Building Products Remotely: 12 Companies That Make it Happen
While we’re debating the pros and cons of remote work vs office work vs hybrid work, it’s important to remember that remote-first companies have been building amazing products for years!
Last year, everyone in the tech industry was talking about the switch to remote and how companies handled the move from ergonomic office chair to kitchen table. This year, everyone is talking about the possibility of moving back to in-person meetings and a potential hybrid approach.
With all the chatter, it’s easy to forget about those who have been remote since the beginning.
These 12 pioneers of working-in-your-pyjamas build great products and offer services loved by thousands, all with distributed teams. And all before distributed teams were fashionable!
Automattic are the company behind WordPress.com, Tumblr, WooCommerce, and a whole bunch of other products that are used by millions every day. Their main mission is to democratize publishing and commerce, making sure that anyone can tell their story or sell their product, regardless of their background.
With a distributed team of over 1,600 people (or Automatticians as they say) across 85 countries, it doesn’t get more remote than that!
Buffer are a big name in the marketing world, and are a well-loved CMS, used by brands like Shopify, Trello, Business Insider, and Microsoft.
And they climbed to those heights as an entirely distributed team. They state that one of the secrets to their success has been focusing on creating a fulfilling workplace early-on. The team are fully remote, with 85 people in 15 countries around the world, serving 73,000 customers.
They make it work by keeping things like salaries, the product roadmap, and their diversity and inclusion data completely transparent.
With 125+ people in 15 countries, DuckDuckGo ‘s distributed team are “on a mission to show the world that protecting privacy can be simple.”
They make it work by having no set hours, allowing teammates to complete their work in their own time and fitting in with their own schedule. Before the pandemic, they also arranged yearly meetups to strengthen team bonds.
It seems to be working for them. As well as having commercial success, they’ve successful maintained 90% team retention, even through periods of rapid growth.
Egenera is a cloud platform, helping to move businesses of all sizes and budgets to the cloud as well as offering protection for on-premise servers.
They started out as having a mix of remote and in-office personnel, depending on the necessities and preferences of each department. Speaking in an interview with TechRepublic on the switch to fully remote, Egenera’s Scott Harris said “We saw a lot of what used to be very large, very long meetings start to get fractioned off into smaller, independent, more frequent meetings. Some people meet three or four times a week with smaller groups now, whereas they used to meet once for three hours, which I think is a more efficient way to do it anyway.”
5. Emsisoft Ltd.
Emsisoft are a well respected company in the cybersecurity space, with clients like Business Insider, BBC, Forbes, The New York Times, Wired, and CNN.
Starting out as a hobby project based in New Zealand, Emsisoft’s team of 40 are now spread out across the world. ‘Because malware doesn’t sleep and nor do we.’
With flexible work hours and a strong, human-centric company mission, Emsisoft celebrate their diversity and multicultural workforce, knowing that it makes them stronger. It takes all kinds of people to fight the bad guys!
GitLab is an all-in-one DevOps platform used by developers and product teams worldwide. As all all-remote company, they encourage everyone to make an impact, and embrace the freedom to iterate.
As one of the companies who are leading the way in how to do remote right, they’ve basically written the playbook on building products through distributed teams.
7. Help Scout
Help Scout offer a customer service platform that’s currently trusted by more than 12,000 business in 140 countries. And their workforce are equally global.
The team are distributed across 80 different cities across the world, working remotely from day one. Proof that you can go from 0 to 100 without being tied to desks.
In Help Scout’s experience, remote workers log more hours and virtual teams are more engaged. They make it work by embracing the disadvantages, and not feeling threatened by them.
Mapillary is on a mission to build better virtual maps. Its collaborators contribute from every corner of the globe, from 190 different countries. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a product that maps the world requires a global team.
By pooling resources from every different type of location possible, they’ve managed to pull off some amazing projects. Like mapping the trail up Africa’s highest mountain, or helping to bring reliable energy through Power Mapping to rural communities.
9. Product Hunt
Is there a product person on Earth who doesn’t love Product Hunt?
Acting as one of the main hubs for launching and discovering tools, many of which are especially designed for remote teams, Product Hunt has built a community that facilitates all kinds of working.
Founder, Ryan Hoover, has always had a very realistic view of remote. Even back in 2019 when talking about the problems in remote work, he said,
Problems = solutions. As more people join distributed teams and work remotely, the demand for solutions to these problems will grow.
Toggl is a remote tool built by a remote team, offering solutions for planning, time management, and hiring. A match made in heaven.
Having been fully remote since 2014, Toggl’s teams are easily able to empathize with their users needs and pain points. Working across 40+ countries, Toggl have a 4.6/5 star rating in employee satisfaction on Glassdoor. They focus on building meaningful relationships between coworkers, and maintaining open communication.
If you’re going to learn how to run a remote company, there’s no better example to follow than Toptal, which became the world’s largest fully-remote company in 2020.
They even launched the Suddenly Remote Playbook, to help other companies learn how to cope with the unplanned change. Before writing the playbook, Toptal had already been fully distributed for over a decade.
Their design leads talk about how they actually find leadership to be more easily handled in a remote environment, as opposed to seeing remote work as an obstacle.
Automated workflows have changed the face of how teams operate, freeing up time and making life much, much easier. And Zapier, and its fully distributed teams, has been at the forefront of that.
The secret to Zapier’s success as a 100% remote team, has been ‘making space for whatever your flavor of fun.’ Their all-team retreats and focus on building bonds help to nurture teams that make the magic happen. If Zapier can manage 3000+ integrations without an office, anything than happen remotely!
I’m Carlos González, CEO at Product School, and I enjoy sharing weekly tips for Product leaders!
This article was also published on The Product Management Blog.