We’ve been fully remote since I founded the company in 2001.
In fact, Fire Engine RED was one of the first all-remote companies in the U.S., possibly the world.
I’d love to say that my decision to start a 100 percent remote company was part of some grand vision (like, “This will be the future of work!”). However, the truth is, Fire Engine RED began operating as a virtual company out of pure financial necessity.
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The biggest benefit of being a fully remote company has been our ability to hire top talent no matter where they live.
Our lack of a centralized office proved particularly helpful in the hiring of three of our executive vice presidents, all of whom were “unicorns”—highly sought-after education professionals with unique experience, skills, and credentials.
The fact that they didn’t have to relocate gave us a key competitive advantage over the other companies that were trying to hire them.
When we first started, there was no "how-to" book starting and running a fully remote business. I learned by trial and error. This is why, after nearly 20 years of running an all-remote business, I decided to publish Fully Remote, the first how-to book that tells people how to set-up, manage, and lead their own successful all-remote business. This is the book I wish had existed when I first started.
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Our team is 100% remote, or as we like to say, fully remote.
Just like brick-and-mortar companies, our team members work on their own projects and have scheduled department, client, and 1-on-1 meetings.
Most of our managers are promoted from within, so they know the drill long before they’re promoted.
Each department has its own playbook, which helps get new team members up to speed. Also, our new team members do a lot of “shadowing.”
We have an Employee Handbook that discusses our fully remote policies and procedures.
Four of the most important words in our employee handbook are “use your best judgment.”
We feel confident about using this phrase because we trust our employees to do the right thing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have hired them in the first place!
Since we’ve always been fully remote, HR’s role has not changed.
It’s all about communication. In a fully remote environment, you can’t over-communicate. A CEO of an all-remote company needs to be transparent and keep their team informed. Here are some of the ways I do it.
Every other Friday, at 4 p.m. (EST), I host the “SS (Shelly Spiegel) Feed,” an all-company call during which I share information with the team. During this call, I brief the team on the latest happenings at Fire Engine RED; this includes providing information on new hires, organization updates, and policy changes. I also talk about year-to-date sales, margins, and third-party costs.
Also, I try to schedule a one-on-one meeting or virtual walk with a team member nearly every day (including new team members, once they’ve settled in and have been with Fire Engine RED for about 45 days).
The calls help me get to know my team members better. We often talk about their families, pets, travel, and even politics. And I’m always looking for recommendations on the next great television series to binge-watch. I also get a better view of what’s going on at the company at all levels.
Prior to COVID-19, those of us who traveled would often meet up for lunch or dinner with team members who lived in the area. We also encourage our team members who live within an hour or two of each other to get together in person for a company-paid meal. Although we haven’t had an all-company meeting since 2013, we hope to resume this event post-COVID-19.
We’ve always been a very productive company because all of our processes were created specifically for a fully remote work environment. We also hire people who have at least five years’ worth of experience.
We’ve found that the more work experience a person has, the more productive they are right out of the gate.
Our clients have benefited from our ability to hire top talent, no matter where they live.
For example, here’s what one of our clients, Wes Waggoner, associate vice president for enrollment management at Southern Methodist University, said when asked what it’s like to work with our fully remote company:
I want the best people working on my [student] search program, not just the best people who live or will live in the same city. If that means a team who chooses to live around the world for their own needs, lives, and situations, then that reassures me the best talent will help SMU achieve its goals.”
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One of the first fully remote companies in the U.S., Fire Engine RED opened its virtual doors in 2001 and has been operating successfully without a physical office ever since. The company provides more than 300 clients in the education market with technology, marketing, data, and consulting services.
Fire Engine RED has 80-plus team members, working in 26 states and five countries, including the U.S., Brazil, Canada, France, and Peru. The company’s annual employee retention rate is an amazing 92 percent.
Fire Engine RED has been featured in Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, Men’s Health, and on websites that cover remote work, such as FlexJobs and Remote.co.
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