September 21, 2017

Why 6 INC 5000 Companies Went Remote

several inc 5000 companies went remote

Each year, INC 5000 provides a list of the fastest growing companies in the United States.  Included in that list are companies that support remote working – a very interesting trend.  In this article, we are going to focus on six of those companies (The Cheat Sheet, Jackson River, Parse.ly, Acceleration Partners, Percona, and RevolutionEHR) to discover why they chose to go remote, what benefits they have experienced, and what tools they use to succeed. 

The Cheat Sheet

The Cheat Sheet is an increasingly popular digital magazine covering men’s lifestyle topics.  Founded in 2009, their revenue as of 2016 was $9.5M with a three-year growth rate of 270%.  Their headquarters are in Asheville, NC but their staff is spread over several states and even a few outside the country.  The Cheat Sheet not only made the INC 5000 list but also made their list of the top 20 media companies.  Their Glassdoor ratings are excellent, with an average 4.6/5 score based on 24 reviews, indicative of a high level of employee satisfaction.

Their team (now at almost 50 employees) has been entirely remote since the very beginning, allowing them to seek out the very best writers from across the world while minimizing their operating costs at the same time.  The Cheat Sheet team uses tools such as Slack, Skype, and Google Hangouts to facilitate communication, in addition to email and phone calls.  Productivity is measured through common online media metrics including articles published, page views, and the amount of time spent on the site.

Slack is a direct messaging tool that was developed to facilitate team communication that supports video calls, screen sharing, and an easy drag-and-drop interface for sharing files and documents.  One if its most interesting features is the ability to search through messages and shared files.   Skype is a well-known platform for voice and video calls as well as direct messaging that many remote companies use.  Google Hangouts is often seen as a purely social tool, but many companies like The Cheat Sheet have found it to be invaluable for encouraging communication among team members.  Like Skype and Slack, it supports voice calls, video calls, and messaging.  It supports group chats with up to 100 participants and group calls for up to 10 people. 

The Cheat Sheet leaders cite the benefits of choosing a remote office approach as being …

  • Very low operating costs
  • Improved focus on daily goals
  • More effective breaks
  • Ability to seek out premier talent regardless of location
  • Eliminating commuting and its associated stress, burnout, and fuel costs

Jackson River

Jackson River specializes in building software for the online marketing and fundraising needs of non-profits, including a platform called Springboard.  Founded in 2008, Jackson River has also been ranked in INC 5000 in 2013 and 2014. Their three-year growth is at 78% and their revenue in 2014 was $4M.  Their Glassdoor rating is 4.8/5 based on 5 reviews, which indicates a high level of employee satisfaction.

Jackson River has almost 30 employees across the United States and is 100% remote with a virtual headquarters in Washington, DC.  Benefits to a virtual workforce, according to Jackson River, include …

  • The ability to hire the best talent anywhere in the United States
  • A happier, more productive staff
  • Employees that feel free to strive for excellence
  • More dedicated, accomplished employees. 

Jackson River makes extensive use of Skype using chat groups based divisions such as region or job role.  They also use conference calls, Google Drive for transparent collaboration, and various project management tools. They have an annual four-day retreat where the entire team meets face-to-face.  Productivity is measured through 360 peer reviews and customer satisfaction. 

Note that Google Drive works very well to achieve the type of transparent, virtual collaboration that is important to Jackson River because it supports file sharing, commenting, and change tracking.  It provides access anytime, anywhere to needed files and changes are automatically synced so that everyone will see the same document when they access it.

Parse.ly

Parse.ly provides digital publishers with an analytics platform containing powerful data and information about how their readers are responding to their content.  Their three-year growth has been 1,406% with a revenue of $4M in 2014.  Founded in 2009 headquarters in New York City, they rank among INC 5000 top New York companies and top New York City companies, as well as one of the Top 20 Business and Products and Services companies.  Their customers include well-known companies such as The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and Time Inc.  Parse.ly’s Glassdoor rating is 5/5 based on 9 reviews, which is yet another excellent rating.

Parse.ly consists of a fully distributed team with employees spread across the United States, Canada, and Europe but a sales team located in and around New York City. 

Benefits that Parse.ly has enjoyed with regard to remote working include …

  • The ability to focus on work with minimal distractions
  • More efficient, documented communication
  • Better customer service
  • More productive employees

Tools used include Flowdock, a real-time chat system, and Yammer, a messaging system, and Google Hangouts for video conferencing.  They also use a tool called Rabb.it that allows multiple team members to view streaming video at the same time.  Parse.ly also uses the GitHub development platform and email regularly. 

