Hit Refresh: The Future Is Flexible
By: Julia Sonenshein
Skillcrush has some very exciting news: We made a podcast! We’ve been working on it for months and are thrilled to share it with you. You can listen on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Overcast, our site, or wherever you get your podcasts.
In our series premiere, we’re talking about how technology has made it possible to radically restructure what the modern workplace looks like, and how flexible options like working remotely make tech a fantastic option for anyone who wants more control over their life.
You might not know this, but Skillcrush is a completely remote company. That means we don’t have an office—and our employees are all over the world. I’ve never even met some of them face-to-face! It’s a pretty wild set up, and we get into it—including how we as a team fight remote work’s biggest downfall.
And please let us know what you think of the podcast! We’d LOVE it if you could write us a review on iTunes. We’ll read every single one!
The Future Is Flexible Transcript
Door bell ringing, door opening, footsteps.
Julia Sonenshein: Hi, I’m sorry we’re late.
Adda Birnir: That’s okay!
Julia: Adda, this is Haele!
Haele Wolfe: Hi!
Adda: It’s so nice to meet you!
Haele: It’s so nice to meet you!
Adda: It’s always funny to see how tall people are.
Julia: Was I—how do we stack up?
Adda: You’re shorter than I thought you were—
Haele: Okay, okay.
Adda: You’re actually pretty on what—
Julia: Because I’m just…like…normal.
Haele: There is nothing weird about me. I am totally normal!
Instrumental theme music.
Adda: Welcome to Hit Refresh, a podcast for anyone who is stuck and needs a fresh start, brought to you by Skillcrush.
I’m Adda Birnir, a self-taught coder, educator, and CEO & Founder of Skillcrush—an interactive learning community that teaches total beginners the tech skills they need to get into better, higher paying careers with real mobility.
Twice a month, I’ll be talking about what it look likes to work in tech, and why I think that learning tech skills is the single best career decision any forward-thinking professional can make.
But when we talk about working in tech, we aren’t talking about moving to Silicon Valley, or getting a computer science degree, or magically transforming into a young white guy wearing a hoodie and coding all night.
At Skillcrush, we believe in a much more expansive tech world. It’s a world where just a few coding lessons is enough to give you entré instead of a computer science degree, a world that’s inclusive of anybody who wants in, and a world where tech is a tool that anyone can use. We want to highlight the amazing communities and companies that are already championing the fact that tech is for everyone.
We’ll also be putting my own company, Skillcrush, under the microscope, because we’re a tech company that’s trying to do tech differently. We’re building a company that’s flexible, inclusive, and true to my intersectional feminist ideals—and we want to prove that’s not just worker-friendly, it’s good business.
Today we’re going to tackle one of our favorite topics: remote work! It turns out that there are a lot of you out there who are sick and tired of being forced to show up at an office everyday and are looking for work with greater flexibility.
In today’s episode, we’ll talk about how technology has made it possible to radically restructure what the modern workplace looks like, and how the rise in remote jobs is one of the best reasons why you should explore working in the tech industry.
I’ll start with Skillcrush’s story, and why we’re an all remote company. Next, I’ll talk to Werk’s Annie Dean to get into the bigger picture around workplace flexibility—and why it’s the way of the future.
Finally, we’ll come back to my own team, who will get into the realities of remote work, including how Skillcrush employees fight remote work’s biggest downside. I’m so happy you’re listening—wherever you are!
Act One: How Do We Find Our Flexibility?
Adda: A few minutes ago, you heard me meet one of our producers, Haele Wolfe, for the first time—even though we live in the same city and have worked together for months. And that’s because Skillcrush is an entirely remote company, meaning we have no centralized office and our employees are located all over the world.
Max: And I currently work from Paris, France.
Aleia: Most of the time I work from Atlanta.
Ann: I work in a town called Pincourt, which is about 30 kilometers west of Montreal
Sharon: I’m in Ft Collins Colorado.
Will: I work from Montgomery, Alabama.
Lauren: I live in Boulder, Colorado.
Max: Although I’m usually based out of Bangkok, Thailand.
Maren: I work from the Pacific Northwest.
Scott: I work primarily from my home here in Santa Rosa, California.
Caro: I work from Chicago.
Christy: I am working from Pittsburgh, PA today where I’m housesitting
Lizu: I live in Clopotiva Village, close to the Hațeg city.
Max: So, that’s where I’m at.
