Truly Remote vs. Total Control: Wordfence Live
This week on Wordfence Live, our weekly show about WordPress security, we talked about what it is like to be truly remote. Defiant has been 100% remote since we first started hiring in 2015, and our team has now grown to 40 people. We enjoy meaningful work coupled with intentional work-life balance. This balance is an integral part of the rapid innovation that makes projects like Wordfence and Fast or Slow possible.
If you’re an employee of a company that is brick and mortar, partially remote or has been trying out remote during Covid, we invite you to learn more about how Defiant approaches truly remote work via the video below. There are timestamps so you can jump around, or you can read the transcript below the video.
We’re also hiring and offer tremendous benefits. If you’d like to experience Defiant’s truly remote culture, and one of these positions appeals to you, we’d love to review your application and get to know you better.
Hey, everyone. Welcome to Wordfence Live. Today, I am doing a solo show and giving our hardworking team members a break. They’ve been doing a lot of shows lately, give them some time off. So we have been 100% remote since we started hiring in 2015, Wordfence has, and our team is now about 40 people. So today, I want to discuss the difference between truly remote and what everyone else seems to be doing, or a lot of other folks seem to be doing and I think a lot of that revolves around control. Our team has managed to achieve a really comfortable work-life balance and we’ve also been able to foster a rapid innovation at Defiant shipping products like FastorSlow, innovations to the Wordfence plugin and various other internal products and so on, while keeping everyone working remotely and working a steady 40 hours a week or less. If you’re an employee or an executive that is interested in going remote or currently trying out remote, this show is for you. So let’s get started.
Hey everyone. My name is Mark Maunder. I’m the founder and CEO of Wordfence. I should say co- founder along with my wife and partner, Kerry Boyte. Let’s see, we’ve been entrepreneurs since about 2003 and we worked for a lot of companies before that some big companies that you’ve heard of BBC, Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse, First Boston, and so on and so forth. We actually met at echoice.com during the .com boom and Kerry and I had a lot of conversations and continue to have conversations about the kind of company that we wanted to build when we were trying to create a profitable business. We looked at the way folks were working in the office environments and some of the things that really, really didn’t work there and I kind of use that as inspiration for the way that we run Defiant. I think we’ve done a pretty good job, but some of the decisions that we’ve made folks have looked at and they think that we’re a little different or downright weird, in some cases.
Some of those peers in the industry, we’re competitors, in some cases, and some of those folks aren’t around anymore or they’ve been bought and been merged into cube farm companies and we’re still independent, growing like crazy. Our customers are super happy and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of figuring it out. We’re continuing to learn. In this show, I want to really have a conversation about some of the big mistakes that we see out there and how we do remote and what works for us. Not to be cynical or anything like that, but sometimes it’s fun to do a countdown of the 10 worst mistakes of remote and so that’s how I formatted this. I’m hoping that you’ll draw some insight from it. As the show progresses, I’d really encourage you to post questions.
Our producer, Emily, is working with Tim and our other team members to gather those questions. If we do have any questions that look like they could help the rest of the audience, then at the end of the show, I’ve got a little segment there. We’ll take a look and I’m happy to chat about whatever you want to chat about with regards to remote work. You’re welcome to pick my brain as it were and I’ll try to share with you some of the wisdom that Kerry and myself and our leadership team have accumulated over the last six years of growing a successful and innovative software company that is 100% remote and has a really, really healthy work-life balance. All right, let’s get started.
Mistake #10: Remote as a Perk
Now, I think the core issue with treating remote as a perk for employees, and just to unpack that, we see some companies that say, “Okay, well, you can go remote, but you have to have worked here for a certain amount of time or you have to achieve these goals and so on.
The trouble with that is that it sends a very clear signal that if you are not allowed to go remote, if you don’t have that perk, then you are not trusted and those folks that are remote are the trusted ones. I think that creates an unhealthy culture. I think it alienates those folks that are in the office from the ones that are remote. It also implies that remote work costs the company something, which sets up a kind of transactional relationship, which I think can really be used against an employee. It can be used as leverage to negotiate a lower salary, for example, or, “Hey, why don’t you forgo your Christmas bonus this year because we’re allowing you to work remote and we’re giving you the privilege of working remote?”
