a great communicator. In a remote environment, you have no one looking over your shoulder to help show you the next steps. That means you need to default to action and identify the opportunities where you can help your team and go find ways to solve those problems. You also need to be overly communicative about what you are working on and what the current status is. That way teammates can easily find ways to build on your work and your manager can find ways to connect you with the resources you need to keep making good progress.
Glassdoor: How can someone show in an interview that they would be a good fit for a remote position?
Wade Foster: Show that you’re the type of person who solves problems. Talk about a new initiative you started at your last job or a side project you built on your own outside of work. Bring collateral. A portfolio of code, designs, or writings will show that you’re the type of person who can document your work and share it back with the team.
Glassdoor: What interview questions do you and/or your team ask to find out if someone would be a productive remote employee?
Tell me about an important change you introduced last year in your role. What were the results? What would you change if you could do it again?
Glassdoor: Does a job applicant need to have experience working remotely? If not, how can an application or cover letter convey the candidate’s ability to work well away from the office?
Wade Foster: Not at all. Most people that join Zapier haven’t worked remotely before. More important is showcasing that you are a problem solver. You take action. And you can communicate your work or the plans you want to make happen. It’s nice if you have a story too about working with someone from another office or a remote teammate. But having remote experience isn’t necessary to be a great remote worker.
Glassdoor: How important is a candidate’s sense of work-life balance when it comes to being considered for a remote job?
Wade Foster: We don’t try to vet for this for roles at Zapier.
But working remotely does require extra diligence to build work-life balance. When you work in an office the physical office building separates you from work and helps you build those boundaries. When you work from home those boundaries don’t exist so you need to be diligent to create those for yourself. Common ways folks solve this problem is having a separate space in your house where work happens and where your home life happens. Build routines that separate work from personal time. This can be as simple as going to the gym at 5:30pm every day, volunteering in your community, or simply walking away from work to join your family or friends during the evening.
Glassdoor: It’s easy to get burnt out working from home. Are there ways you gauge a person’s ability to create and maintain productive boundaries?
Wade Foster: I don’t believe it’s easier to burn out working from home or from the office. Regardless of where you work you should build a routine that allows you to achieve your work and personal goals.
Glassdoor: How does Zapier ensure team members don’t get burnt out working from home?
Wade Foster: Strong managers go a long way to help understand burn out. Every manager does a weekly 1-on-1 with their direct teammates. Part of those weekly 1-on-1s is to help gauge someone’s excitement about their current work.
Additionally, the team helps keep an eye on everyone as well. If someone posts messages in Slack outside their normal hours someone will likely ask what they are doing working. It’s not uncommon to see a fellow teammate encourage someone to step away from Slack and go enjoy their time off. Learn more about preventing burnout here.
Glassdoor: What tools does your company or team use to stay in contact with remote employees?
Wade Foster: Slack, Zoom, and an internal tool called Async are the go-to tools for Zapier. Async was modeled off of similar internal tools that other remote teams use.
Glassdoor: What are some of the ways Zapier builds culture and strong relationships despite remote working?
Wade Foster: Culture isn’t about ping-pongs or happy hours. Culture is about your commitment to the work you do. It’s about how you treat your customers. It’s about your commitment to product quality. We have a strong set of company values that help us and prospective new teammates understand what we care about and how we approach work.
That set workplace camaraderie is important and you don’t want to find yourself lonely in a remote team. So it’s important to find ways to build human connections in a remote team. We have quite a few ways to help with this.
- Airbnb-Onboarding: Every new teammate comes to the Bay Area during their first week on the job alongside their hiring manager and meets a few teammates and the founders in person. This week of co-working helps build some initial bonds with a handful of teammates and key leadership.
- Donut Pairchats: Every week a Slack bot randomly pairs you with one other person at Zapier. You then schedule a 30-minute chat, often via Zoom, to catch up informally with a fellow teammate.
- Two semi-annual retreats: Twice-a-year we get the full team together in-person to celebrate our progress and plan for the future. These full-week get-togethers are a great way to build bonds with your teammates.
- Off topic #fun- channels in Slack: We have many channels in our Slack prefixed with #fun- that are non-work channels dedicated to teammates outside work interests. Channels like books, movies, sports, arts-and-crafts, and even ham radios help teammates rebuild the office water cooler that doesn’t naturally exist in remote teams.