Adda: Personally, I actually prefer the term distributed workforce, because remote always makes me think of a remote development team that’s been banished to Siberia and who’s not integrated into the team.
When I founded Skillcrush in 2012 I didn’t set out to build a distributed company. In fact, at the time, we actually had an office in Manhattan. So I don’t know if I ever exactly said “Yes this is what I’m doing.” Hiring remote and freelance workers began honestly just as a cost-saving measure critical for my business at the time. But, what I discovered was that by hiring remote workers I could hire amazingly talented people without having to compete with New York salaries and save money by getting rid of my office.
As I’ve continued to build the company and hired more people though, I’ve really come to believe that being distributed is one of the core ways in which we embody the intersectional feminist ideals that I really believe in. Our employees include parents, caretakers, people with disabilities, and just generally complex humans with complex lives, and they really need flexibility in order to be able to do their best work.
I’ve also realized that having a distributed workforce takes a lot of pressure off of me. You know, having to show up everyday at an office with my shit together so I don’t stress out my 30 employees would be really hard! Plus, I know myself well enough to know that if I did work with everyone in an office, I would totally notice who came early and left late or spent all day trolling Facebook— and I would judge them for it! Even though I KNOW that stuff isn’t what matters.
Remote work is how we found our way to flexibility, which has helped us retain our employees and keep them happy and productive.
When we come back, I’ll speak with Werk’s Annie Dean about how workplace flexibility is changing things for women’s career prospects because it’s about damn time.
Scott: Imagine waking up and starting your day in a career that excites and challenges you, with the flexibility and freedom to build work into your schedule—instead of the other way around. That feeling sounds great… and it’s also completely possible. At Skillcrush, the path to a career you love begins right now. In honor of today’s episode, we’re giving away a free ebook that will walk you through landing the remote job of your dreams. Just head over to skillcrush.com/remote to download your copy.
Act Two: What Werks?
Adda: Can you hear me now?
Annie Dean: Yes.
Adda: Okay, fantastic.
Adda: Annie Dean, with her co-founder Anna Auerbach, runs a New York City- based startup called Werk—spelled with an E. Werk coordinates with companies to offer more flexibility to their employees, and I wanted to talk to Annie about what’s wrong with the way so many companies currently operate, and what key things need to change in order to help women in particular stay in the workforce.
Annie: Hi! I’m Annie Dean and I’m the cofounder and co-CEO of Werk. At Werk, we’re rewriting the rules of an outdated workplace to make work more compatible with the lives of ambitious women and we do that today through a job board with 6 flexibility types. Every single job opportunity on our job board has flexibility built right in. And our goal is ultimately to revolutionize the workplace to meet the needs of modern society so that we can all have more flexibility and lead more compatible lives.
Adda: What Annie has done at Werk is create 6 different ways that employers can offer their employees greater flexibility, because as it turns out employers want to do it, they just don’t always know how.
Annie: We’ve realized that 80 percent of companies want to be offering flexibility and flexibility is a top job factor—a top three job factor in a millennial’s job search and the top factor in a woman’s job search. And frankly, the reason why flexibility isn’t more easily attained is because flexibility doesn’t have a good definition and so one of the things that we did to begin with is that first of all we defined it and so we say that flexibility are modifications on the full time role that increase compatibility between the objectives of the employer and the needs of the employee.
Adda: In other words, when employers and employees can come together and create a more flexible work environments, everyone wins.
Adda: Do you find that there are certain aspects of flexibility that are more important?
Annie: I think that the most popular flexibility type that we that we productize is something that we we call “micro-agility” and this is the ability to make micro adjustments to your schedule on a day-to-day basis. I think that there is a lot of anxiety that we need to show up and have a certain amount of face time everyday, but if you are up all night with your children as I was last night—my son was suddenly had suddenly realized what it means to have a cold and a stuffy nose and he was suddenly freaked out that his nostrils were not working so….we had a really late night last night.
Adda: Laughing. Oh, no.
Annie: So, you know I was up all night with my son and fortunately didn’t have a 9:00 a.m. meeting like I often do, but if I had, I would’ve canceled and you know spend a little bit longer at my house this morning because otherwise I would have had a totally unproductive day. I was exhausted, I was up until 5 o’clock in the morning with this kid and so, we need the ability to say: “Is it strategic for me because I’m going to do better work to take a quick nap when my caregiver arrives so that I can refreshed and not lose the entire day. That’s what my micro-agility contemplates.
