You know how much we like catching up with exceptional people people and companies who share a similar vision to Teleport. This time we interviewed Sara Sutton Fell - the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time job listings, and founder of Remote.co and the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative.
Sara - tell us a bit about yourself and your background - where do you come from and what have you been up to so far (besides FlexJobs)?
I’m originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but have lived my adult life in California (the Bay Area), Connecticut (Fairfield County), and Colorado (Boulder). In college at UC Berkeley, I studied and planned to major and minor in International Relations, Law, and Environmental Studies, but ended up “dropping out” in my junior year to co-found an entry-level job search website called JobDirect with an old friend. It was a tremendous experience, and we sold to Korn|Ferry in 2000. From there I worked at MyFamily, a Facebook-precursor that was a communications platform for families, and then a culinary school (for something offline and completely different!).
I’ve really enjoyed taking on new challenges, even as it’s led me on a more zigzagging career path. All of these experiences led towards founding FlexJobs in 2007, however, and more recently 1 Million for Work Flexibility and Remote.co. Also, last year, I had the great privilege of being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, which has very serendipitously brought me back into the fold of my much-earlier international aspirations.
Where did the idea for FlexJobs come from for you and how did you get started?
The idea for FlexJobs came about in 2006 when I was pregnant with my first son. I found myself laid off from an executive-level position and searching for work. I knew I wanted to continue in my career, but also wanted some flexibility as I became a parent, so I looked for positions that offered some type of telecommuting, flexible or part-time schedule, or freelancing arrangement.
I was completely awestruck by how difficult it was to find the legitimate, professional opportunities amidst a daunting number of scams (estimates show 60-70 scam jobs for every 1 legitimate telecommuting job, for example). I knew those types of jobs existed, and I knew I wasn’t the only career professional interested in them, so I started to do a little competitive analysis and found that there was a great opportunity for a trusted, professional flexible jobs site. I wound up founding the company in 2007 shortly after my son was born.
Tell us more about FlexJobs- what is the core idea behind it and what are your main goals?
The core idea behind FlexJobs is that searching for a telecommuting or flexible schedule job should be safer, easier, and faster. For professionals who are serious about their careers, but who also want or need work flexibility, FlexJobs provides a clean, easy-to-use, scam-free, add-free subscription service to help them find the best flexible jobs out there. Our main goals are:
To provide job seekers with a valuable service that saves them time, energy, and frustration
To grow the best curated database of current telecommuting and flexible jobs
To keep job seekers safe by pre-screening every job and company before they’re posted on our site
Also, it’s important to me to build our company with integrity and a deep understanding of our audience. For example, we “walk the walk” with work flexibility - we have an entirely remote company ourselves.
How does the process of screening jobs for the site
There are two ways jobs are posted to our site. First - we have a team of job researchers who spend a combined 100+ hours every day searching job sites, company pages, and other sources for telecommuting and flexible job listings. Second - we have thousands of companies who come directly to us to post their flexible jobs, including Dell, Aetna, Apple, American Express, ADP, and Amazon.com. Regardless of which way the jobs and companies come to us, our job researchers screen every job and listing before publishing it to our site, to weed out scams, ads, commission-only jobs, and business opportunities.
The jobs posted to our site must be professional level (ie - no burger flipping jobs) and offer some type of flexibility (telecommuting, flexible schedule, part-time schedule, freelance, etc.). Our researchers do a number of things to verify the legitimacy of each job and company. For example, they’ll check the company’s BBB rating, screen their website, check for related scam alerts online.
Tell us about Remote.co – the “sister site” to FlexJobs?
Remote.co is a resource to help companies and individuals learn about starting and growing remote teams, whether they are a start-up or a larger organization interested in the many benefits that remote work offers. Remote.co provides expert tips, tools, and practices for the creation, integration, and ongoing management of remote workers and teams. A cornerstone section of our site is our 60+ company Q&As, where leading remote companies (such as Teleport!) have provided detailed info and advice. Everyone interested in remote work will learn something from the resources we’re compiling on Remote.co.
How many people are in the FlexJobs team and how many of them work remotely?
We have over 70 team members who all work from their home offices throughout the country. We don’t have a headquarters or any office space, and we’ve been completely virtual right from the start. Having worked in both virtual and in-office environments, I can honestly say this is the most collaborative, positive, productive team environment I’ve been a part of!
What are the biggest challenges you’ve come across since starting the company?
Of course, starting a company as a first-time mom with a newborn was a unique challenge in its own right! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone, but I had a lot of great help and was able to make the best of it. More recently, I would say that every entrepreneur who has the chance to build a company successfully has to work hard continually to maintain a strong foundation and culture even as we grow past the initial phases. You can’t rely on organic communications and less formal processes anymore, and becoming more formal about things can seem scary or against your culture, but it’s critical if you hope to grow in a sustainable way.
Au contraire, tell us about some of the best experiences and achievements you've had?
