While most of the Campaign Monitor team is in our Sydney office, some of the most public and crucial members work from their homes in Canada, Norway and the USA. These are our remote customer support team, headed by Diana along with Travis, Stig, Davida and JD.
Why do we have remote support staff?
The majority of our customers are located far away from our home town of Sydney. While we’re working, you’re sleeping or catching up on Mythbusters. During your business day we’re likely doing the same. A couple years ago, Campaign Monitor was getting popular enough that there was a significant number of support questions coming in overnight.
That’s when we hired Diana, our very first international team member, and she immediately made a difference to the quality and speed of our support answers. Now you could email during the US day and get an answer back almost immediately, and I could sleep guilt free, waking up to a manageable number of questions.
Since that time Campaign Monitor has grown considerably, and so has our support team. We’ve added two more US staff, one Canadian and all the way over in Norway, the Stig. We actually snagged Stig from our own forums where he’d been already been a very passionate contributor. Every member of our support team is an experienced web designer so they’re already on your level.
What’s it like working with a distributed team?
It’s certainly a challenge to run a team where you rarely meet face to face. From my perspective as the team manager, I can’t be around most of the time to really see what’s happening or to offer immediate help.
So it is critical that we have independent, experienced and smart team members who are capable of making decisions on their own. I need to trust them to do their job well without much input a lot of the time. So the people we’ve hired have reduced a lot of the potential problems.
Communication across timezones and continents
Spread across 24 hours a day, our support team deals with a lot of different problems, tools, processes and feedback. We’ve had to work very hard to make sure that we’re all dealing with the same information and taking the same approach.
“I feel like I know everyone on the support team because of Campfire and the face to face chats”
-Davida in Portland
It is easy to feel isolated, left out, or that nobody is listening to you when you’re sitting on your own at home. In the Sydney office we’ve learned through experience to almost over-communicate all the little bits and pieces that come up in a normal office, recording them and sharing them with the remote team.
We rely heavily on a few communication tools to reduce the feeling of separation between the team:
- Campfire — There is a 24 hour stream of alerts, ideas, suggestions, smack talk and wacky videos flowing through our support chat room. Recently we’ve started ‘starring’ critical posts so people at the start of their day can catch up quickly.
The Mac users among us mostly use Propane so we have the Campfire window open all day.
- Clearspace — We use Jive’s intranet software to share more in depth feedback, schedules, documentation and the like. Anything that needs a permanent home we’ll try to store there.
- TokBox — Every few weeks we get as many support people as are awake at once into a video chat for the face to face catch up. These are a mix of information sharing, venting, feedback and laughing. Not as good as real in person chats, but so much better than just text.
Company culture and the remote team
It is definitely trickier to do that with a team spread around the world. Realistically working on the other side of the world, you will have a different experience of the company than someone who is in the office. We can’t pretend to replicate the experience, so instead we try to create a different facet of Campaign Monitor culture that makes sense for remote staff.
Our US team are pretty close geographically, so they have their own social events. We also try to bring new team members out to Sydney for their initial training, and to get a feel for the company culture.
We’ve made ‘happy birthday’ videos (including some rather disturbing Marilyn Monroe impressions from a certain systems administrator) and sent surprise gifts just to let the remote team know they are part of the company. This is another area of constant growth and improvement, and we’re learning from both sides what works.
Tips on effectively working from home
I asked our remote guys and girls what advice they would give to anyone considering working from home, and they came up with a few key tips:
- Create a separate workspace — It gives you a physical and mental separation from your home, good for you and for your visitors or family.
- Don’t stint on the equipment — Get a quality chair, and decent computer hardware and software. Going cheap will cause you pain in the long run.
- Schedule outside commitments — People working from home can find themselves never leaving the house, and locking in some outside time can help.
- Take real breaks — Studies have shown that home based workers tend towards over-work rather than slacking, so give yourself some time out.
- Have a back up plan — What happens if your internet goes down, or your laptop blows up? Keep a spare handy, and know where your nearest wifi enabled coffee shop is.
- Ask questions — You won’t pickup the kind of information you overhear in an office, and your team mates may not be aware you don’t know. So actively ask what is happening and what you might have missed.
- Have some ‘work’ clothes — Sure, wear your pyjamas all day, but at least have a nice pair of formal office slippers to tell your brain it is work time.
- Define your boundaries — Specify to yourself, your family, colleagues and visitors when work hours start and finish, and stick to it.
- Take advantage of flexibility — You aren’t stuck in an office, so if you want to take an hour off in the day time, and make it up later, let someone know and go for it.
- Try co-working — Rent a desk regularly or ocassionally in a local coworking or shared office, to combine the short commute with some human contact and socialising.
Recently Jeff Atwood wrote a great blog post on remote work, but specifically for developers, and that’s worth reading too.
Interested in joining us?
As Campaign Monitor continues to grow with more and more great designers getting into email newsletter design, inevitably we need to grow our support team to keep providing great service. Right now we’re looking for a new UK/Europe based team member to work from home with us.
The person we are looking for will be web savvy, with great communication skills and an interest in helping web designers send fantastic email campaigns. Sound like you?