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How to Transition a Team From On-site to Remote Work with Stacy Henry

Stacy Henry is the CEO of Big Nerd Ranch. She oversees the creation of world-class digital businesses that support both small and large-scale businesses.  Before being the CEO of Big Nerd Ranch, Stacy was the COO/CFO handling operations and finance.

She is passionate about employee development and has ensured the growth of more than 100 talents.

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Luis:

Hello ladies and gentlemen. This is another episode of the Distant Job Podcast. I am your host, Luis. And today I have with me I have Stacy Henry. Now Stacy is the CEO at Big Nerd Ranch where she oversees the creation of world class digital products that support large scale businesses around the world. Before becoming CEO, Stacy was the CEO, CFO, handling the company’s operations and finance. She’s also an active member of the CFO Leadership Council, often speaking at events. Stacy, welcome to the podcast.

Stacy Henry:

Well, thank you. It’s an honor to be here. Appreciate the opportunity.

Luis:

The honor and pleasure is mine. Did I miss anything in your… In the presentation and the introduction?

Stacy Henry:

No, you made me sound really good, thanks.

Luis:

Okay, well. That’s my job. Well, it’s one of my jobs, after all I am in marketing. If I can’t make people look good, what am I doing? What’s my use, right?

Stacy Henry:

No, you did great.

Luis:

So, this podcast is all about building and managing remote teams. Tell me, at Big Nerd Ranch, what is the remote work/flexible work situation? How is that managed over there?

Stacy Henry:

Sure, so Big Nerd Ranch has about 110 employees and we are headquartered in Atlanta, where the company was founded in 2001, and about half of the employees live in or around the Atlanta area, the rest of them are remote in other states of the United States. So, we’ll have engineers and designers that live in Montana, and California, and Texas, and all over. Most of the work that we do for our clients, they can do remotely from their homes. They don’t have separate offices that they’re going to, they are working from their home. Our clients sometimes will want us to come in and visit with them, so they may travel one week a quarter… Up to one week a month, but normally, they are able to do all of their work at home.

Stacy Henry:

Even the folks that are in Atlanta have a very flexible work situation. I try to work at least one day a week from home, sometimes two days a week from home. But most everybody… You can kind of come and go as need. So about eight or nine years ago, we made that decision to become a much more remote friendly work place and it really changed, fundamentally, kind of how we did everything.

Luis:

Nice. So what was transition like? There are a lot of things, I think, but eight years ago, first, that was pretty early. I mean, that was… Distant Job was a very young company back then, we had just started. Most people didn’t know what remote work is about. So how did that change come about? Let’s start there. What was the catalyst for that initiative?

Stacy Henry:

So, part of it is we were growing and we needed to be able to hire really good engineering talent and we found great people that lived in Austin Texas that didn’t want to move Atlanta and we still wanted to be able to work with them. We’ve have four, five folks that live in the Birmingham Alabama area that have been with us for a long, long time and they’re great engineers, they’re a wonderful part of Big Nerd Ranch. And so, we had to figure out ways to make it work. I think engineering and in a lot of ways a lot of jobs now are well suited because of the technology. You can do your work just about from anywhere.

Stacy Henry:

And so, we wanted to make sure that we were able to still attract and retain the best people regardless of where they lived. Most of the work we were doing for clients anyway, was already in the cloud. So they could do that work anywhere and we just had to change some processes internally to make sure we were getting the communication right, that people felt like they were still part of Big Nerd Ranch, they didn’t feel isolated. And so, we’ve kind of imbued that into all of the culture now and it’s really fantastic.

Stacy Henry:

Again, even the folks that live in Atlanta love the flexibility of being able to come into the office when they want to and work from home when they want to. Whether they just want to work from home or there are things going on that requires them to be there and we’ve been able to set it up in a way that works for just about everybody.

Luis:

Do you recall what size the company was when you started going remote?

Stacy Henry:

So, some of the engineers have been remote from the very beginning. When I came to the company in 2009, there were 15 employees. The folks that were in Alabama were already there, we had a couple of engineers in the Atlanta area that were kind of far out, away from the office and they didn’t want the commute. The commute around Atlanta… Atlanta’s kind of infamous for its traffic situation and when you get two more hours back in your day-

Luis:

Oh yeah.

Stacy Henry:

…just from not driving to an office, it’s fantastic.

Luis:

The impressive thing there for me, and if you want to expand there, maybe there’s not a lot to expand but I would love to know, if there is, it’s that you started going remote at 15 and now you’re over 100, that means that most of your company’s growth was as a remote friendly company. So what did that feel like?

