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September 28, 2016

How Working Remotely Helps Help Scout Attract Top Tech Talent

“Flexibility.” “Autonomy.” “Remote work.”

What do these three words have in common? As of late, they’re the new cool kids on the block when it comes to the kind of benefits and perks many tech companies are offering. But, unlike their foosball and stocked beer fridge counterparts of years past, these are perks that actually make a difference for employees and their companies alike:

What’s nice is that companies can take these perks and extend them as far as they see fit. For one company, flexibility may mean it’s OK if employees take off a few hours early to make it to a doctor’s appointment without using paid time off. For others, it could mean employees have the freedom to set their own working hours.  

A GAME-CHANGING CULTURE

Take Boston-based Help Scout, an online support platform that helps companies offer better customer service. Unlike at some businesses, where remote work options mean employees may be able to work from home once or twice a week, employees at Help Scout work from home (or wherever they want) every day.

“Remote culture has changed the business in a positive way,” said Nick Francis, co-founder and CEO of Help Scout. “In the beginning, I realized what a competitive environment it was in Boston… It wouldn’t make sense if I thought all the talent my company needed lived in a 20 mile radius.

“Making the world our recruiting ground, we were able to find immensely talented people,” he added.

Co-founded by Francis, Jared McDaniel, Denny Swindle, Help Scout launched in 2010 and was part of TechStars 2011. After the accelerator program, the founders opted to leave their hometown of Nashville in favor of Boston. They’ve been based here ever since.

Today, Help Scout has close to 50 employees, who represent nearly 10 countries worldwide. While the team may be remote most days, the company still has a physical location on Tremont Street. Set up in a style reminiscent of most co-working spaces, a handful of employees were there working when I visited recently.

HIRING: IT'S TRIAL & ERROR

Help Scout employees are primarily remote, but a few occassionally come into the office on Tremont Street. 

Hiring for culture fit is hard enough for most companies. But hiring for a culture where days in the office are an exception? That’s a challenge Francis knows all too well. Like anything else in business, it’s about trial and error. Francis says he learned quickly that Help Scout wasn’t set up to support interns, recent grads, or anyone needing significant mentorship.

“We have to hire people at that senior level right out of the gate,” he said. “We can move fast as a team. Our people can accomplish a lot more than most [small] teams because they’re all senior level in terms of skills and experience.” (One important point Francis highlighted is embracing a remote workstyle has nothing to do with cost reduction. Help Scout pays Boston salaries to its employees, regardless of their location.)

Wondering how Help Scout screens employees to find out if they’ll be successful working remotely? According to Francis, it all comes down to passion.

“If you love your work, [the ability to work remote] is not really a question,” he said. “We make sure they’re really deeply passionate about it. That they wake up early thinking about their work and go to bed thinking about it.

“If they have the skills and experience to be productive and do the work, we’re not really worried about how they make that happen,” Francis added.

That’s not to say Help Scout’s policy is to come and go as you please - because it isn’t. Instead, employees are required to partner with their teams to determine a four hour window of time where everyone is online and available. After that, working hours are up to the individual. Not only does this give employees way more work/life balance, it also ensures challenges like varying time zones don’t get in the way.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF GROWTH

Another aspect that sets Help Scout apart from most other companies? There’s little upward trajectory for employees - at least in the conventional sense. That’s an intentional move and is one that helps the “independent thinkers” Help Scout attracts sharpen and grow their skills.

“We’re basically making it so that creatives or people who are very gifted in their area have a path upwards that doesn’t involve management, unless they want to move over to that,” said Francis, adding that Help Scout’s salary formula looks at the business contributions an employee makes and not the number of direct reports he or she has.

“Moving up doesn’t mean direct reports here. It’s advancing in your craft to add more value to the business.”


Kaite Rosa is Director of Content & Marketing at VentureFizz. Follow her on Twitter: @KaiteRosa

Photos via Help Scout