Remote is more profitable for companies. It works better for the corporation. It saves on costs. It saves on office space. It saves on parking space. It saves on an ops team that needs to manage a local land and server infrastructure and all those printers, assuming you’re still work in an office that uses paper. It should be the norm in companies that have knowledge workers like software companies. So this idea that remote can be used as currency with an employee and it’s a perk that you work up to and so companies can it to try to encourage more productivity and so on, is a big mistake, in my opinion. All right, moving on.
Mistake #9: Only Part of the Team is Remote.
I’ve had some interesting conversations with some good friends who may even be watching the show, but after one of my friends sold his company, we sat down at a bar and may have had more than one drink together.
He was telling me how their team was 50/50 remote and in the office and it created a culture where the remote folks felt alienated from the people in the office. They felt like they were missing out on the water cooler conversations and so on and it really splits the team and creates, what I think, is an unhealthy dynamic. So I would really encourage you to go as close to remote as you can. Not all companies can be remote. There’s certain roles that require folks to be in person or, in fact, require an entire team to be in person. I visited TRACON, which is the air traffic controllers in Denver that handle approach for the airspace and we brought them pizza. I think it was during an air traffic controller strike or a furlough or something like that.
Of course, those folks have to be there in person, in a dark room, at their consoles doing their thing. There are certain operations roles that require staff to be on site. If you are providing cloud services and you’re managing infrastructure, you need hands on site to actually replace hard drives and servers and that kind of thing as they break. But for the majority of technology companies, particularly those using the cloud, everything can be done remotely. So I would encourage you to get as much of the team to be remote as possible because it creates a unified culture. It feels like a cohesive team. So avoid making only part of your team remote. All right, moving swiftly on here.
Mistake #8: Remote but Expecting the Home to be a Cube Farm
I’m sure you all remember that video, the interview on the BBC with Professor Robert Kelly that went viral. His kids walked into the room as he was doing this interview and he is wearing a suit and tie and had his books behind him and so on.
Robert seems like he really knows his stuff and he seems like a nice guy, but the kids kind of barged into the room. Then, his wife, I think, she was trying to stay out of the camera shot. So she literally crawled into the room and try to grab the kids and it was incredibly awkward and it went viral and there were all kinds of comments around that. But I think that really captures one of the problems with trying to emulate an office. We’ll get to the difference between video and audio in a minute, but if you expect that level of professionalism and quiet and lack of disruptions in the home environment that you have in the office environment, you’re going to be very disappointed. The reality of being truly remote is that you have delivery people arriving at the door or kids thumping up and down stairs, people being interrupted for various reasons.
There’s a crisis and someone has to go pick up their kids at school. It requires flexibility. Audio, we’ll actually get to audio in a minute, but it’s really important that you are able to be flexible. So if the kids barge in, it’s cool. No worries. They’re not going to do that in a meeting room in the office, but they might do that if someone’s working from home and just roll with it. Be relaxed, be flexible, expect disruptions and try to create a relaxed environment that just is able to roll with those disruptions. All right.
Mistake #7: The Need to Relocate, Even Though Remote.
To be honest, I found this really weird, but I’m seeing companies that are requiring employees to relocate, to say, Seattle, to work for a major software company there, even though they’re supposed to be able to work remotely.
I think this sends a really strong signal that remote can get taken away at any point. It’s not truly remote. There’s probably going to be a lot of meetings that are on site and the company isn’t as comfortable with the concept of remote. They’re not committed and I would say that if you see this on a job that you’re applying for, run.
Mistake #6: Mandatory Travel.
So this is an interesting one. There’s a company that we’re all friends with in the WordPress space. No names mentioned, I had met, that some folks told me it requires a lot of travel. I have hung out with their team members at events and at bars and so on and had some drinks. This may not be the norm, but the indications I was getting is that for this particular role, there was a lot of travel required and it was one of the complaints.
This company is very respected in other areas, but it seems like something that they can optimize. So what was going on there is in this particular role, there were a lot of meetings with the vendors, with customers, with press and so on and it required a lot of travel throughout the year. I think mandatory travel is something that you want to avoid and get really comfortable getting things done remotely, including when collaborating with external parties, get those vendors to jump on calls rather than expecting a team member to go out and meet them. Same with customers, just set up really smooth, comfortable workflow that let customers interact with your team members remotely, Even in an enterprise sales environment, I think, especially post COVID, it’s very comfortable to ask folks to collaborate remotely.
