The workforce as a whole is moving closer to remote, distributed teams made of freelance and independent workers, as we uncovered in the top freelance trends of 2016. Whenever there’s a shift in the way we work together as a society and economy, uncertainty can create a feeling of fear or anxiousness. Fortunately, there are several companies that have embraced remote work culture and have shared their lessons along the way.

We took a look at the 10 companies that are leading the way in remote work and what we can learn from them to become better, more productive and happy remote workers. (Note: The companies below are fully remote. For 10 more companies mastering the hybrid remote and HQ setup, check out this list.) 

1) Automattic

Automattic

Automattic was one of the first companies to pave the way in remote work culture. Valued at more than $1 billion, Automattic is responsible for developing WordPress.com and a range of products and services for WordPress users. The company powers 24% of all websites on the internet today with a 400-person team distributed across 40 countries who don’t share an office or use email.

According to CEO Matt Mullenweg (pictured above) in this interview with Glenn Leibowitz, “This has been amazing for the company in that we can attract and retain the best talent without them having to be in New York or San Francisco or one of the traditional tech centers.”

How have they been able to keep such a large team happy and successful from all corners of the world? By focusing on streamlined and open communications. Rather than email, the company uses chat and an internal blog called P2 that has its own version of a Google Alerts system so employees can keep up with everyone without having to read everything that goes by.  

Automattic even hires without a single voice interview. Crazy, right? Well, with 100% retention in the design and growth departments according to this post on davemart.in, maybe not so much. Here’s their process:

  • Matt, the CEO screens all resumes
  • The hiring lead sends quality candidates a note
  • The hiring lead then pings them on Skype – and has a Q&A via Skype chat
  • The candidate completes a paid trial project on their own time
  • Matt has a final review chat on Skype with the candidate  

Other secrets to Automattic’s remote success include:

  • Provide team members with the best equipment for doing their jobs
  • A stipend for improving their home offices
  • Allowing any team to meet wherever they want for a “hack week”
  • Once a year, the entire company gets together for a “grand meetup” in a beautiful location
  • Employees make their own schedules

2) Buffer

Buffer team

With 42 members and growing fast, Buffer is another team distributed across the world who’s been transparent in how they experiment with remote culture to find what works for them. For Buffer, being distributed across time zones means that a team member is available to speak with customers around the clock – which is at the core of their values as a company. Being distributed benefits their business and the end result for their customers.

To keep their remote team happy and productive, they provide their team with the tools and resources they need to be successful. This of course means laptops, Kindles and software such as Speak.io for super fast video conferencing, Timezone.io for knowing when and where your team members are and Hipchat for regular communications. Keeping a remote team happy has also meant setting up their salary structure in a way that’s partially based on location. This allows team members to afford cost of living no matter where they are.

One of the many things Buffer does better than so many organizations is openly communicating how they champion a culture of mutual respect and trust and the big role remote work plays in that. Many members of the team have written about this and how working remotely with Buffer has allowed them to live much happier, more fulfilled lives.

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In terms or remote work productivity, Buffer’s business development lead, Rodolphe Dutel has really paved the way. He shares his five tricks for being productive while working remotely here, but the gist is:

  1. Use ad blockers to reduce the noise
  2. Save interesting articles with Pocket instead of clicking them immediately
  3. Organize information with Feedly and Buffer
  4. Keep learning with audio books and videos on the go
  5. Focus with time boxing

Like Automattic, Buffer also brings the team together regularly with retreats in different locations every five months. The last one even included significant others. But with more team members with families, they’re considering spacing these out more. Learn more about how the Buffer team has made remote work for them in our #peepchat recap we had with Rodolphe.

3) Zapier

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Zapier champions remote work so much that they wrote an extensive guide on it. If you’re not familiar, Zapier connects the apps you use to automate tasks and get more out of your data. Naturally, they’re proponents of working smarter rather than harder with a focus on getting stuff done.

Danny Schreiber who’s on the marketing team at Zapier shared some insights on how they’ve mastered remote work productivity within the team. For them, streamlining communication has meant putting context and purpose behind the tools they use. When a new team member joins Zapier, they’re given a list of apps where communication occurs, sometimes with lists of their own.