Stacy Henry:

It’s interesting because some folks were really uncomfortable with it at first because they didn’t feel like they were connected and so we had to put things in place where everyone felt like they could interact as if they were walking down the hallways together.

Stacy Henry:

So some of the things that all companies do, right? We use Slack, so that gives us instant messaging, all of those kinds of things. But every meeting we have had since 2012 and maybe even a little bit before that, we have broadcast so that if you’re part of the company, you can join the meeting. Zoom and some of the other technologies out there have made that pretty seamless now, where when you’re doing company meetings and someones remote, you don’t have to wait to buzz them in or anything like that. They can just start talking and everybody can see them and feel like they are apart of that.

Stacy Henry:

We’re very intentional about a couple of key events for the company. Every year that we bring folks in, we shut the company down every year for a thing we call Clash of the Coders. Although now, it’s just called Clash because it’s cooler to have shorter names on things.

Luis:

Clash!

Stacy Henry:

[crosstalk 00:06:53] we bring all our folks in for a week and we have some team kind of events early in the week and then we do a hackathon for the last three days of the week and it’s a great way to get that face to face interaction.

Stacy Henry:

And then we also do a holiday party in January of every year. We wait until after the main holiday season is over because it seems to work a little bit better for our folks and they come in and they can bring their partner with them and really get to, again, spend some time with folks face to face which is phenomenal.

Luis:

Nice. I assume what had to be the hardest part of that transition from going to non-remote to remote friendly and certainly growing so much, the crucial part, I assume, was the first two to three years.

Stacy Henry:

Yes.

Luis:

But during those two to three years, what do you changed your mind the most? What were you expecting that going remote friendly was going to be like that wasn’t?

Stacy Henry:

Actually, it went better than we thought. Because of the work that we do, I mean, when somebody is working in my office, I can go by their screen and I can’t tell you what they’re working on. They’re doing something, I don’t know if they’re building something for a client, if they’re building a game or… It doesn’t matter, right? So that kind of accountability was not kind of in place inside the walls of the building anyway because of the work that they do. And so really, it was pretty seamless.

Stacy Henry:

I think the first folks that went remote wanted to make sure that it was successful and so, for a period of time, they over communicated, they were very visible in meetings and things like that and really wanted to make sure that we had good transparency into what they were doing and how they were spending their times. But with the way that engineering and development works, we have daily stand ups, we have… You can see the work that’s in progress and we just got really comfortable very fast with some people really work better late at night, some people work better early in the morning and as long as we can have some of these critical touch points with each other and with the clients, then we’re all in good shape and nobody really questions that.

Stacy Henry:

But it does require a strong amount of accountability and autonomy from everyone that’s doing that and so we have to get comfortable with that as part of the culture of the company.

Luis:

Interesting, yeah. So, I want to dig a bit into your broadcast meetings because that’s something that’s a bit unusual, that meetings are accessible to everyone. And I’ve experimented with that in the past and what I felt like is that a lot more than usual,  in the moderator, on the person in charge of keeping the meeting in track because once you start adding a certain number of people to the meeting, the meeting either takes forever and in that case, people start falling asleep and glazing over. Especially because the nature of video is that, unlike when we’re all in the same room, in video, when one person is talking the other people need to shut up because it really is a medium that’s not friendly to cross conversation.

Luis:

So, in one sense, it’s not as optimal use of time as in-person meetings because in-person meetings you can have a mild meld of sort with the group. In video meeting it’s much harder to do that. So what I found out is that as you add people, the meeting becomes less and less focused and more and more useful. So what is the anatomy of your meetings that allows for people to come in as they please, without disrupting?

Stacy Henry:

So part of what we did is we encourage everyone to use their video, not just to come in on audio because when you can see people’s faces, you can see when someones getting ready to say something, you can see when they maybe missed something and can repeat it.

Stacy Henry:

Now there’s a lot more conferencing mechanisms that are much more seamless where the audio and the video and thing work really well. Well, eight or nine years ago, that was not the case. And so, being an engineering firm, we over-engineered some solutions for that. One, if you go back on our video channel, you’ll see that up until about three, four years ago, there was this glowing ball that looked like… What is it when they tell you your fortune? A fortune ball?

Luis:

Yeah.

Stacy Henry:

We had one of those that if it was green, and operated it through Slack, if it was green then that meant that the people that were remote could hear and see and participate easily. If the video went down or if sound or anything went down, someone could send a message through Slack that was integrated into the fortune ball and it would turn it red. And as soon as it turned it red, we would stop the meeting here in Atlanta until we figured out what was going on. And so, it was a way for them to communicate outside of the meeting itself that gave us kind of visibility into what they were able to see and hear.

