Adda Birnir, founder and CEO of Skillcrush talks about what inspired her to start the largest online tech education company and why remote work is a cornerstone of their business.
How many employees and contractors do you have?
30 – 40
Please tell us about the importance of location independence at your company.
Remote work is a cornerstone of Skillcrush’s business because it provides the flexibility and fulfillment that both our students and employees value most. Many of our Skillcrush students come to us because they feel stuck in their current jobs and are seeking higher salaries, better job security, and more flexible careers.
More and more people, are looking to work remotely because they want a career that integrates with their lifestyle and that means finding work that sees them through new chapters and challenges—everything from growing families, health conditions, and relocations. It is Skillcrush’s core mission to show them that they can achieve just that by learning tech skills!
Did you start with the intention of having a distributed or nomadic team? If not, when did you decide to support people working remotely?
Skillcrush has been a remote company from the start. Remote work is the #1 way we’ve found to give ourselves flexibility, and to stick with our intersectional, feminist ideas that say if we’re going to create a company, we’re going to create a company that can work for anybody—where people from all over the world with different life experiences can contribute, and most of all, feel welcome.
As CEO, I care deeply about creating the best possible work environment for the Skillcrush team that offers them freedom, flexibility, and happiness—and for us, that means remote work. As Simon Sinek (Author of Start with Why) says, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
What are some of the challenges you face as a team without a central location or office?
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as a remote team is to find that work-life balance and not get so caught up in what we’re doing (since we all love it so much!) that we find ourselves burning out. Even though I probably struggle most with switching off from “work mode,” I really emphasize the importance of setting boundaries with my team and logging out at an appropriate hour.
What’s the upside that comes with not having a central location or office?
The thing I love most about Skillcrush’s remote culture is that our team is made up of top talent from around the world that bring such unique perspectives to the table. Since we are an online tech education company, the lives that we are able to touch are limitless, and that all starts with our globally-diverse team.
A remote workforce not only allows you to hire the best and brightest, but it also helps to keep them working with you through whatever life changes come their way—relocations, new babies, and new side hustles 🙂
Are there important non-office workspaces in the history of building your company — a favorite coffee shop, bar or similar space?
Yes! Very very early on in the creation of Skillcrush we used to lurk around coffee shops and lure unsuspecting people into user interviews. Our favorite place was the Barnes and Noble that used to be at 3rd Avenue and 54th Street (rest in peace!). What we’d do is go buy $5 gift cards and then approach women who fit our demographic and ask them if they could answer a few questions in exchange for a gift card. It sounds crazy, but not only did people happily chat with us, we got fantastic intel!
What % of your company regularly works remotely?
100% of the Skillcrush team works remotely!
Any advice or best practices for supporting the work styles of your teammates from a distance?
As Skillcrush continues to grow, we make it a priority to stay connected with each other and dedicate time to all of the team-building activities you would expect from an office setting—happy hours, one-on-one video hangouts, and chat rooms solely for sharing Corgi GIFs and ridiculous memes.Open communication is really key, and as CEO, I believe that my team deserves the respect and security to know what’s actually going on in the business. By promoting full transparency in everything from revenue to how salaries are determined, I’m sending the message to my team that they have a seat at the table and that they deserve to have all the same information everyone else has.
What types of places do your teammates choose to work from when remote?
The Skillcrush team literally works from everywhere! Some of our team members with young children prefer to work out of their home offices, while others choose to visit their local co-working spaces and coffee shops throughout the week. Two of our Skillcrushers are about to embark on Remote Year, so we can’t wait to see the exotic locations they’ll be working from.
What qualities do you look for when hiring for a distributed team?
The top traits we look for are self-starters who are motivated without much oversight, they have a passion for what we do and how we do it, and bonus points for anyone who has experience working remotely already!
Communication can be a challenge for remote teams. How do you keep your teammates connected and on the same page?
Our remote meetings are almost exclusively video chats. Having the face-to-face interaction is crucial to building rapport within our teams and HipChat is our go-to tool for staying connected throughout the day.
Each team also manages their projects using a process called SCRUM/Agile that is commonly used in the tech world. Skillcrush teams get together daily to check-in on their current projects, discuss any roadblocks, and adjust their workloads accordingly. It’s super collaborative and gives everyone insight into what every team and team member is working on at any given moment.
How does your team deal with being in different time zones? What advice do you have when team members are often changing time zones?
Since we have Skillcrushers all over the map from Romania to Los Angeles, we have a master doc with every team member’s preferred hours and share our schedules real-time via Google Calendar and our availability via HipChat. We tend to operate on Eastern time since that’s where the majority of our team lies. We generally leave it up to each team member to set and manage their own schedules (some are night owls, some are early birds), and our philosophy is if the works gets done, it works for us!
What are the keys to good remote team management?
As your remote team continues to grow, drilling down and defining really structured processes for team collaboration, communication, and accountability are essential to keeping work running smoothly. When you’re in an office, communication gaps can be patched over in-person, but when working remotely, they can easily get out of control. Working in SCRUM and using a suite of collaborative platforms helps us stay on top of our work and in constant communication with each other.
What does being a part of the remote work revolution mean to you, and the future of the distributed workforce at large?
Working in my pajamas! Ok, just kidding 😛 I mean I DO DO THAT but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
So early on in my career in tech I worked with a developer, remotely, who was a paraplegic. He’d been in an accident that paralyzed him, and yet he was totally able to work as a developer and did awesome work. Now I knew he used a wheelchair, but I figured that just meant he was paralyzed from the waist down.
Well, lo and behold, I get on a Google Hangout with him one day and I think we were waiting for someone to join and we start talking and he tells me that he actually only has the use of about three fingers, one on one hand and two on the other. For over a year I had been working with him and I had NO IDEA. I was floored.
But this is the beauty of remote work, it’s all about the results you deliver.
What are your thoughts on Workfrom’s role in the way work is getting done—now and in the future?
We’re huge fans of Workfrom and love how you’re working to create resources that make remote work easier and more accessible for workers all over the world. Your on-the-go technology such as the locator app for places to work is perfect for a future workforce that will become more and more distributed throughout our global community!
Is there anything else you’d like to share? Our goal is to gain insight into your path as a distributed team and help others understand what it looks like to be successful in spite of the challenges often faced.
Here at Skillcrush we believe that remote work is a great pathway for getting mission-driven organizations off the ground and for providing the flexibility and sustainability that are key to keeping your team and company thriving!
Running a successful remote company really comes down to trust and accountability. You have to have the right people on your team that you can count on. If you’re thinking about going remote, make sure you have employees who really care about your mission and always keep your company’s best interests at heart (without someone looking over their shoulder all the time).
Workfrom members get 15% off the Skillcrush Blueprint Course! To redeem use the code