Adda: I have to admit that the idea that this is…not just how things already work is crazy to me. Of course, you need a nap after being up all night! I was also curious whether a lot of employees wanted to work from home all together as their form of flexibility.
Annie: I actually hate the phrase “work from home” because as you’ll see in many of the press articles related to what we’re building you’ll see images of women at their computer with their children actually touching them—nobody works like that. That is the most unfair depiction of what it looks to be somebody, like to work outside of the office.
Adda: Right about now, I of course remembered that our main sales page features a mom holding her baby while looking at her computer. So I’m gonna take a quick break to call our Dev team…
Annie: And so desk plus is the idea that you are partially office-based. You have the ability, you have an office home base you’re working the traditional role Monday through Thursday maybe, and on Fridays you’re working outside the office whether that’s at a coffee shop or a co-working space or you’re out in a field, or your’e at home it doesn’t really matter. But, people really like the ability to step away from the complexities of the modern workday, how full the days become as meetings, you know cutting down on the commute for the day can really help you be more productive so people definitely like that one as well.
Adda: From a bigger perspective, why is this issue so important? Why is it so important to make it possible for women to have this “micro-agility” or “desk plus”? What’s the bigger context here?
Annie: There is a huge macro-economic context and a huge implication on the economy and also the number of women in leadership, frankly. So, when Anna and I came to this problem it was because we recognized that in our own personal experiences that we were frankly being forced out of the leadership track because of the advent of having children. And I think for a lot of women in today’s society, that feels patently unfair. And we felt like there was a really big opportunity—first of all, it was a real problem, and second of all, that there was a big opportunity to solve it. And so when you look at the trajectory of women throughout their careers, 30 percent of the most talented women are dropping out of the workforce after having a child and 70 percent of those women say that they would have stayed if they had access to flexibility.
Adda: 70 percent would have stayed! 70 percent! 70.
Annie: If you sort of pull those numbers through the available research, you can, through flexibility, keep about seven million women in the workforce. If you multiply that seven million women by the percentage chance of anybody becoming a Fortune 500 CEO which is obviously an extremely small chance, you can actually move the needle on the number of women in Fortune 500 CEO seats from five percent to 20 percent. And you have the World Economic Forum saying that gender parity, corporate gender parity is not feasible for another 100 years on the track of innovation that we have today there is actually a huge change that we can make to the way the workplace looks and functions and it doesn’t cost anyone anything. It just takes changes mindsets than really taking a strategic viewpoint on how we’re going to implement it. And if we are willing to do that we can make a really, really big impact on the numbers of women in leadership overall. When you’re looking at the long term consequence of having women in leadership I think it’s clear today that having women in leadership is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers. Women led companies tend to have better working conditions and fewer layoffs. So this is really just good business.
Kelli: When you’re juggling a busy life on top of a 9-to-5, how do you make a career change FAST? Skillcrush teaches you everything you need to launch an exciting, creative career in web design or web development. We’ll show you the secret to making money WHILE you learn tech skills, all in just about an hour a day. Today is all about that remote life, so we’re giving away a free ebook that will walk you through landing the remote job of your dreams. You can download your copy at skillcrush.com/remote.
Act Three: …And What Doesn’t
Adda: The future of flexibility looks bright. We keep seeing studies that more and more companies are at least offering some types of options—and at Skillcrush, we’ve found it to be one of the best ways to support our team in all of their various life situations.
Now, to be clear—we didn’t find utopia. We found a really good thing, but it’s imperfect. A lot can go wrong. Google Hangouts can go to shit. We have to negotiate wildly different timezones. And in a funny contradiction of our quest for flexibility, remote work-life often means your office is in your home, and you might end up working way too much.
And then people always ask me: “Isn’t it lonely?” The truth is, yeah, it can be. Our producer Haele talked with our team about how we conquer isolation.
Haele: Yeah, it started with Snapchat stories. Or—that’s the first thing everyone mentioned when I would talk to them: Have you spoken to Caro, Ann, and Max about Snapchat? So, I did.
Ann: My name is Ann and I work in a town called Pincourt which is about 30 kilometers west of Montreal.
Caro Griffin: Yeah, I’m Caro Griffin and I work from Chicago…most of the time.
Max Haack: My name is Max and I currently work from Paris, France. Although I’m usually based out of Bangkok, Thailand.
Ann: Laughing. First I have to blame Caro. Because she introduced me to Snapchat which before I had only heard about in a very peripheral way. And once I had worked myself around the interface which I love I loved it so much that she and I would snap pretty regularly. And then Max joined us and so now it’s almost a daily thing where we’ll snap little bits of our days to each other, and it’s very fun.