Stacy Henry:

Now we’re kind of wired up. We’ve got microphones in all of our conference rooms that makes it really easy but originally, we had a Catchbox that had a microphone in a fluffy pillow box and we would throw it around the room and whoever had the Catchbox was the one that was talking but that was how we communicated with everybody else.

Stacy Henry:

And then there’s been some subtle things. We have, what we call our fire side Chat, every two weeks and we bring breakfast into the office. A lot of the folks come in that day so that they can participate and, of course, that’s broadcast out. Well one of the things that we did that was kind of small but also significant is we told our remote folks, “Go get breakfast and eat breakfast with us even though you’re remote.” So they’re spending five or ten dollars to get breakfast at a restaurant near them but they feel like they are participating differently than when they were just sitting in their home. And it was great and that was a real low spend but for the remote people it really felt like they were a part of it.

Stacy Henry:

And the other thing that we did was, during those meetings particularly, we celebrate each others anniversaries and things like that. And so there would be clapping. Well, when you clap on microphones, it just sends a shockwave through-

Luis:

Yeah.

Stacy Henry:

…the systems. And so, just a couple of years ago, we changed that. We don’t applaud anymore, we just snap and so the people can tell we’re snapping, that we’re giving them accolades but it doesn’t blow out their ears.

Luis:

Yeah.

Stacy Henry:

It’s little things like that, of being sensitive to the experience on the other side of the line.

Luis:

I’m just wondering, how do you prevent certain people from dominating the conversation and how do you prevent meetings from becoming a case where it’s like too many chefs in the cook?

Stacy Henry:

Yeah. So as we get bigger, we’re still trying to avoid that kind of corporate-y thing where if you’re in a meeting everybody expects you to say something and everybody needs the same amount of time. Every meeting has an agenda that is distributed ahead of time so that people know what’s going to be happening. We take notes on that agenda as we’re going so that if you have to come or leave from the meeting you don’t have to raise your hand and say, “Well, what did I miss?” You look back at the notes immediately and that’s happening live. So that helps with the communication piece.

Luis:

Nice. Is there a person that’s responsible for taking notes? Do people take turns? How are those notes made?

Stacy Henry:

Yeah. We really take turns. So I have a leadership meeting every two weeks with the leadership team and when somebody else is talking, I’m the one taking notes sometimes and it just kind of rotates around. Sometimes you can see two or three people taking notes because maybe Angie heard something differently than I did and we’re making sure that we’re documenting that as we go.

Stacy Henry:

But the agenda really helps and that is something that we’ve kind of hard coded into all of our meetings that it’s never just a, “Okay, well, just everybody show up and we’re going to have a free-for-all discussion about this topic.” It’s, “These are the topics that we’re going to cover. Here are the issues.” And we try even, as much as possible, to say, “Today we need to make a decision on this thing.” So that when people come into that meeting, they know what the goal of the meeting is.

Luis:

Nice.

Stacy Henry:

That’s not 100% but that’s what we’re shooting for.

Luis:

Yeah. Of course. I think that most people avoid it because it adds some overhead to the planning and to the doing. To me, when I’m in a call, as now, if I’m taking notes, it feels a bit counter-intuitive to me because it feels like I’m not giving the person in the video chat enough attention. So it’s a bit counter-intuitive but it certainly works. I can definitely see the sense in doing that.

Stacy Henry:

Yeah.

Luis:

Okay.

Stacy Henry:

We have some kind of meeting etiquette things that we follow as well. That, if you’re in a meeting and you’re not taking notes in the meeting, we want you to close your laptop because the temptation is just too strong to be checking email and everything else and just kind of listening with one ear. So taking notes in the agenda great, if you’re not, close your laptop.

Luis:

I mean, if I follow that advice now it won’t go well.

Stacy Henry:

Well that’s fair.

Luis:

Yeah.

Stacy Henry:

But you’re also not just clicking away and looking off into the middle distance either so that’s helpful.

Luis:

Exactly. But if I’m taking notes, you might feel that I am, right?

Stacy Henry:

Yes. It kind of helps everybody engage, right?

Luis:

Yeah.

Stacy Henry:

If there are six of us in here and five people are looking down at their laptop, they’re not all five paying attention.

Luis:

Oh yeah, of course.

Stacy Henry:

We’re trying to have that eye contact and keep it as close to a live, in-person experience as possible.

