Our guest today is Matt Secrist, the COO and Co-Founder of BKA Content, an online content writing service. BKA Content hires hundreds of remote workers from all over the U.S. and has been featured as one of the fastest-growing businesses in Utah as well as on the Inc. 5000. Over the last decade, Matt has been involved directly in establishing the hiring process for remote workers in multiple positions within the company, from executives, account managers and developers to writers and editors.

Matt, BKA Content hires hundreds of remote workers but why did you decide to follow this path?

To give some context, our company started with everyone working remotely and then later established a hybrid policy of working in the office as well as working from home, depending on the job position and responsibilities. Working remotely still is an important part of our company culture and we’ve tried to find a balance that helps us meet our company goals. In the very beginning, we established a work from home policy primarily to save on costs. Since a key part of our business revolves around networking with and hiring independent contractors from all over the country, most of the interactions we were having with team members were already being done remotely. We were already investing in specific tools to effectively communicate with our remote contractors, so we used the same technologies to communicate with executives and managers as well.

At the time, this made a lot more sense than having to incur the additional significant expenses that come along with office space, furniture/equipment and travel. As a small bootstrapped operation, this was a crucial way to cut costs and help us find our footing. In addition, this decision to work remotely offered a lot of flexibility to our full and part-time employees. If projects were getting done and goals were being met, the general consensus was that working from home was preferred overcoming into a physical office. Now, our business consists of both remote workers as well as employees that come into the office, depending on their job role.  For example, our part-time account managers still all work remotely. Our business model is such that Account Managers work on a project basis and communicate with clients remotely. Since clients weren’t coming into the office to meet face-to-face, we felt there was no need to bring them into an office when they could do the same quality of work from home. This has proven to be a successful model for us. For our executives and department heads, we made the decision to bring most of them in-house for the majority of the week to create a more collaborative atmosphere for strategic planning and goals. Over the years, we found there were some drawbacks to being completely remote, especially when longer, more consistent collaborative sessions were needed to help us accomplish loftier company goals.

You brought some employees in-house and some continued to work remotely. In your opinion, are remote workers as loyal as in-office employees?

We’ve seen a pretty even split. But we’ve also worked hard over the years to develop a company culture that connects the in-office employees to our remote workers. We have touchpoints throughout the year where we can all communicate remotely as well as get together physically.

If remote workers feel connected to the company in a meaningful way, we’ve found them to be incredibly loyal. In that same vein, I feel it’s important to give in-office employees the trust and flexibility to take time off when they need to.

It’s hard for a remote employee to switch off sometimes, especially if they work from home. Are remote workers as productive as their peers working 9 to 5? 

I don’t believe that productivity is exclusively dependent on whether someone works remotely or in an office from 9 to 5. Instead, I think it’s more crucial that you put the right people in the right situations to help them succeed. Some people thrive on having flexibility and space and getting projects done on their own time. Others benefit from structure, cadence, and collaboration. Certain jobs do require different levels of collaboration and responsibility, so I think defining the jobs in your organization that can allow for remote work or vice versa is the first approach to improving productivity.

In our experience, a self-motivated person that works remotely on a project-based team (that doesn’t rely on in-office tools) typically is more productive than someone doing the same work in the office. This is the main reason we’ve kept the majority of our workforce in remote positions. For projects that need frequent collaboration, we’ve seen that remote workers are typically less efficient than those that work in an office 9-5. This comes from measuring the productivity in people working in the same position both remotely and in-office. In fact, we’ve found over the years that the people in these job positions that started remotely actually preferred coming together in a physical office just because of the nature of their responsibilities and the people they needed access to. That being said, these in-office positions still aren’t truly ‘9-5’. We typically encourage our employees working in the office to take one day a week to work from home. These employees also know they have the freedom to take care of important things during the day if necessary or to stay home and work remotely in certain situations.

You manage both in-house employees and remote workers. Is it easier or harder to manage remote teams?

It really depends on the responsibilities those remote teams are given. When it comes to strategic planning, collaboration is crucial. We’ve found it’s sometimes harder to manage remote teams under these circumstances and to create a meeting cadence that doesn’t come across as a chore. Being able to bounce ideas off people physically close to you has proven easier and more fruitful. In a remote setting, just the act of communicating takes more work than in a physical office. There’s a psychological barrier that you don’t want to bother someone too much over email/phone or IM, whereas in an office it’s just considered a daily conversation. There also can be an extra lag in response time (or perception of it) in remote communication because the person you’re pinging may be currently working on a project and may not respond until they are done. Lastly, there are also challenges in helping remote workers feel ‘connected’. In an office setting, immediate changes can be made to help make people feel more included, where remote settings require a bit more planning and thoughtfulness. It can be done but does require some work; it usually doesn’t just happen organically.

For consistent projects where there may be initial onboarding but not as much ongoing strategy, remote teams have been much easier to manage. When the project is set up correctly, the remote teams manage themselves to complete the assignments and get to do it on their own terms. Most of the work we do for clients is done through remote teams of this nature and they absolutely excel. In fact, we couldn’t do the same work in-office and achieve the same level of efficiency.

Diversity of thought is important for a content company but tapping into a diverse talent pool is challenging. Is it easier when you hire remote workers?

Absolutely! Talent diversity is probably the biggest advantage of remote working arrangements, especially in our industry. Being able to recruit talent from all over the country with multiple backgrounds, experience and passions allow us to service many more clients than we could otherwise. Talent diversity has allowed us to expand and improve our client base as well as our company culture. It’s a must-have. Personally, I believe a mixture of remote working and in-office working arrangements allows you to meet high-level goals within your company as well as give workers the flexibility they need to have a good work-home life balance. It can take more work to set up initially but can ultimately increase the longevity and loyalty of your hires as well as their attitudes/production while within your operation.