Luke Ryan has been working remotely for the past five or so years. But it wasn’t until he joined software development firm Mokriya that he got a chance to be part of a team in which everyone is remote.
Below I talked to Ryan about remote working, how Mokriya builds and organizes its growing team, and his experiences working for different types of distributed companies.
What does Mokriya do and what do you do there?
Big companies hire Mokriya to build amazing software for small devices. Our strategic development approach for mobile, IoT, connected devices and more is being used by millions of people around the world. I head up our marketing team.
How many people are at the company now and how spread out are you?
We are now 45+, scattered all over the world. We have team members on almost every continent!
You’ve been working remotely for a while, what made you decide to pursue this type of work environment?
I’ve always had an affinity for travel. I have family in Australia but am connected to communities in Sweden and the US also. So working remotely is ideal for being able to spread my time across these different locations.
Why did Mokriya decide to build a distributed team?
First and foremost, access to the best talent. We did not want to be limited to the Bay Area, where Sunil, our CEO, first set up the company.
How does the company keep everyone feeling connected?
We have a collection of tools and habits that keep us well connected.
Slack is the hub for communication. We use Zoom for syncs and other team-based or all hands meetings. Having a virtual daily standup is also a nice way to keep everyone connected and on track.
What are the biggest challenges you face working remotely and how do you overcome them?
I think personally, it’s a challenge to ensure you don’t feel lonely and you also obviously need to self-motivate to an extent. So it’s naturally suited to people who are comfortable working alone and in an autonomous fashion. But by utilizing the communication tools and building a culture of transparency and support, these challenges can be overcome. Working from a co-working space or cafes can also be a good way to combat loneliness.
What is the biggest benefit that working remotely has afforded your company?
Apart from the talent access, it simply allows everyone to be more authentic and happier. By working from wherever in the world you are most happy and productive, well, that’s an amazing benefit as well as a competitive advantage.
Compared to the previous remote startups you’ve worked with, what does Mokriya do differently?
I’ve worked in teams where there were remote elements, but they were not “remote first” companies. Mokriya is remote-first 100%. This places everyone on the same wavelength and its prohibits any feelings of uncertainty in your mind, allowing you to just focus on what you do best.
[Remote work] allows everyone to be more authentic and happier.
Running this blog, I come across a lot of companies that are 100% remote and some that have a split culture with an office or two and then a big chunk of remote workers. As someone who has worked in both types of environments, what are the big differences? What are some things you feel like you can do at Mokriya, that were missing from previous places where you were remote but others were in an office somewhere?
The biggest difference (and most important) is a universal wavelength that the entire company is operating on. For example when a company is remote-first, remote communication and other value are ingrained in the culture. The danger I have witnessed in the alternative split culture is that there can be opposing forces chipping away at the morale and culture of the company. Of course it doesn’t have to be this way, but is a risk when you have a bunch of people in the office on one wavelength, chatting at the water cooler, holding spontaneous whiteboard meetings, etc., and then the remote group. The remote group may be on an entirely different wavelength, in some cases treated differently and communicated with differently. This is less than ideal.
As to Mokriya, by having a remote-first culture I feel 100% confident in my trust granted from colleagues, as well as the trust I grant to them. This alone, is a huge and beneficial aspect to having the remote-first culture.
What do you think is the most important thing a distributed team can do to ensure successful collaboration?
Commit to remote-first. Commit to certain processes and systems, have a solid onboarding for new hires. Embrace a set of values that foster transparent and supportive employees.
What are some of the benchmarks in use at Mokriya to make sure the team is in a good place, both mentally and operationally?
We use regular syncs between teammates and daily standups for teams. Generally just having a strong culture of open and transparent communication, a lot of which passes through Slack.
What sort of culture does your company have? Is it harder to build cohesive culture across geography?
It’s best summed up by our values but a real passion for our craft and transparency are big features of that. I don’t think it’s harder. If everyone lives the values, it doesn’t matter where we are geographically.
What do you look for in an ideal remote employee? Are there any qualities that make someone more successful at working remotely?
Great written communication. An ability to work autonomously. Someone that grants trust and brings their authentic self to work.
Describe your personal work environment.
I always sit at a co-working space, no matter what city I’m in. And then, set up my Macbook Air with a thunderbolt display and focus primarily on getting my posture and eye level height correct.
How do you manage work/life balance when working from your home?
During the days I do work from home, I relentlessly schedule my work hours with specific tasks. Then I hold myself accountable to that plan.
How do you keep distractions to a minimum? How do you personally measure efficiency?
Good music, with earphones in, helps me avoid distractions. Taking meetings only in afternoons helps keep mornings free for most important tasks. I know I’m being efficient if my to-do list is getting completed — if its not, then I know I’ve fallen victim to too many distractions.
What are some of the tools you couldn’t live without as a remote company?
Slack, Asana, Google Apps, Dropbox, Zoom, GitHub.
What do you like to read?
I keep Twitter and feedly optimized for marketing, mobile, IoT, and company culture news from a bunch of great influencers. Books tend to focus on mindfulness lately. The Untethered Soul was super impactful.
What advice would you give to a company heading down the remote working path?
Go all in! Read and seek advice from those already blazing the trail. Set up and then live your values.