Some team members actually want to travel and so in our case, we don’t have any mandatory travel at all. We do have conferences throughout the year and I’ve had folks approach me saying, “Hey, it’d be kind of nice to get out of the house for a while and go and fly to whatever destination.” Our team tends to fly business class wherever they go and that’s at any level of our company. So the free cocktails might be a bit of an enticement there, but we will definitely accommodate that as well, but we don’t have any mandatory travel. I think that a mandatory travel is really something that you want to avoid. I think it takes away a lot of the value of a remote organization. All right.
Mistake #5: The 50/50 Some of the Time Remote company.
So I think, again, you see these companies treating remote as a reward, and I think it’s also, it creates that same alienation effect where the team that isn’t in the office is feeling like they’re missing out on those sidebar meetings around the water cooler or just hanging around outside after a long day. And it’s it really separates the team out. Then, it’s also tremendously disruptive context switching from being in an office and having your way of doing things there to now having to switch to being remote. Then, after a month or two or three, having to switch back to being in the office and constantly having to make that change. So I would really encourage you to avoid that. So
Mistake #4, as we’re cutting down here, Remote but Emulating an Office.
So I think being truly remote has its benefits because it’s a massive leveler. When we do remote, we do audio only. I think if you’re emulating an office, you’re going to do video, and we’ll chat about video in a second, but you’re also going to expect the home to be a cube farm. You’re going to expect the home to be a meeting room with absolutely no disruptions and so on and I think emulating an office really has all of those effects. Remote is different. It has specific advantages and you really should embrace it, which brings me to…
Mistake 3: excuse me, and that is, Using Video.
All right. So now we get to the crux of the thing. So remote, in my experience, is actually a really, really big enabler.
At Defiant, most of our meetings are audio only, and there’s some very, very specific reasons for that and some benefits there. Video is tremendously distracting. Audio creates a purely intellectual connection with your colleagues. I was on a video call yesterday morning. We are starting to collaborate with a new law firm and they seem great. The lawyer there seemed really competent and so on, but she had us on a Zoom call. She had her video going. She was suited and booted with the books behind her and the manicured office. I just kept it audio only. I may or may not have been in my workout gear and slept on the couch, but I found the video to be really, really, really, really distracting. I tend to find video distracting. At Defiant, our one-on-one meetings are audio only and our team meetings are audio only as well.
We use something called TeamSpeak, which is a platform that uses push to talk. So what that lets us do is have 20 to 30 people on a call. We do these really big calls on Mondays and Wednesdays and you can have a tremendous amount of background noise. Team members can be in coffee shops, on the beach, in an airport, wherever they want and we can have these, these big meetings. The only person you can hear is the person that’s speaking, because they’re hitting the push to talk button. If you ping someone and say, “Hey, what do you think of this idea?” They’ll hit their push to talk and you’ll hear their voice. You won’t hear any other background noise and it’s a really, really great way to do large meetings that are audio only.
Again, you don’t have this distraction of this matrix of people that are on your screen and “Oh, what’s so-and-so wearing? So-and-so just did their hair,” and, “Oh, look. There’s the dog,” and so on. I think a great example of the power of audio and how it really frees people up, is this a photo that Chloe shared with us of her partner, Tyler. They’re in an airport, busy traveling and they needed to do a bit of work as they’re waiting for their plane. I guess they didn’t have a place to be, so they set up their suitcases and there’s Tyler sitting on his suitcase with his laptop and Chloe’s got a workspace there as well. They’ve got their lattes. If you had to do a video call in that environment, that would be incredibly distracting for anyone as people are walking past in the background and so on.
But if it’s audio only, not only does it remove that distraction, but it’s also really, really low bandwidth. So you’re able to use a really bad cell phone connection if it’s 4g or 3g or something like that. Audio really helps meetings stay goal-oriented rather than dealing with all the window dressing of video and so on. We do do video. We do video for Halloween and certain other kind of party events where people are dressing up or having cocktails or whatever. I think video is great for family and friends. It creates an emotional connection, especially during COVID, it’s been a great substitute for getting together with folks. If you’re outcome-focused and you’re creating a purely intellectual connection, I think audio is an incredible enabler for that. So I would strongly recommend that you try it out if your goal is to be a truly remote organization. Try it. You’ll love it.