The marketing team, for example, is given this guide:

  • Slack for ongoing chatter in their designated channels
  • Trello Editorial Calendar board for discussion around individual blog posts
  • Google Docs for Weekly Marketing Meeting notes
  • Google Calendar for keeping up with each others’ schedules, including out of office
  • Async (their internal blog modeled after Automattic’s P2 mentioned above) for Friday Updates and Monthly Marketing Updates 
  • The team@zapier.com email for Daily Recaps (automated), hiring decisions, hiring announcements, time-sensitive news or questions

In addition to these, Danny also uses these tools for staying on track as a remote marketer:

  • Zapier, of course, to pull in relevant alerts and activity into Slack, such as activity in Trello or new mentions of “Zapier” on Hacker News and Reddit
  • Hackpad for documentation and notes
  • RecordIt for quick GIFs to use in customer support or marketing work
  • Zoom, which has impressed us as a high-quality video conferencing provider for 25+ people on the same call
  • Screenflow to record high-quality screencasts
  • Flux (the screen dimming software) is great for keeping my eyes from getting tired since I’m not in an office environment with great lighting to contrast bright screens

And of course the Zapier team goes on retreats together too.

4) Groove

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We admire Groove as a company for many reasons. One is their stellar storytelling approach to content, the other is their success as a remote company. As Alex Turnbull, the CEO shares in this post, they attribute remote work success less to the tools you use and more to company culture, principles, vision and the habits you build around all three of those factors.

For them, remote success is about hiring good remote workers. Key qualities they look for when hiring include someone who:

  • Has worked remotely before or ran their own small business
  • Is a mature decision maker, meaning they can make the best decisions for customers and manage their energy on their own
  • Who’s an extraordinary communicator

Like any successful remote team, Groove doesn’t expect team members to be strapped to their desks at all times. They want each individual team member to work when they’re most productive. That said, it’s important that they stay in synch and know who’s working on what. To do this, they have daily “standup meetings” in Slack where everyone shares what they’re working on for the day, host weekly team calls, and share quarterly and annual goals on a team and individual level.

To maintain a healthy team culture, Groove has a water cooler Slack room where the team shares non-work-related updates. Alex also has regular calls with teammates to discuss both work and any personal interests or updates they want to talk about.

5) Basecamp

BAsecamp team

Basecamp, once known as 37Signals, is pretty much the godfather of remote work, having published the books Remote and Rework. Basecamp’s success in remote work is simple – they focus on making life better through remote work rather than making work better.

Basecamp’s leaders asked people where they get the most done and found that the most common answers were either a time of day (early in the morning, late at night or on the weekends), a place, location or room (porch, kitchen, certain chair), or a moving object (plane, train – on a commute). No one said the office with their team. People get the most done when they don’t have interruptions.  

In the book Remote, the company’s founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson strongly champion routine. For example, they suggest changing out of your pajamas, even if it’s into something just as comfortable or having “work slippers” and “play slippers.” They also suggest designating a certain part of your house for work only. All with the understanding that routine will prevent overwork and burnout.

In terms of motivation, they say the key is to encourage people to work on the stuff they like and care about with the people they like and care about. They believe work should be challenging, interesting and engaging, which motivates people to focus no matter where they are.

6) Baremetrics

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Like Groove, Baremetrics focuses on hiring professional remote workers — people who are self-motivated or capable of major problem solving. They also look for people who are great writers, since so much communication happens via text online and for people who have non-industry hobbies, as people with a outlet are less likely to get burnt out.

Most importantly, Baremetrics encourages self-care as a priority. Their tips for self-care are:

  1. Have set work hours and stick to them
  2. Exercise every single day
  3. Alternate between sitting and standing
  4. Eat well
  5. Take frequent breaks

And they too have company retreats for face-to-face, get-stuff-done time.

7) Treehouse

Treehouse team

Treehouse, which teaches people how to code, has a remote team of over 100 people who work four days per week and is pulling in more than $8,000,000 in annual revenue and continues to grow fast. 

Treehouse’s remote success is largely due to its focus on building loyalty and trust. Founder Ryan Carson believes in the power of being generous and offering shocking benefits that inspire loyalty when managing a remote team, including health benefits, retirement contributions, a four-day workweek, paid sabbaticals and a lunch stipend, just for starters. Ryan also errs on the side of transparency and gives each team member a salary range with a set quarterly increase they could get to give them a sense of progression.

