The Cantilever team is 100% remote, with team members spread across the U.S. and Canada, and even one currently traveling through Asia and Africa. There is no central office, and it’s rare that team members even share a city.
In the past few years our people have booked hours from Jamaica, Australia, Thailand, Northern Ireland, Denmark, and Germany, forcing us to completely shift the way we work to accommodate this diversity. Our solution is an “asynchronous” working style, in which we rely as little as possible on being able to reach people in real-time. Instead, we write requirements out as far in advance as possible and in as much detail as is helpful. We try to ask questions and clarify scope well before work has to be done.
Instead of relying on a tool designed for real-time chat, like Slack, we use Basecamp, which leads to longer messages with slower response times. We try to write messages clearly and fully, and don’t expect a quick response. When the other party is working and ready, they’ll reply to your message with the same detail and precision. Our communication has high latency, but high fidelity. Often this combination leads to us being able to solve problems even more quickly than we could with real-time chat.
Since we committed to this model in 2013, it has yielded immense benefits for us and our clients. However, constructing a remote team does come with unique challenges. Whether you are a part of a fully remote team or are integrating remote workers into your firm, you should be cognizant of this unique puzzle.
Things you should know when going remote…
You can hire the right person, no matter where they are and how they like to work.
Even the largest metro areas contain a narrow subset of the talent available worldwide. When we adopted an asynchronous working style, we made location irrelevant when hiring. We never need to “settle” — A perfect fit does exist, somewhere.
Remote work also fits well with part-time schedules. There are huge swaths of talent in any industry who are simply unable to conform to the traditional nine-to-five structure.
Finally, remote work opens doors for people who are precluded from commuting for physical reasons, or whose schedules are unpredictable (like caretakers). Our team members can often duck out of the ‘office’ for scheduled or unscheduled interruptions without affecting the team’s workflow at all. In fact, most of the time, nobody else would notice.
Hiring remotely opens your doors to talent your competitors are missing out on.
With physical and schedule restrictions eliminated, there are two main axes on which we evaluate talent: role fit and readiness for remote.
Role fit encapsulates the traditional hiring metrics:
Does the person bring the requisite skills and experience?
Do they add a new viewpoint to our group which we have been missing out on?
Do they fit our quirky culture? Are they responsible and trustworthy?
Your firm has its own set of criteria like this.
Even if they tick all the boxes, many people are simply not prepared to work remotely. This is a key downside of remote hiring.
Though the pool of potential applicants is large, the requirements are greater as well.
As we learned this lesson early in Cantilever’s journey, we had to part ways with or turn down wonderful, talented people who simply didn’t thrive in a remote environment.
What does it take to do your best work in a distributed team?
Self-motivation. There is no external prompt for a remote team member to start work. They need to drive themselves.
Comfort with being by oneself. The hard reality of remote work is that you are often alone while doing it. Introverts gain energy from being alone. Extroverts tend to find themselves feeling isolated and blue working entirely remotely, though this effect can be lessened by renting a co-working space or frequenting a cozy coffee shop. Cantilever offers co-working space as a perk for all team members.
Writing skills. Remote work requires a ton of written communication. Team members must be able to grapple with difficult issues together, often asynchronously, and make sound decisions. People who communicate best kinesthetically or verbally can struggle in a remote context.
An autodidactic and curious nature. Remote work removes the opportunity for junior team members to learn through osmosis and observation. Teaching must be scheduled and deliberate, making it harder to “skill up” quickly. At Cantilever we love documentation and are attempting to codify many aspects of how we design and develop websites in our Handbook. Even still, team members must have the motivation to seek out answers from it, and the ability to learn through reading and solo practice alone.
These traits are often found in people who have worked as freelancers, or who have taken on and accomplished major self-driven projects like writing a master’s thesis, releasing an album, or raising children. Because the context of the work is so important for remote hires, smart managers must go further than the resumé.
Hiring remotely requires a shift in mindset, but offers great rewards for firms and employees alike. Make your team stronger and more inclusive by attracting and hiring great people, wherever they are and however they need to work.
Edited by Rebecca Testrake
Studio Manager & Magical Instigator at Cantilever