Mistake #2: Creeping Control Freaks Who Don’t Trust.
So Adam Satoriano did an article in The New York Times last year some time about a company called Hubstaff. This is employee monitoring software that takes screenshots of your desktop throughout the day of websites you’re visiting, social media sites that you’re you’re using and documents that you might be editing. The idea is that it is productivity monitoring software. Again, this is just about control. It’s about total control and emulating the kind of control that employers can’t exert within an office environment. The software even monitors your location using your phone. So if you leave your home and you go to a park or something, it’ll track you and let them know where you’ve been because you should be shackled to your desk all day long.
It’s utterly absurd to expect a team to put up with that for starters, but then also, to not move around and go get the kids and go for a walk in the park. That’s part of the awesomeness of being remote is that you get to do that. You get to spend a bit of time with your family throughout the day and so on. I think it’s important to embrace the freedom that remote provides and I think that when it comes to remote, the thing that’s worked very well for us at Defiant is that we have one core value, which is trust. I think that it really emphasizes that we trust our team, our team trusts us. We don’t need to monitor them. We’re really focused on outcomes. The outcomes that we’re looking for at Defiant are we want to write great software and innovative software.
We want to do a great job testing it by our QA team. We want to ship it to our customers and then have that software be supported by our operations team. In other words, the infrastructure that the software needs to run, and then our customer service team, doing their great job, supporting our customers and then the marketing team and the finance team doing their thing. It’s really focused on just outcomes rather than trying to exert control and getting people under your thumb and watching them all day long. It’s utterly absurd. I just can imagine this having to hire someone for the role of watching employees that are remote working throughout the day to make sure that they’re not looking away from their screens or something like that. It’s ridiculous. So if you’re going to go truly remote, I strongly
recommend that you consider trust as one of your core values, or in our case, our only core value.
Mistake #1: and I was tempted to put Mistake #2, this Creeping Control thing as number one. But I think
Mistake #1, in my opinion, is Not Fully Embracing the Amazing Freedom that remote work gives you, the ability to work from anywhere.
Some of our team uses satellite internet. We’ve been using Hughes Internet, which is a geostationary satellite and it requires about a one meter dish, which I have one. I’ve been hauling it around in the back of my pickup, camping in the desert. One of my colleagues has one as well, which we’ve covered the cost of. He goes around in RVs with his partner and can work from anywhere and it takes about 15 minutes to align the dish. Starlink is something that we’re trying out. Right now, it’s not mobile, but it will be soon according to Elon Musk.
He finally said something about it on Twitter, which we’re super excited about because the Starlink dish is only about like this big and it’s self-reliant. You don’t need to use something that gives you as much elevation to actually align the thing, which is a little bit time consuming, at least, not that technical is a problem for us here at Defiant. So the freedom to work from anywhere here has been amazing. I think, Chloe, again, has done a great job of fully embracing remote and I just mentioned her biggest she’s on the show a lot and a lot of our audience knows her. Sean, can you throw up that photo of Chloe on on the cruise? So you probably saw this on the splash image for this episode, but this, again, is Chloe and Tyler. I think it’s Tyler taking the shot this time.
They’re on a cruise ship in a Norwegian Fjord working on, I think, that they had to be working on the wi- fi that the ship provides, which is also satellite internet, in this case, and just fully embracing the experience. But in this case, it’s another argument for audio only meetings because those cruise ships, their bandwidth can be a little bit dodgy. So if you’re doing a video call, it’s going to be tremendously disruptive as it kind of glitches in and out, but with audio and using TeamSpeak, as I bump my mic over here. What we can do is actually adjust the quality of the codec on TeamSpeak and reduce the bandwidth that the codec uses. So that gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of if we’re having a meeting with someone, if Chloe’s on a ship and the bandwidth with begins to deteriorate, we’ll just adjust the codec to use less bandwidth and the connection continues on.
