Remote Work Best Practices with Becca from Help Scout

BY -

Phil Strazzulla

April 1, 2020

Remote work is getting more and more interest amongst People leaders as companies adapt to the COVID-19 outbreak.  In order to offer the best possible advice on how companies can be successful with remote work, we sat down with Becca Van Nederynen of Help Scout.

Becca has been running People Ops at Help Scout as the company grew from 10 people to over 100.  Help Scout is a fully distributed team that has evolved their playbook over the years to ensure a successful remote friendly culture.

What I found most interesting about our conversation is the underlying philosophies they’ve developed to hire and manage people.  At a high level, remote work environments work very similarly to co-located offices.  The major difference is that the friction caused by remote work means people have to be more intentional about asking for feedback, showing empathy, and communicating generally.

So in many ways the “best practices of remote teams” are really the best practices for any organization, just taken one step further.  Remote work forces us to strive a little more to be great colleagues.  The result is a strong culture that empowers employees.

Managing Culture

Here are some of the tips we’ve gleaned from Becca.  We hope they’re impactful as you look to make more of your team remote.

  • There are clear guidelines on when to use what type of communication so that expectations are set.  For example, slack is used when a response is needed within a few hours.  Employees who aren’t going to respond need to set an away message.  Email is for less immediate asks like when a response is needed within a couple of days.
  • Many people ask “how do you know people are working?”  Becca’s response is typically “How do you know people are getting things done when in the office?  You need to enable people to show off their work and communicate what they are getting done.  How do you let someone know something is complete, get feedback, show off?  You need empathetic managers who can notice when people are having a tougher time.”
  • To that end, the company does asynchronous standups via Slack and Trello to show what people are working on.
  • All of the micro interactions that you get in an office are lost remotely.  You don’t see if your boss is smiling or frowning.  Help Scout provides guidance and resources to help managers better communicate over email/slack as opposed to the terse language we typically resort to.  There is also an emphasis on asking for and giving feedback proactively.  When this is a norm, it happens.
  • Salaries are based on the Boston metro area—a leading tech hub, but not Silicon Valley.  The goal is to pay people the same for the work they do, no matter where they live in the world. Comp is re-visited every 12-18 months.
  • Employees are given a monthly stipend they can spend on a co-working facility in their hometown so that they don’t have to work from home.
  • The company uses the savings from less office space to bring everyone together for a team retreat twice a year.
  • When hiring, the company specifically looks for empathetic bridge builders who are proactive.  Again, every communication requires slightly more effort in a remote workforce.  It’s also important for people to be good writers given so much happens over slack and email.
  • Self-starters who have been in the workforce for a few years are also good criteria.  Do people have side projects they’ve been working on?  Are they curious and can figure out the solution to problems when their manager who works different hours is offline?
  • Help Scout asks new employees to do a paid 4-8 hour project so that both potential employees and the company can get a sense for how strong a fit there is.
  • As you’ll see below with their hiring tools, Help Scout has a huge focus on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.  To hold themselves accountable, and to attract the right people, they publish their diversity stats.  This serves as a really interesting content magnet for the talent they are trying to attract – from under represented groups, and people who care about D&I.
  • Once people are hired, they come to Boston for a week to meet with team members, go to a Red Sox game, and get a feel for the company culture.
  • They also realize that people who have strong relationships at work are more connected, engaged and productive.  So, they do monthly lunch and learns over Zoom, set people up with 1:1 coffee chats (in addition to 1:1’s with managers)

Tools for Remote Teams

Next, let’s take a look at the tools the People Ops team at Help Scout uses to get work done:

  • For an applicant tracking system, Help Scout uses Lever.  They switched to this ATS as it has a few remote-friendly features like the ability to send emails as a teammate, links to internal calendars, and plays nicely with their background check provider GoodHire.
  • For job boards, Becca’s team does use some remote first job boards such as WeWorkRemotely.  However, D&I is important enough to their company that they will post to job boards specifically targeting underrepresented groups first, and then look for a broader candidate base.  These job boards include PowerToFly, HireTechLadies, and the POC Tech Slack group.  In addition to tools, Help Scout also encourages managers to take time for informational interviews with potential employees from underrepresented groups in order to nurture that pipeline.  Despite their focus on diversity candidates, their time to hire is still a very respectable 45 days.
  • Becca’s team uses Zoom for video interviews and simply puts a scheduling link into the email sent to candidates via Lever.
  • They use TrueAbility for DevOps assessments.
  • Slack and Dropbox are integral collaboration tools for their team.
  • CultureAmp allows them to do twice annual deep dives into their culture, as well as one off surveys for more timely information.  They also use Google Forms to collect employee feedback.
  • Help Scout uses JustWorks for payroll and benefits in the US.  For international employees, they use Pilot.
  • For an internal wiki, they use Slab where their player roadmaps are hosted.
  • Payscale helps them understand what compensation should be.

Here are some other great resources on remote work: from HBR, Zapier, Bearer, Increment, and of course Help Scout.

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