Bottom line, the best experiences happen every day when we hear from successful job seekers who found jobs using our site. Their stories are so incredibly inspiring, and it’s the fuel our team runs on. Internally, last year we were awarded the When Work Works Award from the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute, because of our healthy, productive, and flexible work environment. My goal is always to have us “walk the walk” when it comes to work flexibility, and this award shows that we’re on the right track.
How much do you think the meaning of “traditional” work has changed in the past ten years and how will it keep changing in the future?
There’s still too often a 20th century mindset when it comes to work and management, with everyone expected to be in the same building, so that they can be seen doing their work. There have been so many technological advancements that can and should be adopted in the workplace, particularly with remote work options, and we’re finally starting to see a more widespread awareness about that in the past 10 years.
Especially with larger companies like Dell, Aetna, and Xerox openly talking about the bottom line and company-specific benefits of remote and flexible work, I think we’ll see faster adoption of work flexibility across the board in coming years. I really feel that we’re at a tipping point right now, where the notion of traditional work is changing quickly.
What are the main positive effects you think working remotely or more flexibly can have on employees?
We conduct yearly surveys of professionals seeking flexible work to understand why they want to work this way - what the positive effects are on employees when it comes to working flexibly. Year after year, our respondents say that work-life balance, family, time savings, and commute stress are the top reasons they’re seeking more flexible jobs. And when we asked remote companies to talk about the biggest benefits of remote work (from a company perspective, mind you), many of them cited the employee benefits as being their biggest. They mentioned things like morale, happiness, freedom, and reduced stress, for example.
Employees who work remotely experience a lot of benefits, including reduced or eliminated commute times, lowered costs (lower gas / car maintenance costs / public transit costs, work wardrobe, lunches out), less stress, better productivity, and more overall satisfaction. We compiled data that shows a $4,200 cost savings for the average full-time telecommuter.
Do you think there are still certain issues with more traditional companies not wanting to let their employees work remotely or flexibly? Do you think that will change in the future or is it already changing?
When it comes down to it, fear of the unknown is the biggest reason managers and companies shy away from remote work and flexible work. Trust is an important part of flexible working, and our traditional management practices tend to downplay trust and rely heavily on things that don’t really matter, like face time in an office. Managers fear that they can’t trust flexible or remote employees to do their work, to contribute to the team, and to be available when they need them.
Yet, a recent study by WorldatWork and FlexJobs found that a measly 3% of companies actually measure the ROI on their work flexibility programs, which is shocking considering how much resistance companies often show towards the idea that work flexibility can actually benefit them. I hope these fears will continue to change as more and more companies continue to open up and discuss their positive experiences with flexible work programs.
What are some examples of companies who you think are doing a great work with managing and promoting a remote or flexible working culture?
Some of the bigger companies we work with, who are thriving flexible and remote work programs, include Dell, Aetna, ADP, Xerox, American Express, vmware, Kaplan, Intuit, IBM, and many others.
In 2012, Dell launched its “2020 Legacy of Good Plan” which, among other initiatives, pledged to make 50 percent of its workforce remote by 2020. Currently, 20 percent of Dell employees, about 20,000 people, work from home, which has lasting environmental benefits. In 2014, Dell’s telecommuting program reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 6,700 metric tons, or the equivalent of not driving 16 million miles.
Aetna showcases its telecommuting options to attract new talent. The first reason on the company’s list of “Reasons to Work at Aetna” is “easy commutes,” with the key stat that 43 percent of its employees already work from home.
World Travel Holdings, a leading cruise company, allows a reported 70 percent of its employees to work from home full time, and says remote work has been “instrumental” in being able to hire and retain top talent.
We’ve also been able to interview over 60 remote companies to find out about the great work they’re doing with their remote teams, and you can read all of those interviews at our sister site, Remote.co, including our interview with Teleport!
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start working remotely or more flexibly – productivity, communication, time management and anything else you can think of?
First, figure out what type(s) of flexibility you really want. Some people love working from home and others prefer a flexible schedule, and some like a combination of the two. Decide what flexible work looks like to you before you dive in. Then, set yourself up for success. If you’re working from home, create a quiet space dedicated to your work, and set up a routine for yourself each day so that you’re still in the mindset of “going to work.”
Communicate actively with your colleagues and manager. Be proactive, reaching out with them to stay on top of things and keep people aware of your hard work. Let people know ahead of time what your schedule will be like and where you’ll be working from. And be sure to schedule regular check-ins with your manager so they know your progress on key projects. The more in communication you are, the less likely you are to fall off the radar of your team.
How familiar are you with Teleport? What do you think about the general idea behind what Teleport is trying to achieve?
I think Teleport is a fascinating concept that can help so many flexible and remote workers. So many more people today have the ability to live and work wherever they choose, and yet very few actually make the decision to relocate to the best city possible for themselves and their lifestyle. I think Teleport takes what seems like a daunting task and makes it easier and more fun.