For tools, Treehouse uses Automattic’s P2 blog theme for their internal blog because they found communications on other platforms to be too transient and impersonal. They use Google Drive to collaborate and Google Draw to whiteboard ideas. They manage larger company projects using Trello.

8) InVision

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Collaborative design software company InVision is another remote team spread across the globe. Like many others on the list, Invision puts high priority on communication. Product designer Andrew Cullen says that switching to Slack improved collaboration across the company and increased transparency. The company also ensures that there’s five to six hours of cross-over time among team members in different time zones.

Each team has a short daily standup to discuss progress on current projects and any potential issues with a project. They believe that great work can be done anywhere and think that talented workers should be able to work from wherever they’re most comfortable.

9) Help Scout

Help Cout team

Help Scout, a leader in customer support is another company known for its success in building a remote team. You should definitely check out their blog for a ton of tips and insights about being a remote team. I personally love their Friday Fika tradition – a weekly 15-30 minute break to talk with a randomly chosen person on the Help Scout team.

Gregory Ciotti on the marketing team shared another secret to the company’s remote success with us:

“We figure being new at work isn’t so far removed from being the new kid at school. Wouldn’t it be nice to make a friend on the first day? For every new Help Scout teammate, someone who’s been on board for a while steps up and becomes their go-to guy/gal who shows them the ropes. Work friends matter, and although they naturally form over time, feeling settled in shouldn’t wait.”

Some of the activities they suggest team members to do with their new buddies are:

  • Check-in every couple of days to see how things are going
  • Share a story from the team retreats, or what it’s like to hang out in Boston
  • Share “unwritten rules,” like the subtle difference between the #general and #offtopic channels in Slack
  • Have a video chat over Appear.in or Skype
  • Give them the run-down on who to ask for what (ex: Nick and Justin handle questions about hipster coffee beans)

He added, “A new buddy is especially important for remote work because you’re not meeting a ton of people face-to-face your first few weeks. With so much to take in, now is not the time to let things get quiet.”

10) CloudPeeps

The CloudPeeps team on our second retreat in Santa Cruz
Some of the CloudPeeps HQ team on our second retreat in Santa Cruz

We too work as a remote, distributed team. In addition to the four of us who are based in San Francisco and Brooklyn, we work closely with several freelancers and Peeps located around the world. For us, remote work success has meant clear and concise communication and an open-door policy.

We use Github (specifically their Issues product) and Trello to manage our tech workflow and Asana to manage all of our non-tech team projects. At any given time, we can see what any team member is working on and the status of any project or task. Asana allows us to easily collaborate on projects without disrupting our flow like chat sometimes does. That said, we also use Slack for ongoing communications, to ask quick questions, for fun talk in our #random group and to share interesting articles we often discuss later in #readinglist. Each team member is also given a copy of Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

We also have a weekly standup call on Google Hangouts where we discuss overarching weekly goals and what each person is focused on for the week. For transparency and team building, we have monthly pair calls where team members pair up to share feedback with one another and determine how they can help each other. And of course, we too go on team retreats not just for some needed face time, but also to work in sprints and get big projects that require a lot of brainstorming done.

Your new favorite remote work resources

A post about remote work of course wouldn’t be complete without resources. Here’s some of our favorites!

  • Outsite: Stay, work and play in beautiful locations
  • Remotive: A weekly newsletter on remote tips and jobs
  • Remote.co: A resource for companies that see remote work as the future
  • Nomad List: The best cities to live and work remotely
  • Pajamas.io: A collection of interviews with remote workers
  • Remote Year: Travel and work remotely for a year
  • Startup Retreats: The best remote work communities and co-living spaces for retreats

If you’re looking for a remote freelance job in content, community or marketing, visit CloudPeeps for stellar opportunities. We’d love to have you!

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CloudPeeps Team
We match businesses with the world’s top freelance pros. We're creating the freedom to allow you to work the way you want, wherever you are!
  • Appreciate the Zapier love here, Shannon and team! I’ve loved being a part of the CloudPeeps community for the past 18 months, and look forward to a long and bright future.

    • Happy to include you, Wade and the team @alison_groves:disqus!

  • This is pretty inspiring. My three years on a distributed team were some of the most rewarding of my career so far, and I really like the idea of asking team members where they get their best work done.