Flowdock is a chat and workspace tool that integrates extremely well with GitHub and provides voice and video chats along with color-coded threads to keep conversations organized and easy to follow.  It does an excellent job of supporting focused, collaborative discussion among virtual teams.  Github is a powerful software development platform for hosting code, reviewing code, building software, and managing projects. Rabbit is a newer tool that offers video conferencing and the ability for multiple people to watch a streaming video at the same time, something that most videoconferencing tools do not yet support.

Parse.ly does hold regular team retreats sometimes called “workcations” where a relaxed, vacation-like backdrop is chosen and fun activities are included in the retreats.  They also hold monthly online “Town Halls” to keep all the employees in sync with projects, changes, etc.

Acceleration Partners

Acceleration Partners, founded by Robert Glazer, specializes in providing digital marketing services with a revenue range between $10M and $20M.  They were founded in 2007 and have their headquarters in Needham, Massachusetts.  They have also have hub locations in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.  This is the fourth year for Acceleration Partners to rank in the INC 5000 list.  Their Glassdoor rating, based on 63 reviews, is 4.9/5.

Acceleration Partners feel that what has set them apart from other companies like them is their “flexible, remote, performance-oriented work culture” which has been key to their culture from the start.  They remain 100% remote.  Acceleration Partners emphasize, among other things, autonomy, accountability, and the value of hours away from work.  They also have the best staff to client ratio in their industry.  It is interesting to note that all their positions are listed as remote/work from home positions within driving distance of one of their hub locations.  Preferred communication tools include Basecamp, Asana, Skype, Zoom, and email.  Feedback (going both ways) is accomplished using Tinypulse.  They use Harvest for time tracking and measure productivity through the results delivered to clients and Google Docs for collaboration.

Basecamp is an outstanding organization tool that combines communication, project planning, and client tracking all one place, or, as Basecamp refers to it, a “central source of truth.”  By centralizing this information, it allows remote employees to be more self-sufficient, reduces the need for meetings, and increases overall efficiency. Asana is project management tool that many companies, such as Allstate and Airbnb, have been turning to organize and track the progress of project.  It also provides an inbox that only has messages related to the projects, not the usual tidal wave of unrelated email.  Zoom is a popular video and web conferencing tool that supports meetings, webinars, screen sharing, collaboration-enabled conference rooms, and business IM features.  Zoom users include major companies such as Uber and Pandora.

Seeking feedback from employees can be problematic because many will fear that their comments of opinions will be traced back to them.   Tinypulse is used by many large companies, including Airbnb, as a means of providing completely anonymous feedback.  This tool provides quantifiable, actionable measures of a company’s culture.  It also allows employees to recognize their peers for outstanding work and its machine learning algorithms can quickly alert company leaders when there are disturbing trends in the data. 

Harvest provides a myriad of services, including online time tracking, invoicing, expense tracking, and reporting.  Their detailed reports allow users to track not only hours and what projects those hours are being spent on  but also track employee work capacity so that burnout can be prevented. Harvest also provides mobile apps so that it can be used anywhere a remote employee might be working, which is ideal for remote employees. 

The primary benefit of remote working that Acceleration Partners cites is the formation of a highly motivated, self-starting, and accountable teams and the opportunity to hire talent from anywhere in the world.

Percona

Percona, founded in 2006, provides key MYSQL support, training, server development, and consulting for using enterprise-class cloud platforms.  Their revenue in 2015 was $17.9M with a 96% 3-year growth rate.  This is their fourth year in a row for Percona to be listed in INC 5000.  Their clients include companies like Neflix, Nokia, and Amazon Web Services.  Percona has a Glassdoor rating of 4.7/5 based on 34 reviews.

While their headquarters are in Raleigh, North Carolina, most of their 142 employees are remote.  Their staff is spread across 30 different countries and 19 states with most of their employees working from home.  Far from being isolated, their staff interacts daily using common tools such as Skype, email, and corporate chat services.  They also facilitate the sharing of knowledge among their employees through interaction at conferences, tradeshows, and meetups.

Benefits to remote working, according to the founder of Percona, include …

  • Ability to seek the top talent from around the world
  • Opportunity to give staff members they space and freedom they need to really succeed
  • Better work-life balance for employees and management

RevolutionEHR

RevolutionEHR specializes in cloud-based practice management services and electronic health records for the vision and eyecare industries. Their revenue as of 2016 was $10.8 million with a 207% three-year growth rate.  RevolutionEHR is another one of the remote workforce companies included in the INC 5000 list, as well as a 5x INC honoree and one of the top companies in the state of Wisconsin.

