The challenges of fully remote work environments [Q&A]

home working security

Prior to the pandemic, only six percent of employees worked remotely. In tech, and specifically cyber, though that number is considerably higher.

But what benefits and challenges do high levels of remote working present? We spoke to DNSFilter CEO and co-founder, Ken Carnesi to find out.

BN: DNSFilter had a fully remote work environment before it became the new normal, what drove this decision?

KC: Prior to DNSFilter, I started an ISP called Anaptyx. At Anaptyx, I was a customer of a DNS filtering vendor and didn’t have the best experience. I learned more about DNS and what was out there for replacements, and identified an opportunity to build a better technology and service, particularly for MSP and ISP partners. This led me to come up with the idea for DNSFilter — using AI to block phishing, malware and additional threats at the DNS layer.

I had substantial DNS knowledge at the time, but wasn’t an expert. I met my co-founder, Mike Schroll while volunteering at a local tech incubator in Myrtle Beach where we both lived. I heard Mike had a great technical mind and shared high-level details of my idea for the company. He was very knowledgeable about DNS and showed immediate interest. It’s incredible how far you can get with a few good technical co-founders and early employees. I knew we had to have him on board to get started.

The problem was Mike was preparing for a move to Denver and our third co-founder (chief architect, Brian Gillis) lived in upstate New York, and none of us wanted to sacrifice where we lived for where we worked. So, we decided to make the business fit our lives and launch in a fully remote environment. And the rest is history.

BN: What are the advantages of being a truly remote company? How easy is to attract top cybersecurity talent?

KC: The ability to draw from a global talent pool has always been huge, more so today as many companies return to office and hybrid models. We’ve onboarded some of our best talent due to the fact so many employees have happily adjusted to WFH the past few years and are seeking fully remote opportunities because they simply refuse to go back.

Another factor, particularly in cybersecurity, is education requirements have become a thing of the past. Today, highly skilled technical positions no longer require a college or advanced degree. Instead, employers like us are prioritizing skills and real-world experience over time spent in the classroom. Less emphasis on traditional backgrounds is creating a more diverse and inclusive cybersecurity workforce. From the beginning we didn’t face boundaries in attracting top talent from any background — regional, educational or socioeconomic — and have built a team as diverse as it is talented.

BN: What personality traits are important in candidates for a fully remote position?

KC: The personality traits of strong remote workers have defined the identity of our company. Top-performing remote workers have entrepreneurial tendencies — they’re autonomous, self-motivated and results oriented. They don’t need someone looking over their shoulder to ensure deadlines and deliverables are hit.

The most difficult part of identifying the proper traits came in our early days, learning how to run an entire interview process via Zoom. We’ve fine-tuned it to where we have a strict three-interview rule. No candidate wants to take a dozen meetings and we’ve become much more efficient in identifying the strongest candidates over video.

One trait we look for in particular is the ability to develop a clear plan of action for a project. This makes it much easier to stay accountable for results on a daily basis and create visibility across a dispersed organization. We actually have a set of DNSFilter Remote Working Commandments and ‘thou shalt over communicate’ with your teammates is an overarching theme. We make significant investments in tools like Asana, Slack, Jira and Salesforce that enable this and also play a valuable role in measuring employee productivity in a fully remote environment.

BN: Is it difficult to create and maintain strong company culture, employee morale and relationships with limited face to face interaction?

KC: In fact, we’ve experienced the opposite and it’s because of the type of employees we attract. We fully trust our team to get the job done on their own time and are able to implement highly flexible work policies that facilitate strong company culture and morale.

For example, many companies are re-evaluating where their employees work as they consider returning to the office. Since we’ve been remote since inception, we wanted to re-evaluate when we work and ensure we were meeting the needs of our employees. As such, we were one of the early adopters of the four-day work week. Investing in our employees is the best investment we can make — our employees have reported less stress, higher productivity levels and increased job satisfaction since implementing the program. We’ve monitored key stats such as support ticket resolution speed and number of Jira stories closed to check for any impacts to productivity — and there were none. In fact, most of the team has been more productive since implementing the program.

We’ve also learned little tricks such as encouraging employees to put up actual pictures of themselves over comms channels (Slack, Google account, etc.), implementing a ‘turn your camera on rule,’ and other ways to strengthen personal relationships in a digital environment.

BN: Watching many companies adopt remote and hybrid models these past few years, what are some of the biggest growing pains you observe, what advice would you offer?

KC: The biggest challenge new remote adopters are battling is employee burnout, and rightfully so. It’s well documented that employees on average have been working longer hours in the shift to WFH.

Reducing burnout and creating a healthy work life balance starts at the top. From the beginning, company executives — myself included — have done everything possible to adhere to our four-day work week, not emailing ‘off hours,’ etc. This sets the example that employees can and should take every opportunity to take care of themselves and their families, and not wear burnout as a badge of honor.

Onboarding is another challenge, particularly with more junior staff. Starting a new position in a fully remote environment with limited experience is a daunting task. They may never have gone through corporate training before and anxiety levels to perform tend to go through the roof. We stress that it’s OK to make mistakes, OK to fail, OK to try things. This reduces stress and encourages the creativity and independent thinking that’s a defining characteristic of our team.

Image credit: AndrewLozovyi/depositphotos.com

Author: Martha Meyer