December 2, 2013
Founded in 2006, Formstack has expanded from an office in Indianapolis to a 25-person mostly-remote team spread out around the country (and Poland). Earlier this year, they were named one of the best places to work in Indiana.
In creating the Formstack form building tool, they follow the principle of SAFE: everything should be simple, agile, fun, and elegant. And they believe the same ideas apply to their company culture. Below, CEO Chris Byers gives you a closer look at the Formstack way of life.
Tech Cocktail: What are your company’s cultural values?
Chris Byers: At Formstack, we strive to maintain a culture based on transparency, communication, and fun. As a remote team, we are really good at staying flexible with others’ timezones and schedules, but this can sometimes cause communication to fail. To make sure everyone is always in the loop, we use web apps like HipChat and video tools like Google Hangouts to chat with each other about projects and company news. We also make weekly and monthly all-team meetings a priority to stay transparent and celebrate wins from each department.
We are all about relationships because we believe that with strong relationships you can communicate more effectively and speak “the last 10 percent” to your coworkers. Every business has conflict and it usually stems from poor or lacking communication. The better relationships you have with others, the more you desire to improve your communication amongst each other. In addition, if you haven’t shared the last 10 percent (that deep-down frustration, offense-taken, or criticism that the other party is unaware of), relationships break down quickly. If we work to build good relationships, it becomes a lot easier to share honest information when the goal is simply to improve the overall situation.
Even though some employees regularly work from home, we still try to add an element of fun to each day. Memes and gifs dominate our office chat system. We can’t even get through all-company meetings without snarky jokes and puns. When we moved to a remote culture, we wanted to maintain the same fun vibe of our office culture, and we have achieved that through better communication online.
Tech Cocktail: What perks do you have for employees at the office?
Byers: Although we are a remote company, we still have several employees based out of our Indianapolis headquarters. In the Formstack office, we prize our ping pong, beer, and free lunch on Fridays. If you go in the office on any given day, you’ll most likely end up playing at least three or four games of ping pong. Fridays are a great time for people who work from home during the week to come in and see other team members, drink a couple of beers, and enjoy lunch on Formstack.
We try to make sure that remote employees enjoy perks as well. All employees are supplied with the technology needed to be effective at their jobs, and we often send employees to conferences that they are interested in. Additionally, when we plan fun events at the Indy office, we try to get our remote workers involved, too. For example, we recently organized a pumpkin carving contest. Our Indianapolis workers carved the pumpkins, and the remote team got to pick the winner.
Tech Cocktail: What unconventional things might someone see while walking through your office?
Byers: Well, let’s see. Nerf guns/ammo are a common item to see laying around the office. And we can’t guarantee you won’t see a few horse hats or squirrel masks lying around. There’s also a gnome figurine floating around somewhere. Most of the random items around the Formstack office were brought in as a joke or prank, but then they just blended in with the rest of our decor.
We also created an online system called “Chalice Points” to engage remote employees. Team members can award points to other ‘stackers for helping out or other good deeds, and then the employee with the most points in a week gets a prize. Some past Chalice Points prizes include: bear coasters, a stapler shaped like a sushi roll, a beard made out of fake bees, and unicorn corn-on-the-cob holders.
Tech Cocktail: How do you celebrate birthdays or holidays?
Byers: While it’s become a bit more difficult to celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, and other holidays together since we’ve gone remote, we rely heavily on our office chat system (HipChat) to spread good news. We have a chat room in HipChat called the “Watercooler” where we post funny articles, pun threads, and other random conversation. It’s become a great way to share good news and wish people congrats and happy birthday. One of our employees recently had a baby, and the chat system was a great way to share photos and news about the day with our employees around the world. If we need to celebrate company “wins,” like meeting a yearly goal, we aren’t afraid to have a quick, BYOB team video chat to toast our achievements.
Tech Cocktail: Any other interesting aspects of your culture?
Byers: Recently, our team hosted an all-company planning and celebration week. All of our employees, including our remote workers, joined us in Indianapolis for three days of planning, games, team building, and general hilarity. From getting up close and personal during low ropes challenges to running around downtown Indy completing a scavenger hunt, everyone had a chance to get to know another team member a little better. It was a great opportunity for our remote workers to meet new employees, as well as for the whole team to contribute toward long-term planning. By the end of the week, everyone had learned more about our entire team and was rejuvenated to work on new goals. If you want to learn more about what we did during our all-hands week, check out our blog recap.
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