So just reposition this guy back over here. So again, low bandwidth connections via audio lets you really embrace remote. So if you’re going to do remote, be flexible and fully embrace it and be comfortable with your team literally working from anywhere and enjoying life as much as possible. So I’m going to go through a summary on how to be truly remote just to round things off over here. So don’t treat it as a perk, try to get as close to possible as 100% of the team being remote. Don’t require relocation. If you do see that on a job that you’re applying for, that says it’s remote, I think that’s a red flag, so I would avoid that position. Make travel optional, not mandatory, but in some cases, team members are going to want to travel. So maybe just ping them, reach out, see if they do want to travel and it varies.
Some people love being at home. Some people like doing a bit more travel. Don’t do partial remote. Again, either 100% remote, don’t do two months in the office, two months not there because it’s tremendously disruptive during that switch. Don’t try to emulate an office. Understand that being truly remote has people in their homes or in whatever environment they’re in, on the beach, or on a cruise ship or in some foreign country somewhere, and be flexible. Learn to be flexible. Learn to deal with the disruptions. If someone needs to step away, switch to doing things asynchronously for a bit. In other words, if you need to have a conversation with someone, just clearly express what you need and it will reduce the back and forth requirement. Post it in Slack. Leave it there, an hour or two later, when they’re back online, they’ll get back to you and they’ll get it done.
This really requires a mental shift in that you should be outcome- focused rather than feeling like you need to exert control. So if you are a manager or a leader from a traditional organization that is used to being in an office, it’s going to feel weird at first. You’re going to feel like you have your hands off the steering wheel and that this might not work. “I don’t know. I need to be able to see them to make sure that they’re sitting at their desk doing their thing.” That’s not the case. Focus on the outcome. As long as software gets shipped, software gets tested, operations run smoothly. Customers are responded to in the ticketing system, it’s all good. Relax. You’re going to have to give up that control and you’re going to have to be okay with that. Use audio as much as you can. We’ve chatted about that a fair amount. Do not monitor your team members, ever. It’s ridiculous. Don’t do it. It’s disgusting.
Then, if you are a leader in an organization, make sure that you provide opportunities for your team to embrace remote. If they want to go RV-ing, provide satellite gear. If they want to be in the middle of nowhere where there’s no cell phone coverage. If you are a team member that is working for a remote organization, make sure that you take full advantage of it. Go out and have some fun and see the world, especially now that COVID is winding down. Even right now, I would encourage you if you’re in the U.S. go and camp on BLM land where there’s no people or cell phone reception. In fact, there is some amazing BLM land that does have great 5g cell phone reception just to the west of Salt Lake City. So check that out if you want to get out and about. All right. I’m just looking, get the chat here that I’ve got going with my producer and it looks like we’ve got a couple of questions.
So one of the questions is, this is from Simon and, “Trust is a great core value. How do you ensure that everyone you recruit shares and doesn’t abuse that value?” Gee, I guess I naturally trust people until I have data that indicates that I shouldn’t. To be honest, I don’t have any team members that I work with that I don’t trust. We’ve lost some folks along the way for various complicated reasons, but I think if you’re working with someone that you don’t feel you can trust, you have a very big problem on your hands. I would also say that in our organization, we only have A players. Our team, is in all cases, the very best at what they do and I don’t think that I’m holding our team to an unreasonable standard because what we do is really provide opportunities for growth, a path for growth as well in terms of acquiring certifications and in some cases, degrees, undergraduate degrees or master’s degrees, which some of our team members have acquired.
We pay for all of that. We pay for the exams. We pay for the degree programs, so we really empower our team. If it feels like they’re out of their depth, we’ll get with them and chat about that and make sure that we can kind of recalibrate. But I think that if you can’t trust a team member, you have a big problem on your hands. So I think that’s my unvarnished view on it. I don’t think we arbitrarily transition folks out of the company. We get with them and have conversations and so on and are often able to realign, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that you should be able to trust your colleagues. So I’m going to hope that answers your question. You’re welcome to hit Emily with a follow-up there. I might just pop into the YouTube chat as well if I’ve got time on the show.
