Photo gift online retailer Collage.com has disrupted the industry with its photo fleece blankets, gifts for every occasion as well as its unconventional business structure. Collage.com is a 100% employee-owned, profitable, bootstrapped company with about 50 employees that has rapidly grown from $0 to $25 million in annual revenue since 2013. And everyone works remotely.
That’s right. All of the company’s employees work from home and collaborate virtually to build a company that has been studied by Harvard Business School. With so many employers starting to embrace flexible work options and remote work, we caught up with Founder and Co-CEO Joe Golden to talk about how he and his partner manage to foster culture, success and employee growth with a workforce that doesn’t interact in person daily.
Hint: there are a lot of video conference calls.
Seem impossible? Once you hear from Joe Golden, you may just be convinced that remote work is perfect for you.
Glassdoor: How did you and your partner Kevin Borders first come up with the idea for Collage.com?
Joe Golden: I’ve been friends with Kevin since middle school. Kevin was trying to make an anniversary photo collage for his girlfriend (now, wife). Not finding any software up to the task, we teamed up and we developed the initial tools that became Collage.com.
After seeing so much interest in what we created, we both decided to make Collage.com our full-time focus. Since then, we’ve grown Collage.com into a 50-person 100% employee-owned company – and we’re currently hiring!
Glassdoor: Did you know that it could be a business where employees could all work remotely?
Joe Golden: From the very start, Collage.com has been all remote – and we have no plans of changing anytime soon. Kevin and I both come out of an academic background, where using technology – and questioning established norms, like setting up a physical office – made this a no-brainer.
Glassdoor: When did it first dawn on you that remote working would be an asset to your company?
Joe Golden: We intentionally set Collage.com up as an all-remote company, and I think it’s been one of our secret weapons. Being totally remote lets us recruit the best employees from anywhere, instead of limiting ourselves to one limited geographic area. It provides our employees with complete control of their working environment: most of our team loves working from a home office; some folks love to work at a favorite coffee shop; some like going to coworking spaces. Additionally, by reducing our overhead costs, we’re able to invest even more in our team through great salaries and benefits.
Glassdoor: Many companies worry that remote workers won’t have the same sense of brand loyalty or company culture. How has your team fostered a sense of culture and collaboration in spite of the remote workforce?
Joe Golden: Company culture is a constant focus for any successful business, whether it’s remote or has physical locations. For Collage.com, we try to promote collaboration through regular one-on-one and team meetings as a company, so every employee gets to interact with their supervisor and the rest of their team on an extremely frequent basis. We use video conferencing as much as possible so our team gets to actually see each other all the time. (OK, sometimes folks turn off the cameras when they’re working in their pajamas – and that’s okay!)
Twice a year, we fly our entire company to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a few days of fun and strategic planning, which makes it easier to get to know folks in person. We’re able to get important planning done in person, but we also make sure to have a good time. Michigan has a great food and beer scene, which we certainly take advantage of when meeting!
Glassdoor: What are three downsides to remote work? Any big challenges?
Joe Golden: Remote work isn’t a good fit for anyone who isn’t a strong communicator since it’s even more important to communicate well when everyone isn’t in the same physical office. It’s also important for anyone who works in a remote setting to be self-motivated since there’s no one physically with you to ensure you stay on task.
Relating to that point, to be most successful in a remote work environment, you have to find a work environment that lets you be the most productive. It’s different for everybody. Some people might find the stimulation of a coffee shop or coworking space makes them more productive; others might find it a distraction.
Glassdoor: Does Collage.com offer assistance for employees who struggle to work from home? Any resources to help new employees transition from cubicle life to their newfound freedom?
Joe Golden: We haven’t had many major problems on this front, fortunately. Not forcing our employees into long commutes turns out to not be that unpopular.
Seriously, though, we have an extensive interviewing and onboarding process to make it a smoother transition for new hires into the world of remote work. Typically, new employees joining our team spend a lot of time in their first weeks in one-on-one conversations with their direct supervisor and co-workers, which provides ample time for answering any questions on remote work or sharing tips on how to make it most effective. Remote work positions are great for people who are really driven and self-motivated, since you’re measured by what you produce, not just how much time you spend in the office.
Glassdoor: Now, a couple of fun ones: what was your first job and what did you learn from the experience?
Joe Golden: My first job was at a shopping mall chocolate store, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, as a teenager. I mainly helped customers, ran the cash register, restocked, washed dishes, baked cookies and prepared caramel apples. I learned that different customers have different needs and that it is important to take care of all of them extremely well.
Glassdoor: What is your go-to productivity hack for working from home?
Joe Golden: Sticking to a set schedule and having a designated place to work are my two best work-from-home tips. It can be really tempting to vary hours day-to-day or to work from different places all the time, but most people on our team have found that to be disruptive. Find an environment and schedule that works for you and stick to it to have the best success working remotely.
This content was submitted by Amy Elisa Jackson and does not constitute the views or opinions of Upwork.