Luis:

Yeah. Absolutely. I can definitely understand that. So let’s talk a bit about your personal approach. From what you say, the company is very flexible, some people work remotely almost all the time. You only elected to work from home one or two days, why did you make that choice?

Stacy Henry:

So, I could choose to work from home more if I wanted to. I think, for me personally, it’s important… I feel I am able to interact particularly with our sales and marketing folks who are generally in the office every day. When we have candidates that come in to interview, I always like to be here to meet them face to face, as we’re on boarding new people, I think that’s important because there is a connection there and I feel there’s a good vibe about having a presence.

Stacy Henry:

If we wanted to, we could all be remote and I think we’d be okay. There are some folks that want to come in everyday just because they love actually sitting and having coffee with someone or having a meal with folks and sharing some of those things. So yeah.

Luis:

At least you have the option, for sure.

Stacy Henry:

It is nice to have the option. We have clients come in to the office and I think it’s important for me to be physically present when I can but I also don’t have to be. This Friday, for example, we’ve got two candidates that are interviewing for a role and I’ll be interviewing both of them but I’m going to be at home because I had already made plans to some other things but that’s fine and nobody will even blink.

Luis:

Yeah. Absolutely. Makes total sense. So take me through your typical day or maybe even typical week or both. Maybe it makes sense to do both?

Stacy Henry:

Yeah.

Luis:

Managing your team, your direct reports. I mean, you are the CEO so you don’t manage a lot of people but you certainly… Let’s start there. How many direct reports do you have, how do you keep in touch with them?

Stacy Henry:

Sure. I actually have eight and I do one on ones with them every week. I try to front-load the week as much as possible and get as many of those in on Monday and Tuesday as I can. Yesterday I had three one on ones. Only one person was in the office, the other two were remote which was fine, it was not a problem at all. We’re big Google Drive, share documents, share screen when we’re video conferencing and things like that so that we can really be as close as possible.

Stacy Henry:

And then, people think being a CEO is all glamor and everything else, it’s not. It’s a lot of meetings, some of them… The sales team is like, “I just need you to be on this call.” Okay, great, didn’t really participate much except say things like, “Yep, we are a great partner, we want to work with you.” Kind of thing. But it’s mostly about the people, right? It’s about the people that work here. Making sure that I’m continuing to try to clear things out of their paths so that they can be as productive as possible.

Stacy Henry:

And that’s really the environment that I’ve tried to have where I’m supporting them. Obviously I’m leading the company but I’m supporting the people that report to me so that they can be a better support for their people as well. And it’s worked out pretty well, we’ve got a great company here and it’s a lot of fun.

Luis:

Nice. Sounds lovely. So you say try to front-load meetings in general, at the beginning of the week and then you save the rest of the week for creative business development strategy things?

Stacy Henry:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes. That’s right.

Luis:

And what is the content or what is the structure of those one on ones, if there is any?

Stacy Henry:

They’re actually really structured around what the person I’m meeting with wants. It’s not a, “These are the three things we’re going to cover every time.” What I do, just as an organizational tool is, I have one tab of my Google that’s open all the time that has my one on one notes with every person. So as things happen during the week, I can just jot a note down in there. They have access to it all the time. So sometimes I’ll jot a note down, it’s not something that’s immediate but I want to make sure we talk about it when we’re back together. Sometimes they’ll make a note on it and that’ll close it all out. But they’re able to put notes on it throughout the week and then when we get together, we’ve kind of got the agenda worked out.

Luis:

Nice.

Stacy Henry:

For me, I’m always asking them, “How’s your team doing? What are you hearing from them? Is there anything we need to be thinking about, as a company? The projects and things that your teams working on, do you have what you need? Are there things going on with those clients that we need to know about?” And their personal career development. It’s important to me that the people who work me know that they have a career path and know that they have a way forward. There may be periods of time in everybody’s job that they’re inundated with some things that aren’t really fun. So it’s like trying to be like, “Okay, look. We’ve got to get through this thing but let’s look at what’s on the other side and figure out what your time is going to look like?”

Stacy Henry:

Most of the people that are my direct reports, obviously I’ve got some accounting financial people that are pretty cut and dry but the others are all creative and they want a way to use that creativity in their work. And so we try as much as possible to incorporate those things in.

Luis:

Yeah. It’s nice that you touched career progression because that’s actually a super important area for me as well. I always try to do the same with my team, that shows them that no matter how junior you are, even if I get you as an intern, the branching possibility. If you’re career was a video game, here are the selection points  branches, here is the way that you can level up your character, so to say.

Luis:

Now… Yeah?