Rick says, “The freedom helps me care for my dad in his final years. We became immensely closer. That’s a privilege, not the BS and the news today.” Ooh. Yeah, that’s an emotional one. Thanks, Rick. I have been through some of that stuff myself. I have relatives who are octogenarians going on, whatever you are called when you’re in your 90s and stayed with them during COVID. Being remote gave us the opportunity to do that, do grocery shopping and so on, so super, super cool. Thanks for posting that, Rick. I didn’t mention that at all in the show and that is a real empowering aspect of being remote. At some point, I might tell you the story about how I ran this company from a chemo bed, but that is totally another story for another day.
All right. Emily, thanks for that. It looks like that’s the end of our questions there. So just to wrap up the show here folks, the benefits of remote, it provides an amazing quality of life for everyone in the organization. You regain 10 hours a week that you would have spent commuting to and from a company, lower real estate prices. If you are truly remote, you can live anywhere. This is why I think that companies that require you to relocate are a bit absurd. It really negates that that benefit if the company is based in San Francisco and you have to move there, you’re now competing for San Francisco real estate versus a small ranch that I have out here in the middle of nowhere in Elbert County, Colorado, which was very reasonably priced because it’s not high-density living. It’s rural.
That kind of thing becomes really, really accessible for folks that are wanting to get on the housing letter, as they call it, or maybe even buy a piece of land in the middle of nowhere. You can do that and I just want to dwell for a second on Starlink as well. I now have two Starlink installations and it’s quite a eye-opening experience when you receive the gear, you open it up. It’s a router, or router, if you’re South African. I think someone on the show is South African. How’s it? I am South African born in case you’re curious, but you take this satellite dish and the router out of the box. You plug it in. There’s no cable modem connection. There’s no ADSL connection. You just set up the dish itself, align it, and you instantly have over 100 megabits per second of bandwidth down and about 20 to 40 megabits per second up.
It doesn’t matter where you are, you can literally plug it into a generator in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, and it just works. That is the first time that in the history of history, that this has been possible. Well, as I said earlier, we have had these geostationary satellites, but they’re complicated to set up. The dishes are about one meter across and you have a latency of about 600 milliseconds to a second, which makes it completely infeasible to use for certain applications, huge delay on voice over IP connections and so on. Starlink doesn’t have that at all. So if you are truly remote, you now no longer need to be near an urban center if you want a broadband connection that is super reliable. Well, they’re still beta testing, so it does drop offline sometimes, but it’s relatively reliable and very low latency. So you can go and live anywhere that you want provided that Starlink is available in your country and that’s just going to continue to get better.
I know that Starlink has just been licensed for a lower orbit, which allows them to launch even more satellites that are even lower latency. So they’re really, really accelerating their rollout. So really think about that as you’re considering what to do with your life. Then, if you are in a truly remote company, you don’t have to deal with a culture of control anymore. You can live close to your passions, farming, mountain biking, hiking, and as Rick pointed out, family. Thanks, Rick. Again, really great point there. Then finally, the environmental improvement, I think we all saw the satellite photos of the pollution dissipating and going away over China for a while as they were all kind of homebound; the same in Europe and the U.S. and that is mostly cars on the road that are puffing, sitting in rush hour traffic with everyone commuting to the same high-density cluster, where we’ve all had together to apply our labor and get our paycheck, ever since specialization became a thing.
I think remote can take us away from that and truly free us and get rid of that high-density living, that competition for real estate, driving real estate prices up, the health and safety issues that cities bring and so on. So if you’re working for a company now that requires you to be in an office, really try to find a remote job. If you are a CEO of a smaller company, I would really encourage you to embrace being truly remote and know that by doing that, you’re helping bring about a change to larger corporations going remote, because what’s going to happen is you’re going to be poaching staff from them and adding those folks to your team and those companies are going to be forced to adapt.
So by simply applying market forces and being competitive and going 100% truly remote, you’re helping bring about positive change, including a positive change to the environment.
All right, everybody, I think I’m going to wrap it there. It’s been a really great conversation. I’ll check out the YouTube comments. You can follow me on Twitter @Mmaunder, M-M-A-U-N-D-E-R. You’re welcome to tag me on Twitter and I will definitely reply to you. It’s been great and I think next week, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming with some of our other team members. Have a wonderful rest of your day and a spectacular week. Bye, everyone.