    • Right?! I liked that too. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, Tom!

  • Really looking forward to the day when this is the norm. I’ve dreamed of this reality since I was late in my teens. Though at my age, those thoughts didn’t involve the internet. Ironically, the Internet is the infrastructure of this wondrous emerging reality.

    I’m an older guy (I will be 50 in March,) so when professional remote work is truly the norm, I’ll be a really old dude. 😉 In the meantime, I’m going to get up on this wave…both as a team member and remote organization founder (at some point.)

    The distinction of “professional remote worker” resonates with me and is something I’ll be working on as a matter of self-improvement. It’s a matter of trust and integrity.

    I also noticed that there’s no single combination of tools. Every team seems to develop an architecture and infrastructure which works best for them..and then they stay with it and make sure all new members can assimilate and on-board quickly.

    Beautiful times ahead. Here’s to the future!

    • Here’s to the future, indeed Jim! Great insights. Times ahead are truly exciting!

  • I’m a freelance digital marketer so was really interested to read some of your tips here, and it was nice to hear of other companies recommending the use of remote workers. Some useful tools here too, so thanks!

    • Thanks for the comment, Matt! Glad you found it helpful!

  • Look at the sea of white men (let’s admit it; there are barely any women in there).

    • Yeah, like we said on Facebook, it’s an issue, but I definitely think it’s a bigger tech industry issue than it is for these companies, specifically. And actually, the more I look, there’s a good amount of diversity on the Buffer, Automattic and Zapier teams, and we don’t have photos of many of the other teams. So, I agree it’s an issue, but I wouldn’t say these companies don’t have diversity when it’s hard to say. You know? Thank you for the comment, Ahmed. It’s definitely worth pointing out!

      • Melissa H

        I guess you have a different definition of diversity than me… Not a single black woman, and only a literal handful -sans a thumb-of black men. And nobody that’s expecting a “lordy lordy, you’re turning forty” birthday card any time soon…

    • Mariloca

      That was the first thing that struck me as well when I scanned the pictures. Still, great article.

    • We’re helping to change the ratio one female at a time at CP HQ. 😉

    • Greg

      Young too!

  • JonathanBowden

    I vote for Theresa Neil | Strategy + Design http://strategyplusdesign.com/ to be on the list as well. I’ve been with the team fulltime remote for 1.5 years, and I love it!

  • Inspiring post. Its really great to hear that companies are adopting remote work culture. There are so many business apps available that helps us to mange our business online. Here is one, that i want to recommend for secure enterprise communication – TeamToq. Try it here: http://www.teamtoq.com/

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  • Ryan Chartrand

    Great post, it was nice to see some examples outside the usual suspects (Automattic, etc.). I’ve recently discovered that the tip about downloading podcasts is key to learning and growing while being on the move more when working remotely. Definitely recommend this!

    Also wanted to share the 5 most important things my company does as a 100% remote company as well: http://x-team.com/2015/07/5-important-things-remote-company/ Cheers!

  • wesburke

    Great to see some familiar faces here on this article! http://cgcookie.com has been remote company as well for 5+ years. We have 6 full-timers, and 12+ contractors around this blue dot.

    We lean on a few of these tools, though share the common thread of communication, communication, communication. Not in the every tab of the shoulder kind, but being able to write well and communicate is important.

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  • mpmilestogo

    I worked remote and at home for almost 2 years for IBM Global Services. One of the things I found is that there is this period of adjustment I went through. It took me about a month to get used to a new work ethic and I also found a few tools which just worked out well for me. One of the most simple things was the phone service that would allow me to track voicemails and missed calls when I was out on an errand. I have to say Google Voice really wins this for me. The second thing was the internet connectivity part of things. Having to VPN in to a network is a network expensive thing so be sure to have sufficient internet access. The final thing is the work day. I found myself tailoring my work day and around the house I rent, the other roomies saw me often in PJs through the end of the day most days. Be sure when you work remote to allow the “you” time.

  • Chalk & Wire – the educational e-portfolio assessment platform company (in Canada) fits this description. [ http://chalkandwire.com/ ]. We are a client of theirs and find their product and service is top-notch.

  • Jen Jamar

    You forgot Modern Tribe! 100% remote and completely awesome. (And not just because I freelance with them.) Really, though, their work philosophy and values are amongst the best I’ve seen.

