Liam Martin intended to study sociology as a professor but now his research is focused on learning about the quirks and intricacies of workers through data gleaned by the companies he co-founded, Staff.com and Time Doctor. Staff.com provides insights on how people are working in order to improve productivity while Timedoctor.com offers comprehensive time tracking based on actual activities. The companies support and promote remote work starting internally with a commitment to enabling staff to work wherever and whenever they want.
The companies are organizing Running Remote, a conference in Bali for those who are managing or thinking about starting a remote team.
How did you get started in remote work?
I was in graduate school pursuing a degree in higher education planning to teach sociology and economics focusing on immigration and identity. I realized that while I liked working with the students, I really wasn’t cut out for lecturing. Instead, I launched an online tutoring company matching students with tutors.
What did you learn from that first remote company experience?
We needed to have a better time tracking option. The amount of time that the tutors reported spending with students didn’t always match up with what the students reported. Without an easy, accurate way to track time, we couldn’t really scale.
How did that experience lead to what you are doing now?
I met my co-founder Rob Rawson at a conference. He had developed this time tracking tool for his business. We realized that there was a huge potential for that tool as its own product. Companies generally have a need for time tracking tools and that need has increased with the growth in remote work.
How do you and Rob manage the company together when you’re on opposite sides of the world?
It works out well. Since we’re on opposite time zones, there is always someone available to make top-level decisions, seven days a week. We meet up in the middle. Mostly, we meet on my evenings and his mornings. He’s a morning person and I’m an evening person, so it works out.
We also meet in person two to three times a year.
Why did you decide to host a conference on remote work?
As a remote company, we wanted to hear how others are making it work. We wanted to get ideas on how to do it better and to foster the conversation about what’s happening in the work world. More companies are seeing remote work as a legitimate option and more people want to have that as an opportunity.
What is your biggest challenge as a company committed to remote work?
The hardest part is finding talent. We have six people whose only job is finding more talent. For a tech startup, it’s always difficult and even more so for a tech startup with a culture like ours.
What is your culture?
We want people to work wherever and whenever they want as long as they get the job done. We stick to that even when it becomes uncomfortable. It’s much better than a typical 9 to 5. Just because you’re at work, doesn’t mean you are getting work done.
What do you look for when you’re hiring?
We look for people who are introverted since they are generally better able to work remotely. But we also want people who have a low level of agreeableness. It’s a difficult combination to come by, but it’s important. We need people who don’t have to ask us what to do but can tell us what needs to be done. If you’re frozen in indecision, your manager may be eight hours away in a different time zone.
Why don’t you have a central headquarters?
We have offices for some employees, but we purposefully don’t have the executive team in one place. We didn’t want to have tiers of employees. If you have a central office for the executives, employees there may be viewed differently. Remote workers may feel like second-class citizens.
How do you make up for not being in the same office with people?
One thing I’ve done is to make a video about what it’s like to work with me. Liam’s psychological quirks. I talk about what I respect in a work colleague and what’s the best way to work with me. I’m really telling people how to trick me into giving them what they want. These are things you just can’t quickly absorb when you’re working remotely the way you do when you’re in an office with someone. It’s awkward, but it works.
How do you ensure that the work gets done?
We’re really focused on the KPIs – the key performance indicators. People know what’s expected. Everything we do is by the numbers.
How has that worked?
It’s been effective with most departments. Sales have been the biggest challenge. We’ve been trying a few different things. Currently, we have people come to a central office for training and then if they can meet expectations, they have the option of going wherever they want.
What’s your advice for running a remote team?
Document everything. If you have processes in place, document them, digitize them and give people easy access to the information. The big difference between remote and in person is that when you’re working with someone and they’re doing something wrong, it’s easy to tell them. But when you’re working remotely, you are not there to correct problems and you may not be available, so it helps to have all of this written down.