Caro: We’re all over the place and we lead very different lives. The three of us are pretty close. I think it’s one of those things where we would have never met in other circumstances. Like our paths would have never crossed.
Max: Caro and Ann are the only persons I use Snapchat with.
Adda: Okay, I have to interject here to give a little more context. First of all, you need to know that Ann is a musician and massage therapist-turned-developer who also is the mom of four kids. Max, on the other hand, is our resident German who has the distinction of being only one of two Skillcrush employees of all time with a computer science degree and who spends his time jet setting between Europe and Southeast Asia. Caro, well, Caro is our Director of Operations and she has purple hair.
Caro: My favorite was that Max sent me a snapchat of him boarding an airplane and it was clearly an early morning flight, like he’s in Asia you know it’s probably 7:00 a.m. his time or whatever it was and I just happen to be…it was gay pride weekend and I happened to be on a dance floor dancing with friends to Lady Gaga so I just sent him a 5 second snap of me dancing with friends on a dance floor like screaming the lyrics to “Born This Way.”
Ann: The little moments for me are what I find the most interesting. It’s kidn of like our water cooler talk.
Haele: Just to clarify, I did ask Max what his favorite snapchat was but he super wouldn’t tell me. My money’s on Caro and “Born this Way.”
Caro: So it’s just like I’ll be brushing my teeth and Max will be walking down the street in Paris holding a baguette, you know, it’s fun to use those time differences for the LOL’s.
Max: It’s like one of the first things in the morning that I check. It’s like, Whoo! Snaps from Ann. Snaps from Caro.
Haele: If our biggest pitfall is loneliness, much of our institutional solutions fall to Director of Operations and “Born this Way” dancer Caro to create community on a bigger scale.
Caro: I get great joy out of finding ways to do traditional work outings on a remote context. Like I love that we’ve found a way to do happy hours and movie nights. Um…we do a movie night using a service called Rabbit and it’s basically if you’ve ever used a Google Hangout, it’s a Google Hangout. You can log in to a streaming service like Amazon Prime or Netflix or Hulu and you can pull up or rent a movie or TV show and then so that’s the main screen and you can still see everyone’s little icons at the bottom and there’s still a chat. You could just see 10 faces singing and dancing their little heart out to Pitch Perfect.
We use Amazon Prime a lot as a remote team. I’m constantly having to explain to Amazon that “Yes, I really did mean to order 12 foam rollers and ship them around the world to different addresses. Laughs. And you know, Amazon Prime, remote work would be so much harder. Amazon Prime just makes it so much easier.
Adda: Just wanted to pop in here and say that this podcast is NOT currently sponsored by Amazon Prime, but Jeff, feel free to get in touch.
Caro: I have a spreadsheet of everyone’s favorite snacks and we just like put it to use sometimes.
Haele: There’s a snack sheet?
Caro: Yeah, I do. What’s your favorite snack by the way, I don’t have yours.
Haele: Wow you cornered me and I love it.
Adda: Wait a second! Where are my snacks? No one’s ever sent me snacks! This brings up for me the many ways in which running a distributed company is weird. For example, I’ve never been in a room with all 30 of my employees. I know that I run this awesome company that employs 30 people…but…that’s not my day-to-day reality. Most days, I’m just alone in in my office which also happens to be my bedroom, you know avoiding my email inbox and trolling Facebook.
And honestly, I often feel kind of lonely and out of it. Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way the importance of leaving the house, and especially because I live in New York, going into the city to work. I often joke that if I make it to Wednesday without going to my coworking space, I get really emo and start questioning all of my life choices. But it’s not a joke! That’s what happens! Literally everytime. And I’m not alone…in my loneliness.
Haele: And so making real friendships, even over a computer screen, is critical to feeling like you’re in a real office environment. This is Brian. He is a data-driven marketer who lives in Tampa, FL loves to golf, will not negotiate on early bedtimes, and lives for project management.
Brian: When I first started freelancing, I remember sitting alone in my room for like two months in my living room where my desk was and just like…. It wasn’t depression, it wasn’t like quite that, but I just felt lonely, I just felt really lonely.