  • Maggie Holley

    Running my own small Online Marketing Agency, we do a bit of remote office and use many of the same tools.Always great to check out others, thanks!
    I am always looking into project management tools myself..trying out Freedcamp right now.
    I think the key thing is being used to working autonomously.You do need to learn to be self directed or time slips away.. and as ‘mpmilestogo’ noted below. watch out that you are NOT still sitting int your sweats /PJ’s at 5 pm.. LOL.
    The lines DO get a little ‘blurry’, as you end up working 7 days- but the times you want to. more than you do in a normal 9-5.
    I LOVE being my own Boss.. I must say i am very good to myself as an employee.. 😉

  • chargifyblog

    Great post! Our team over at Chargify [https://www.chargify.com/] has been remote since 2009!

  • Fernando Monserrat

    Great post! I’ve been a remote worker working on devops and system engineering stuff for some time now and I think this was the best turnover in my career i could make! there are some great companies out there already working this way and yeah a great remote culture is one of the main aspects to look for

  • Patty Ayers

    In response to the graphic asking “Why make this distinction between what you call work and what you call life?” — Because there’s a big difference: they have to PAY you to get you to do the “work” part. 😀

  • Great post! We would love to help these companies to save big $ on international flights!

    • Sara Pice

      Cool blog, shared on my FB! As a DM I would love to work in one of these companies and Flystein seems very useful too! Will try it out for my trip to Australia.

  • Great post. We (at http://www.neolo.com) had offices for 11 years and since 10 months now working 100% remote and it just work well.

  • micahsinger

    I loved reading about all of these remote companies. Keep it rolling. VoIP Logic – http://www.voiplogic.com has been remote since founding in 2003. We are 24 employees in 4 countries (US, Bolivia, Mexico and India) and 1 island – Guam! You find great people where they live and create a process for making the team productive.

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  • Fantastic post on these companies with remote teams. Love the stories here! These seem to be mostly software as a service companies. I wonder if you could have a large online marketing agency that was completely remote. I’ve been part of a small one few years back, but there was difficulty acquiring clients without a physical office and enterprise companies, good luck getting them as clients.

  • amit bham

    Very Inspiring! If great minds bonds together, they can work from anywhere!

  • Amanda Kendzior

    Love this post – load of little tips to research further and all very inspiring to read!

    We’re a fully remote team…kind of by accident (https://carouselapps.com/2015/11/12/an-accidental-path-to-remote-working/)…and we’re loving the journey it’s taking us on, especially considering that fact that we’re adopting the philosophy of personal happiness first.

    Plenty to learn from the teams who have been at it for a while already. 🙂

    • Awesome to hear and congrats on going remote, Amanda!

  • Guido Brand

    Great article, but the link to Flux at zapier section is wrong, the correct one is https://justgetflux.com/

    “Flux (the screen dimming software) is great for keeping my eyes from getting tired since I’m not in an office environment with great lighting to contrast bright screens.”

  • Rayfil Wong

    Thanks so much for this post. I have been working remotely for the past 5 years in Hong Kong out of co working spaces. I am currently looking to join fully distributed teams on non technical positions. Aside from the stellar list of companies you provided above, is there an aggregated list of worthwhile companies that work remotely. Thanks in advanced!

  • Great post. My goal is to build my company http://www.kimchisocks.com to be a remote company.

  • Nav Aulakh

    Really awesome post, we actually have a remote working culture too (https://www.amztracker.com/team.php) as the team slow travels around the world while they work from anywhere they want. It actually helps increase productivity, team morale and encourages creativity as well as self-care and development.

    It’s literally the best job I’ve ever had and here’s to the future of digital nomads becoming the norm 🙂

  • DM Suja

    Hmm… ok, welcome to the new world everyone!

  • ZandarKoad

    At Time Doctor, we have more than 50 remote workers all over the world. This helps us tremendously in sympathizing with many of our core customers, who are also managing remote teams. Specifically by tracking time and maximizing productivity.

    More than a decade ago, I talked to a good friend of mine who had gotten his degree and was doing computer programming. I told him he should move out to his father’s land in the country and work remotely. To this day, I think he still works in the office… I would never have imagined I would be working remotely while he was still in the office. You really only can go as far as you believe you can go.