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March 28, 2016
by Hannah Jennings-Voykovich

Alone, Together – Why Our Remotes Love to Keep Their Distance

Simple’s heart may be in Portland, but the beat goes on all over the USA, from New York to Nashville.
Remote Experience

Simple has called Portland home for almost five years – growing from less than 20 people when we established our HQ, to just under 300 today. These days, more than 30 of us work remotely from New York City, Nashville, and Milwaukee—and even from our homes in Portland. We thought it’d be interesting to share how some of Simple’s remote employees operate from a satellite location, and why they love to keep their distance.

The chance to build a system (that works)

Our remote culture has grown steadily as the number of remote employees at Simple has increased. For early remotes like engineer Chris V, it was important that remote culture reflect wider company values from the outset.

“Remote culture grew out of the idea that we care about everyone, and don’t want to foster an ‘us-and-them’ atmosphere. We want [remotes] to do their jobs well, so we give them everything they need to succeed, while doing our best to keep them in our community.”

Even with a developing community, working as a remote can be a hard sell for many, including Technical Writer Alexandra P, who admits she needed a bit of convincing.

“I was really dubious that I would be able to work remotely, particularly in a role where you collaborate with people,” she says. “But I’ve found that we use tools that go a long way toward making remotes feel included, like Slack for messaging, and Zoom for video conferencing.”

Peace, quiet, and different timezones

For the average office worker, there’s a regular daily cadence: file into the office, take breaks for lunch, and shuffle off once the day is done. Remote employees, meanwhile, thrive on choosing their own schedule and working during times when HQ isn’t populated.

Engineer Tom W says living on the East Coast allows him to start his day without distractions. “The time zone difference is very advantageous—I get to do focus work for the first few hours of the day.”

For Chris V, the ability to choose his distraction level is a huge bonus. “At home, I don’t have people coming up to me asking me questions in person all day, and I can literally turn conversation off!”

Group Work 1

In-house project completion

Remote employees might not have the same daily rhythm that HQ employees are used to, but when it comes to larger scale projects that involve whole teams, workflows are structured around Simple Thing—a quarterly event when remote employees come to Portland.

Tom W says, “Simple Thing gives us a beacon to work toward. We’ve begun to plan major project completions around these weeks, because remotes can be here to work with their teams in person, and talk about problems in the moment if they arise. During the Thing, we also plan the next cycle of projects, which gives remotes structure to their work.”

Connecting IRL

Chat and video conferencing tools have bridged the gap between HQ and Anytown, USA, but all remotes agree that coming to town for Simple Thing can’t be beaten. It’s a chance for teams to spend time together, build trust, and have fun.

Chris V says, “We speak to people online, but it’s not the same as being in the same room. Coming to Portland means getting a lot of personal time with people. Working remotely means we don’t get to hang out with our teammates as much, so being able to come in and socialize is important.”

Project Manager Tracy H says she loves working remotely, but enjoys face-to-face interactions when she can get it. “People hug us because they’re happy to see us,” she says. “That doesn’t happen at just a regular office.”

For a remote employee who’s not used to the hubbub of an office, heading home after a Simple Thing is also a perk. “There’s a cycle when it comes to visiting Simple,” says Tom. “We have this week where it’s all-people, all-day, then have three months of no people. During the first two months, I’ll feel happy to not be around people all day. By the third month, I’m looking forward to coming back.”

Synth Night

Syncing (and synthing) up after hours

At Simple Thing, a range of standard events are held, such as discussion sessions and demonstrations. This spring, however, new events began to pop up—a huge engineering happy hour, a talk on pronoun usage in the workplace, and one very special gathering; a synthesizer meetup.

The synth meetup began with a group of tinkerers who shared an interest in something that looks a lot like engineering—pushing buttons, experimenting with technology, and occasionally breaking stuff. However Kelly D, the enthusiastic head of Simple’s synth group, says his favorite pastime isn’t just for engineers like him.

“Customer service agents, and people from our risk department are starting to participate, which is a huge bonus. I work remotely, and unlike a lot of remotes, I’m an extrovert, so it can be quite tiring to be away from people. With the synth meetup, I’m getting to know people from all over the company who love the same things I do. It’s great to have this shared interest, and to facilitate this creative outlet. The meetup has this nice, fun, warm energy that I want to have whenever I come to Portland.”

Synth Night Close Up

Interested in joining the team at Simple? Visit our Careers page. We’d love to hear from you.

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