Haele: Brian spoke to me about his friendship with Julia, our Brooklyn-based Head of Content and podcast producer—which is a somewhat unlikely pairing. If Brian is in dri fit polo shirts, Julia is head-to-toe in black—at the beach. That said, they both love reading, can get too stuck in their own heads, and love to collaborate. And regarding polo shirts: I have it on good authority they recently spent some time going through his closet via Google Hangouts and giving some items to Goodwill.
Julia: Yeah, Brian is my work best friend.
Haele: How do you feel about your friendship with Julia?
Brian: Laughs. That’s an amazing question…. No, I really like it. It’s good to at least try and make connections with people and you’ll inevitably find people that you really do have a good laugh with and I think Julia is totally one of those people. We get our work done and we are very focused on that but like clearly we’re just friends and it’s nice to have people you like and people that share similar values as you.
Julia: I love working remotely, it gives me a ton of flexibility, I’m also dealing with a chronic illness and that wouldn’t be possible if I weren’t working remotely, but the loneliness is a real thing. I used to freelance and I was not in contact with anyone else with like an entire day at a time or like two days at a time and I remember that I would always thing to myself: “Did I speak today? Or did I laugh at anything?”
Brian: We have plans to sit on stoops together and get ice cream in Brooklyn. So mostly we talk about our fake friendship and what we’re going to do when we hang out but then we actually do a lot of stuff, we‘ll do work sessions together. I love work sessions, like face-to-face, Google Hangouts, things like that well, as face-to face as you can get.
Julia: Um…Laughs. We had a work session pretty recently where Google Hangouts stopped working so he couldn’t…I couldn’t hear him, he could only hear me, so he had to type responses to me, and by the end I really think he just wished I had never been born or he had never been born. But we got our work done.
Brian: Off the books, we just decided to have a reading competition and she’s destroying me in this competition. She’s like 200 pages ahead of me. Good thing we didn’t bet anything because I would lose, I’m probably going to lose tomorrow night, I think she’s almost done, but I’m desperately trying to catch up.
Julia: I suffered a humiliating defeating—I was destroyed. I got like 200 pages ahead of him and I bragged about it a lot. Then I got very complacent and it was really crushing.
Adda: To date, the benefits of running Skillcrush as a distributed company have far outweighed the costs: I get to hire wonderful people who live all over the country and the world. I often think about how much they have enriched my life, and the company, and how sad it would have been if I had set the company up differently and hadn’t had the chance to work with them.
But, as you’ve heard, it’s not perfect. And if I’m honest, I’m not sure that being fully distributed will work forever. As we’ve grown from one to two to four to 15 to 30 and now climbing up to 35 employees, things have already started to change.
We used to be super flexible about people’s time zones, but that became a logistical nightmare, so now we’ve now instituted a policy that everyone’s hours must overlap with Eastern Time at least four hours a day. And every team has to have airtight processes for basically everything, or the wheels start to come loose real fast. Plus, nowadays I’m even forced to pay people competitively, even by NYC standards—no matter where they live!
In my experience, running a company is messy and complicated. I remember back in the day thinking to myself “if we can just solve this ONE problem everything will be great!” Now I know that solving one problem just makes space for a new one to pop up, and sometimes those new problems are way bigger and scarier than the problem you were dealing with before.
But for us, 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.
Julia: We’re produced by me—Julia Sonenshein and Haele Wolfe. We’re edited and our music is composed by Arlen Ginsburg. Our art is by Monalisa Kabos. Kelli Smith and Scott Morris read our ads. Special thanks to the team at Werk and our whole crew at Skillcrush—especially to Kelli and Caro for being the most supportive humans we know. We love you.
You can find us on Itunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe and please leave us a review. We’ll read every single one. We also want to let you know that we make so much more content that can help you move forward in your career—whether you’re a total tech newbie or navigating your new skills on the job market. Come hang out with us at skillcrush.com/blog for articles, worksheets, guides, and even comics. Our newsletter is awesome, so be sure to sign up. See you in two weeks.
Brian: Oh no…we’re frozen! Mouse clicking. Sighs. The reality of remote work.
Scott: Thinking about a career in tech but not sure where to start? With the Skillcrush All-Access Career Blueprint, you’ll work with a career counselor to design a custom learning program to prepare you for an amazing and rewarding career—whether that’s launching your own freelance business, working full-time for a busy tech company, or buzzing in from the beach as a digital nomad. Visit skillcrush.com today to chat with a career counselor and see why learning tech with Skillcrush is the answer for your next career move. And remember, we’re giving away a free ebook that will walk you through landing the remote job of your dreams—and you can download your copy at skillcrush.com/remote.