Stacy Henry:

I’m one of the older people in my company. We hire a lot of people that are very young, right out of school and things like that and I always want to be able to have that conversation with them about what next steps are for them. Even if that next step might mean that they don’t work for my company any more. I love it when engineers can come in and say, “Hey, I’ve been offered this job at this other company.” And we can have an honest discussion about it and I’ll… “What’s good about it? What are you concerned about? What are you…” Not just, “No, we want you to stay. What do we need to do to keep you to stay?” But really, “What was the first thing that made you even take the call from that company? What’s going on? Where do you want to be? Is that something that we can do for you here and if not, let me help you with that next step.”

Luis:

Yeah.

Stacy Henry:

It’s important that I get that feedback as much as possible about things that I can improve in the company, but also I recognize that when we hire somebody, particularly very young, they’re not going to be here their entire career. It’s almost impossible.

Luis:

Yeah. For sure. I mean, even if everything is okay, even if you love the place where you work, there’s a useful lifetime of anything you do in your life that’s five to seven years.

Stacy Henry:

Yes.

Luis:

Hopefully there is stuff in your life that you’re that, let’s say a marriage, a relationship, something like that. But most things will not. Most things in your life, you’re going to change in five to seven years and certainly your career is there, otherwise people just stagnate.

Stacy Henry:

No, that’s right.

Luis:

But regarding career development and remote work and especially flexibility where, in my company, career development… People that don’t need to feel threatened or wonder if they’re equal to other employees because my company doesn’t have an office. But in your case, I can see some complications there. Let’s see your specific case. You started in finance, right?

Stacy Henry:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luis:

You started in accounting, you didn’t even start as Chief Financial Office, right?

Stacy Henry:

Right.

Luis:

You started in part-time even, if I believe, that’s what you.

Stacy Henry:

Part-time, that’s right.

Luis:

Yeah, exactly. So part-time accounting and flexible company, you elected to go work at the office most of your week, let’s say four days per week or three days per week. How do you prevent someone, who is your colleague, in accounting as well, but elects to work remotely five days per week; how do you make sure that that person doesn’t feel that, “Well, Stacy’s going to get promoted before me. Not necessarily because she does better work, though she might, but because she’s in the office more. So she’s more visible.” How do you prevent this situation from happening when you leave it up to people to decide if they work from home or not?

Stacy Henry:

Sure. So the area where that would be most relevant for us, is really for our designers and engineers because those are the folks that are more likely to be remote and we have engineering managers, lead engineers, project leads, design leads that are in the office and remote and it really has become this thing that we don’t even think about. As long as we’re able and we’ve been able to figure out how to include people in kind of those water cooler conversations that happen in the office, we’ve been able to do that in a way where I don’t believe people think that they have a lesser chance of success at the company just because they don’t live in Atlanta. As I said, we’ve got engineering managers at senior levels that are in other states that we only see face to face a couple of times a year but we’re interacting with them every week. And so, keeping those things front and center, it becomes a thing that… Having remote people can’t be an after thought, it has to be the first thought. It has to be the way that you approach everything from the standpoint of, “Okay, if we’re going to do this thing, how do we include the entire company?”

Stacy Henry:

One of the things that I love and it actually happened last night is, we have a game night. And there’s- Yeah. Well, I don’t play because I’m not good at it but they play Settlers of Catan and Dungeons and Dragons and all that kind of stuff. But it’s two to three people that-

Luis:

How are you not good at Dungeons and Dragons?

Stacy Henry:

Oh my gosh. I just can’t keep up with it. I’ll go and sit in there with them sometimes and have a beer while they’re playing but that’s about it. But there’ll be two, three people here in Atlanta that will reserve a conference room and they’ll open up a Zoom meeting and folks from around the country will join in to the game that they’re playing.

Luis:

Nice.

Stacy Henry:

And so it is that kind of comradery and that kind of inclusion that makes it so that people who are not physically here can feel like they are absolutely a part. Because that connectedness and that relatedness is critical for people to be engaged with their work.

Luis:

Yeah. Absolutely. I absolutely agree. So, you think there’s a possibility that in some years, the next CEO of the company is a person who works mostly remotely?

Stacy Henry:

Absolutely! There would be no reason why they couldn’t. And in fact, a couple of years ago, I had considered moving to Texas, where my parents are because they’re getting older and I was thinking about moving closer to them and I had talked to the folks on our board and I said, “Hey, I’m thinking about moving to Texas, is that going to be a problem?” And they said, “Nope. Go right ahead.”

Luis:

Nice.

