code-for-a-living September 29, 2017

Making Remote Work: Behind the Scenes at Stack Overflow

The logistics of Stack Overflow’s remote-first philosophy By now you’ve probably heard about Stack Overflow’s commitment to making remote work, well… work. If not, you can read about it here, here, and a whole page of links here. Seriously, we care about it a LOT. At Stack Overflow we want to hire the best person…
Avatar for Jess Pardue
Operations Manager (former)

The logistics of Stack Overflow’s remote-first philosophy

By now you’ve probably heard about Stack Overflow’s commitment to making remote work, well… work. If not, you can read about it here, here, and a whole page of links here. Seriously, we care about it a LOT. At Stack Overflow we want to hire the best person for the job, even if that person is in Salt Lake City, Utah; Berlin, Germany; or São Paulo, Brazil. Promoting remote work promotes diversity, and we are committed to improving both.

However, this isn’t going to be another article about why we believe in remote work. I’m here to tell you about how we pull the whole thing off. I manage workplace operations for the company, and a huge part of that job is making sure that our 85+ remote employees have everything that they need to get their jobs done. So here are my tips for having a successful remote infrastructure:

Have a dedicated remote person (like me!) to be the point person for remote needs.

This is definitely the most important piece of the remote puzzle. You need a person whose stated job is to make sure that remote employees have a specific person for questions, concerns, and problems. When we hire a new remote employee, I tell them that they can come to me with any type of question, and I will try my best to answer it, or at least point them in the right direction.

I get aaaaaall kinds of questions and requests. For instance, I now know how to buy and ship Belgian beer to Poland for an employee that wasn’t able to attend a work event because of a surgery. Also FYI, Uruguay has very strict restrictions on voltage of household items, so getting a crank-lever standing desk to Montevideo was fun (read: not fun).

There also needs to be someone on the executive team (it’s better if there is more than one someone) consistently asking “What about the remotes?” When you have a new “x,” the execs should be thinking about how that impacts all employees, including remotes.

Have your People and Finance Teams homed in on remote needs

Companies will encounter a wide range of odd legalities in dealing with remote employees, especially with international folks. Did you know that in Romania if someone is going to have a home office, they have to have it inspected by a fire marshal? And in the U.S. we have a rule called “prevailing wage determination” that requires some remote employees to post a paper notice in their home for at least 10 days. (I like to think they put it in a laundry room or over the toilet.)

It definitely helps to have an HR department that is certified in immigration and visa issues. At Stack Overflow we are lucky enough to have a lawyer on our People Team along with other trained HR counsels for employees to go to when these issues arise. The same goes for finance departments. The taxation alone is a handful with multiple states/countries. You need an entity for each state, which requires considerable forethought. You also have to file payrolls properly and that varies depending on location. No one ever accused the IRS of being simple!

Remote first

We’ve already touched on this in the other blog posts, but it bears repeating: If one person in the meeting is remote, we’re all remote. If there are 5 people in a conference room and 2 people dialing in remotely, it is very easy for the folks in the meeting room to forget about the people dialed in. You can eliminate that problem by having everyone call in, if possible. After a while it is second nature to jump on a call instead of finding a room. Currently in the Stack Overflow NYC office it is really common to walk around and see two people on a hangout even though their offices are next to each other! (It is also possible that these people are just lazy…)

Try to recreate office fun stuff in a remote capacity

We have regular “Bev Bashes” and holiday parties in the offices, but what about the remotes? How do you give them fun stuff even though they are scattered all over the world?

For starters, we have “Remote Bev Bashes” over Zoom every Friday. The “Bev Baron” for that week (nominated by the last Bev Baron) schedules a Zoom call and sets a theme. Employees grab a beverage of their choice and just chat. You can stay for just a few minutes to say hi, or you can be a part of the entire thing.

Additionally, each office has a pretty fancy Holiday party in December, so we of course invite any remotes that are near the offices. If they are too far away to attend, we give a $200 stipend so that they can have their own festivities, whether it’s a really nice night out with their partners or just a big dinner for family. We don’t care as long as the employee does something yummy with it.

Don’t forget: If you make swag (t-shirts, hats, new socks etc) make sure that you send them to the remotes too. It may seem like a lot of work (believe me, with 87 remotes, it is a lot of shipping), but it is definitely worth it!

Bring them all together

Once a year, we bring all of our remote employees together for a week for some much needed face-time. It’s a different city each time, and there are usually 3 days of Executive Keynotes, Tiny Talks, and many many games of Werewolf. We talk about the state of the company and new projects and teams, but we vow not to make any huge decisions or business altering plans. The focus is on camaraderie, not profits. We look forward to it all year, and it’s definitely a blast. No pressure on the person that has to plan it, right? Read: That’s also me.

We also have smaller mini-meetups for teams to come together when needed, but those are coordinated by the teams themselves and centered around one of our three offices.

Make their home workspaces as awesome as the offices

When a new remote employee is hired, I contact them for their furniture choices. They get their choice of the exact same desks and chairs that we have in the offices, free of charge. We want them to be as comfortable as possible, and that means if they want to stand instead of sit, no problem. Our IT dept sets them up with all of their tech, and I set them up with everything else.

Need a filing cabinet? Cool. You want a different type of desk that is bright pink and sings? Hey, it’s your house. We re-create the in-office set-ups as much as possible so that our remote employees never feel less valued than everyone else.

Want to go remote yourself?

Love remote work or the idea of it? Check out our Live + Work Anywhere job listings on Stack Overflow Jobs.

Podcast logo The Stack Overflow Podcast is a weekly conversation about working in software development, learning to code, and the art and culture of computer programming.

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