10up – strategic, consultative, creative.

This week we had conversation with Jake Goldman, Founder and President of 10up.

10up is a full service digital agency with a team of 120+ full-time strategists, designers and engineers working around the globe. Their main focus is on making content management better through premiere web design & development consulting services. Did you know that they contribute thousands of hours and dollars every year to open platforms like WordPress, and by providing tools and products that make web publishing simple. They have history of working with clients across diverse industries including media, non-profit, education, government, healthcare, and retail, at the scale of medium sized businesses to enterprise organizations. TechCrunch, TypeOneNation, LivePress and Bates College – to name a few!

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What is the most important team value you have?

At 10up, we don’t just “make” things, we engineer them. We’re a group of people built to solve big problems, constantly improving things around us.

Our team of consultants do not merely take detailed instructions and convert them into code (or comps or spreadsheets) – we take a set of business and technical objectives, devise a plan, and execute against those solutions. Being a “senior” engineer (or designer, or strategist, or manager) demands not just a mastery of programming languages and developer tools (or Gantt charts or Photoshop), but an innate ability to define strategies and take ownership of a customer’s real-world challenges.

How many people work remotely in your company and how often?

We have operated as a fully remote team since inception and now we have 125+ full-time team members around the world. We believe the best talent isn’t found in a single zip code, and an international clientele requires a global perspective. Our distributed model empowers us to work with the best people wherever they may be found.

Every year, we organize social meetups for individual teams and the whole company to connect with peers offline and build relationships. In 2015, we hosted our biggest “All Hands Summit” in Boulder, Colorado. We brought together the entire team for several days to focus on developing soft and technical skills, celebrating past accomplishments and planning for the future. We also implemented breakout sessions which explored our business goals, emerging and important technologies, the latest tactics for effective project management, and a healthy dose of team building.

Team members also often see other colleagues in person during client on-site meetings and project kick offs, as well as industry conferences that we regularly attend.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as remote team?

As a distributed company, communicating effectively and fostering the right culture requires a structured system for frequent interactions and a commitment to building relationships with your team. There are several tools that help us with that.

We’ve made significant investments in our asynchronous onboarding process (using Basecamp ) to make sure new employees feel grounded in our culture and processes from day one. Communicating clear expectations using tools like Zoom (for video conferencing), Hipchat (to create a “virtual” office space), implementing our orientation “buddy program”, and establishing explicit transition paths after onboarding ensures that new hires hit the ground running.

Additionally, announcing new hires, projects, and achievements through outlets such as a company internal blogs and podcasts helps to establish camaraderie amongst the group and make employees feel more connected with their remote team.

How do you communicate within your team? Any tips and tricks you would share for others?

Frequent communication is essential in setting remote employees up for success. They need to be able to escalate problems, ask questions or request feedback in a quick, timely manner.

We’ve found that prioritizing weekly one-on-one time between our teams (pods) and employees and their direct managers, is an effective way to regularly review tasks, identify and solve challenges. It’s also great to provide consistent and timely feedback and build relationships. Our employee review process is essentially a culmination of those frequent check-ins where we evaluate employee performance and opportunities for growth within the company.

We use Zoom for video conferencing, which offers many of the compelling benefits of in-person meetings, with a high-quality, virtual face-to-face experience. To facilitate conversations between individuals and groups in a virtual style office space, we use Hipchat. For projects and task management, we use Basecamp and JIRA.

Our design team is always looking for new tools to use for collaboration at all stages of a project: from discovery to strategy to design.

We’re currently using Invision to present design concepts (including wireframes) to clients to solicit feedback and for internal team reviews. Through its live sharing feature, multiple people can follow along with a design presenter and the annotation tools enables us to draw and mark-up design in real-time.

We’re also experimenting with Realtimeboard: an online, infinite canvas used for enhancing our UX exercises. This tool allows us to collaborate remotely with clients during the discovery phase by adding virtual sticky notes to capture granular ideas and arrange them in logical groupings.

We also frequently use screen sharing with our video chat tool Zoom, and annotated screenshots, to exchange ideas and share what we’re working on with other team members.

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