Stacy Henry:

So, I chose not to do that yet, I probably will in the next few year but there really is an openness and an awareness that there is life outside of your job and the more we can fit the job into peoples lives, the better off that is. Instead of making people force their lives around their work.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s actually one of the big, hidden, not talked so much about benefits of remote work, is that it actually increases the useful lifetime you have with your parents. I mean, I read an article that had a pretty accurate mathematical study attached to it that showed that by the time you’re done with college, you have spent 80% of the time, in your life, that you would spend with your parents.

Stacy Henry:

Yeah.

Luis:

By the time you’re done with college, you’re down to 20% of time with parents.

Stacy Henry:

Yeah.

Luis:

Remote work, that this is not often talked about but remote work actually increases this a lot. If you want to. Should you choose to. That’s definitely, time with the… Usually you think about time with the family as time with the kids or time with our partner but it actually expands more to that and that’s something that only remote work has done something for.

Stacy Henry:

Yeah. Well, and over the past few years, I have spent time with my family. I’ve gone down to Texas and would stay a week but still able to be connect and keep things moving, it’s not like I’ve disappeared off the planet. But I was able to work things around. I’d wake up really early and I would work a couple of hours and then when my parents got up, I’d spend the day with them and it was fantastic and things kept moving.

Stacy Henry:

What we have to worry about with that is making sure that when people do take vacation and when they do take time off, that they actually do that and unplug from [crosstalk 00:30:50].

Luis:

Oh, yeah.

Stacy Henry:

So that’s the biggest challenge that I think people, even with the very best intentions, it’s difficult to unplug but we’re getting better at it.

Luis:

It’s hard because there’s a bit of a domino effect. I’m very good at it, I’m honestly very good at that. I can spend weeks without thinking about my work but then when I see people in my company that can’t do that, that they are… I mean, I have a friend that… A distant job who, in the middle of his vacation, he just plugged in and he started taking care of work stuff and obviously I tried to tell him, “What are you doing, man? Come on, don’t do that to your vacation.” But more than that, just more the over worrying with my friend, I also felt I was doing it wrong. I felt lessened by his being there because I felt that I wasn’t as good as a professional. So there’s a lot psychological factors there. So it does need to be a team effort.

Stacy Henry:

Yeah, no. I think you’re exactly right. And like you said, some people here are very, very good at it and I’m kind of jealous that they’re able to do it that way. So, I’m able to do that to some degree. I ride horses for a hobby and when you’re riding a horse, you’re completely unplugged and so even if it’s just a day or a weekend and things like that, it helps. But I think you’re right because I think it does inadvertently put pressure on people that are working to try to prevent that person, who’s actually on their vacation, to feel like they have to keep checking in and making sure things are going. So it is an entire ecosystem of things that have to be working properly.

Luis:

Nice. Okay. Tell me a… I mean, before we wrap up with some rapid fire questions, I did want to ask you, how did this change in the company affect the hiring process?

Stacy Henry:

We still want to meet people individually and so, we have a process that a lot of it can be done virtually but ultimately, we do want to have a face to face meeting with people and so we will bring folks in that are remote. Usually by that time, we’re pretty confident that they’re going to be a good culture fit, that they’re technical skills or whatever their skillset is, that it’s where we need it to be. But we want them to meet as many people in the company as they can. And when we on board new hires, we generally bring them to Atlanta for their first week, even though a lot of their meetings with folks are going to be on video from Atlanta because a lot of our remote people are very involved in every on boarding. We want then to have that sense of, “Okay, this is how I get stuff done at the company.” Meet with the HR people in-person, meet with some of the sales people and marketing people in-person and really kind of get to understand the full breadth of the company. And we feel that can happen the best in-person. But we’re still doing… Gosh, we’re probably hiring 80 to 90% of our people remotely now and only about 10 to 15% in Atlanta, but we do want to get that face to face-

Luis:

That’s one hell of a travel budget.

Stacy Henry:

It’s not inexpensive.

Luis:

Yeah, I wish everyone who are hiring remotely could do that because it is powerful. Usually what tends to happen is that you need to hire without that but then… I mean Distant Job is in the recruitment business, we help people hire remotely and not all businesses can afford to do that but we do recommend that when you do hire, as soon as possible, fly them in, meet the team, have a team gathering because it’s definitely super valuable to have that. People just work better. Even if-

Stacy Henry:

They do.

Luis:

We found out that the sweet spot is the team meeting every six months, at least once a year. But every six months is a real sweet spot. I mean, even in the leadership, I felt that much connected to the people in the… The rest of the leaders in the company just when we hanged out for a remote work convention. Actually, the first time we met it was at Web Summit in Lisbon, it wasn’t at a remote work convention and I just felt, even though I was already in a leadership role, I really felt part of the leadership team after doing that.