In their own words, RevolutionEHR “embraces a distributed, virtual work environment.”  They were remote from the beginning, in part because all the founders were living in different cities at the time.  All of their 100+ employees in about 20 different states work from a home office with only infrequent travel to their headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin.  They have several different means of facilitating communication including the use a custom internal collaboration tool (aka, virtual watercooler similar to Facebook) they call Nerve Center, along with tools such as Google, GoToMeeting, Salesforce, Skype, Grasshopper (a virtual phone system), and Slack

GoToMeeting is another videoconferencing tool that is popular with many remote teams because of its ease of use, ability to schedule meeting and set aside virtual meeting rooms, setup conference rooms for up to 10 people, a newer call me feature that eliminates the need for a scheduled meeting, excellent audio, and screen-share capabilities.  Salesforce is a CRM tool that includes analytics, artificial intelligence, mobile features, and additional apps and tools such as automation with no code involved, customer service and helpdesk software, a digital marketing platform, a platform for developing cloud apps, and much more.

The Grasshopper virtual phone system allows extensions to be set up, transcribes voicemail, and provides business texting without requiring a landline.  It also sets up companies with a phone number, which can be ideal for small businesses, and forwards all calls to a cell phone or desk phone.  They make available toll-free numbers, vanity numbers, and 800 numbers. 

RevolutionEHR had some interesting reasons for initially going virtual, including an initial lack of funds for an office.  After going virtual, benefits included better focus without the distractions found in a physical office and the ability to hire the best talent from across the country.

The Case for Going Remote

As you read through the benefits these companies listed for choosing to go the virtual route, you probably noticed certain themes that stood out:

  • Ability to hire talent from anywhere.  When location is no longer an issue, the talent pool from which a company can seek out new employees grows exponentially.  This could mean outside of a metropolitan area, out of state, or even out of the country.  In addition, if they do find talent from outside their geographical area there is no need for an employee to relocate.  This allows you to better achieve the goal of finding the perfect fit for a job instead of settling for the best you can find.
  • Much lower operating costs.  With a remote company, operating costs are significantly lowered because there are no longer issues such as the lease or rental of a physical headquarters, maintenance and janitorial costs, landline phone system, and similar sources of overhead.  Instead, money can be focused where it really needs to be to help the company continue to grow.  Some companies, like RevolutionarEHR, made it clear that the primary reason they started out as a virtual company was because of financial constraints.  A virtual workforce can make it possible companies to get started immediately when it would takes year to get the funding for them to have a physical headquarters.
  • Improved worklife balance. When given the freedom that comes with a remote work environment, employees are no longer rigidly tied to standard working hours.  This, in turn, frees them to pursue aspects of life that improve the quality and productivity of their work.  Work-life balance is becoming increasingly attractive to the newest generation of workers entering the business world, which in turn makes a remote company much competitive when seeking entry-level employees.
  • High productivity.  Many people look at a virtual work environment and all they can see is how employees could game the system by getting paid while doing little to no work.  However, companies that choose to go the remote work route usually report higher productivity and efficiency from their employees.  No doubt this is due in part to their recruiting techniques, but it seems as if a virtual work environment is particularly attractive to self-starters that are willing to take responsibility for their own work.
  • Excellent employee satisfaction.  All the companies profiled in this article had excellent ratings from Glassdoor as it regards employee satisfaction.  Satisfied employees are more likely to remain loyal to the company, put their best efforts into the work, work more efficiently, and stay longer.  The recent media coverage of the internal issues faced on companies like Uber and Google shows that the public does not approve of companies that do not treat their employees fairly.  A good employee satisfaction rating can help companies compete not just for the best workers but for the best customers.

Tools Are Key

Another major takeaway from this article is that there are many different tools out there to support the inner workings of a company that is thinking about going remote.  ActivTrack is an employee monitoring software that is perfect for tracking not just the activity but the productivity of remote (and on-site) employees.  We’ve talked about communication tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, as well as project management software like Basecamp and Asana.  There are even tools to help promote positive company culture and anonymous feedback like Tinypulse. 

There is no shortage of tools to facilitate the communication, project planning, and information sharing that is inherent in a remote company.  The problem isn’t so much finding a tool but deciding which one works best.  Just keep in mind that software apps are not an end in themselves, but rather a tool to facilitate the daily work of a successful, growing company.

Conclusion

Why did six of the fastest growing companies in the United States decide to go virtual?  There are many reasons; reasons like reduced operating and overhead costs, productivity, work-life balance, and a massive pool of talent outside of geographical boundaries.  They are able to build a successful business with virtual employees by learning how to use available tools for project management, communication, web conferencing, messaging, and virtual phone systems, just to name a few.  And don’t forget that, without the overhead involved with a physical headquarters, companies can get started much sooner with less initial funding.

If rapidly growing companies such as The Cheat Sheet, Jackson River, Parse.ly, Percona, Acceleration Partners, and RevolutionEHR have found a remote workforce to be the answer to their needs, maybe it’s time that you considered it, too.

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