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Remote Working: No Bad Hair Days at Wordfence

The core team at Wordfence is now 13 full-time employees, and with contractors we are a team of 29. We are still at that really fun size where you can have a full team meeting and everyone has a chance to have their say. Every day feels like a hacker conference where everyone knows everyone else, and we are here to help our customers be more secure.

I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about why our team is so amazing. Did we get lucky? Is it our hiring process? Are awesome people predisposed to work in information security? Perhaps it’s a bit of all of that. But one thing that has occurred to me relatively recently is that the way we work is unique, and it may be a contributing factor.

Our team is 100% remote, and all our interaction is either via collaborative applications or voice calls. We don’t do video calls. We either use voice calls on Slack or an application called TeamSpeak, which is the most reliable VOIP system we’ve found. TeamSpeak actually grew out of the gaming community.

Improving Signal-to-Noise with Voice Only

Being 100% remote and using voice-only communications has an interesting effect on an organization. It filters out a lot of noise. Communication becomes more about relating to others at a purely intellectual level. Whether you’re making a joke (I make very bad jokes), solving a problem or just sharing an idea, it’s not about who has the biggest presence in the meeting room or whether someone has a new hairstyle. You are interacting with your colleagues in a purely intellectual capacity, and that changes the dynamic quite radically.

Our team is incredibly effective, and I think this way of interacting is one of the reasons why. It really improves the signal-to-noise ratio. If you think about a brick and mortar organization and how many daily distractions you have: Commuting to work, finding parking, walking into the office, sitting down to work while other people wander into your office to chat, the endless in-person meetings that could have been a 1 minute conversation.

Working remotely with audio only strips away all that and makes you and your team incredibly effective.

For larger team meetings, we use TeamSpeak, and we all use push-to-talk or PTT. What is great about this is you can have a barking dog or noisy kids or a construction crew in the background, and the rest of the team can’t hear it.  When you want to speak, you hit your PTT button and the audio quality is amazing. If it gets bad for some reason, we can see packet-loss for each person connected and so we can figure out within seconds where the problem is. It usually results in someone moving closer to their WiFi hub.

For meetings with two or three people, we tend to use Slack voice calls. Those calls don’t require PTT and you can hear everyone all the time. That creates a closer feeling, kind of like a coffee shop. Now that Slack seems to have ironed out the bugs, Slack voice audio quality is usually awesome.

Occasionally I’ll have to speak with someone outside the company and do a video call. That usually means making sure I don’t have any dog toys lying around the home office, getting rid of the heavy metal t-shirt and putting on something gray and boring and making sure I don’t have crazy hair. I find it’s quite a recalibration when you’re used to just walking up to your desk and doing quick and easy voice calls with anyone in the team. Suddenly you have to worry about looking at them or looking at your camera. You can’t just stare out your office window as you focus deeply on the idea they’re conveying, because they might wonder if you are not paying attention.

Entering the Golden Age of Online Collaboration

In the past 10 years, user-friendly mainstream tools like Slack have emerged that make remote working incredibly easy and allow a company to have a remote working culture. Adjusting to this new reality will take time, even for companies that appear to be innovators and technology leaders, which is perhaps why so many tech companies still insist on brick-and-mortar offices.

Working remotely doesn’t come without challenges. There is the honey do list that your spouse or cohabitants may think you are permanently and constantly available to help with during your new job. A few conversations explaining that ‘remote’ doesn’t mean ‘pretend’ usually helps resolve that.

If you have a family, working from home can be life changing because you get to spend more time with your kids. Some of our team were in jobs before joining Wordfence where they worked long hours and would really only spend quality time with their kids on weekends. Being able to be home based has been transformative for them.

We have evolved the way we work and the tools we use over time. What we have today at Wordfence is an incredible remote working environment where we relate to each other at an intellectual level as remote workers and we trust each other and love working together. It is better than any workplace I could have ever imagined.

If you are a developer, security analyst, QA guru or customer service engineer, Wordfence is hiring. We would love to hear from you.

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