Stacy Henry:

Yeah. I’m sure. And it makes a big difference. So one of the things, as part of the on boarding, for someone’s who remote, we have a webpage that we have all of our company information on but we have a map of the United States and they put a pin in the map where their home is located and we really try when… When I’m traveling I always look on that map, “Okay, who do we have that’s close by? Maybe I can get dinner with John while I’m in Austin this week. Or I can meet up with my folks in California and get them all together.” So being very intentional about those kinds of things that if we’re… Sales people or any of the others that are traveling, really trying to connect with some of our folks. And we also know, by the way, if we are meeting with John in Austin, he’s going to take us to the best barbecue place in the country, so that’s a good thing. It’s another incentive to [crosstalk 00:36:15]-

Luis:

I need to look up John when I’m there.

Stacy Henry:

Yes. I will definitely put you in touch with him.

Luis:

Okay. So let’s move on, before closing with some rapid fire questions. I mean the questions are rapid fire but you don’t need to answer them rapidly, feel free to [crosstalk 00:36:32] as long as you feel you need. So, first question, if you had $100 to spend with each person in the company, what you give them? And there are a few rules, so you can’t just give them money or gift cards. All right? This needs to be an actual object or software tool that you buy in bulk to give people.

Stacy Henry:

Okay, so when you first asked that question, I was like, “Oh, I would figure out what they’re passionate about and give them something that helps with that.” But now if it’s going to be a work related kind of thing-

Luis:

But with over 100 people in your company, that would your full time job for a while.

Stacy Henry:

That’s right.

Luis:

I assume that the company still needs a CEO so that doesn’t seem viable.

Stacy Henry:

Okay, that’s fair enough. So, $100? I don’t know, that’s really tricky. So one of the things that we do when people start with us is we give them a $500 stipend to get things that they need for their office. So folks spend it on extra monitors, extra chairs, headphones, that kind of thing. So, we try to be pretty generous with that. If it was… For me, I would want it to be something really that was personalized though. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Luis:

It’s some kind of answer, I guess.

Stacy Henry:

It’s some kind of answer? Okay, we’ll take it!

Luis:

Let’s give it that.

Stacy Henry:

Okay.

Luis:

Let me try something easier. For yourself, what purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?

Stacy Henry:

Made it easier or more productive? So there’s two things. Actually, I upgraded my headphones and I have noise canceling headphones and I also have AirPods. So I have the AirPods with me all the time and then the noise canceling ones in the office so that no matter where I am, I can plug in and get on a meeting without interrupting everybody around me. So that has help tremendously.

Stacy Henry:

Also, I’m kind of a bag lady. I really get excited about purses and bags and things like that and I bought this really great travel bag that just works with everything and it has a space for all of my work things in it so I can just grab it and go and be effective immediately.

Luis:

Nice. Being a bag lady is okay but it’s really more embarrassing to be a bag man. I’m a bag man, I like bags.

Stacy Henry:

I appreciate that.

Luis:

I don’t even need them but every now and then I see an email publicizing this new bag for man that you can fit your laptop and headphones and microphone and a chandelier and your sofa and whatever.

Stacy Henry:

You just got to buy it.

Luis:

So it’s theft proof, which I don’t know what mean, how is it theft proof? physically attached to your body? Something know but it is, it has something there so I can-

Stacy Henry:

There you go.

Luis:

…sympathism with that. The headphones, so, the AirPods, how do the AirPods work because I find that when I am having a meeting and I actually like to do walking meetings so I like talk to the president of Distant Job or to the Vice President and tell them, “Hey, let’s have a walk.” And they’re walking in Ukraine or in Montreal and I’m walking here and we’re walking and talking in the street. I live near the beach so I go to the beach to have my meetings with them and I find that I need wired. I actually use the iPhone, the standard iPhone wired headphones, headplugs and microphone and [crosstalk 00:40:08] wonderfully. When I switch to wireless, it’s terrible. So what is the deal the AirPods? Do they work properly?

Stacy Henry:

Yes, they’re fantastic and they stay in my ears better than the wired ones and I can even exercise, run, walk, whatever with those on and they’re great. They stay in.

Luis:

Nice. So can you give us the brand recommendation for the other ones? For the noise canceling ones?

Stacy Henry:

I think mine are a Bose brand. Being a company that gives that kind of a benefit, also on that page where we have all the information about the company, is a critique of every headphone that people have bought, “I bought this one. This is why I liked it. This is what it doesn’t do well.” We’ve got our own little curated review board for all of those kinds of tools.

Luis:

Nice. Okay. Good recommendations here. So let’s talk a bit about books. What book or books you have gifted the most?

Stacy Henry:

Well, of course, I gift the Big Nerd Ranch books the most.

Luis:

They are very technical though, right?

Stacy Henry:

Yes, they are.

Luis:

If I’m not feeling like learning software development that might not be the best pick for me, correct?

Stacy Henry:

Yes, well, that’s fact. But, it feels like a very personal book, I guess.

Luis:

Oh, yeah and props to you because you have… I mean, I’ve been browsing in preparation for this interview in the website and you do give really quality resources in the form of books, based on really quality stuff.

Stacy Henry:

Thank you. They are and we do invest quite a bit in them and that we use them for our classes and everything else but they are fantastic for teaching. That’s what they’re for and so they’re very good that way. Gifting books. So there’s a book called Essentialism that I have given away a few times. There’s the Nine Lies About Work. A few years ago, everybody got Radical Candor. Some of those things… We have a strong culture of learning here and we have a library that includes obviously a lot of technical books and things like that but a lot of business and life books of how you do things and we encourage people to buy things. We basically give them an unlimited budget, “Hey, if there’s technical books that you need, just get them and if there’s other books that you’ve found useful, get them and send them into the office and we’ll have then here so that people can read them.” So it is important, our folks are continually learning.

Luis:

Okay. Cool. So those are some good recommendations, thank you very much. Final question. So this one is a bit of a set up. Let’s say that you are hosting a dinner for the top technology execs in the country and on the dinner you are going the topic of the round table, dinner round table, is remote work and the future of work. Now the twist here is that it’s not at the barbecue place, sorry. It is at the Chinese restaurant and you, as the host, get to pick the message inside the fortune cookie. What is the message inside the Chinese fortune cookie?

Stacy Henry:

So, if I wanted to be kind of snarky, I would something in like, “Please continue to only hire in-office people so that my business will continue to succeed.” The other one would be, “Redefine work by thinking about your people.” Because that’s, to me, what it really is about. My generation and generations before me had this idea that work meant you were physically in an office with your butt in chair for eight hours a day and that’s how we knew that you worked. And when you worked more than eight hours, then you were working over-time.

Stacy Henry:

That’s not the way actual human beings are productive and so have a remote component to your work allows you to be more productive and be a better business that your employees want to stay in.

Luis:

For sure. I mean, I think I did pretty well and yet I don’t think that I’ve ever had eight straight hours of productivity in my life.

Stacy Henry:

No, nobody works that way. I mean, like you said, you get up and you take a walk. Well, you’re being productive but it’s not in an office, you’re at home.

Luis:

Yeah, absolutely. So that is a good phrase, thank you so much.

Stacy Henry:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luis:

So, Stacy, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Why don’t you tell our listeners how to continue the conversation with you, where they can reach you and/or follow you and where can they find more about Big Nerd Ranch?

Stacy Henry:

Sure. You can come to our website www.bignerdranch.com. The nice thing about our company name is that it’s pretty unique. Basically if you do Big Nerd Ranch on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, any of those things, you’ll come straight to our stuff. So we’d love to continue the conversation with anyone. I appreciate your time, I appreciate you asking me to be on here. I think we’re all trying to figure out the best ways to run our business and the more we can put our people first, and really recognize that work is a component of their lives, not the component, it will make a difference.

Luis:

Absolutely. So, thank you so much. You’re welcome to come back at any time. This was the Distant Job Podcast with… I am your host Luis and our guest, Stacy Henry from Big Nerd Ranch. Thank you and have a great day.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the Distant Job Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great, it’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have, for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you who listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.

Luis:

Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

Luis:

And, of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally. Not just look to hire in your country, look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard.

Luis:

And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the Distant Job Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Making the transition from being an on-site company to going remote is never easy. However, during these past years, more and more companies are joining and transitioning to remote teams. Big Nerd Ranch is one of them.

In this episode, Stacy Henry tells us her experience of working in the BNR company for almost 10 years. How they started being just 15 employees and grew to over 100 employees, managing hybrid teams and remote employees.

''We wanted to make sure that we were able to still attract and retain the best people regardless of where they lived.'' Click To Tweet

What you will learn:

  • Expanding a hybrid company
  • Broadcast meetings
  • Transition to remote
  • Managing hybrid teams
  • Hiring process
  • How to communicate effectively with your team
  • Remote career progression

Book recommendations:

 

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