Upworthy co-founders Peter Koechley and Eli Pariser launched an online community in 2012. So far, it's earned 2 billion attention minutes trafficking in stories that range from the criminal justice system to advertising's adverse effects on body image to clean energy. More impressive still is that their entire workforce of 80 people is distributed i.e., they don't make people come to an office.
"At Upworthy, we believe the key to motivating folks to thrive at work is a clear meaningful mission, the freedom to do work whenever and however they see fit, and (offering) a sense of camaraderie with great colleagues," says Co-founder Peter Koechley.
Here's how Upworthy stays motivated.
1. Give employees a clear, meaningful mission that they care about. "Upworthy's (goal) is to draw massive amounts of attention to the things that matter most, and our team members ("Upworthians") have said it's what gets them out of bed in the morning. When people feel like they're empowered to do their part in making the world a better place, it does wonders for their motivation," says Koechley.
2. Hire people who are driven. "We tend to look for candidates who are entrepreneurial. Because we don't have a brick and mortar office where everyone is physically together, those who need a lot of hand-holding tend not to do as well as those who work well independently. Maybe you launched a cool project in college, or you've been working on something on nights and weekends that has nothing to do with your day job. To us, those are signals that you have what it takes to work in a distributed office."
3. Give them the freedom to work whenever and however. "We offer a flexible schedule with no face time required. Upworthians can work from anywhere, at any time--we've had employees work from a sailboat docked off the coast of California, we've had employees make cross-country moves for family reasons without having to change jobs. We evaluate employees on the quality of their work product, not the number of hours they spend letting people know how hard they're working."
4. Remind them frequently how their work contributes to a larger goal. "We've developed objectives and key results (OKRs) designed to tell people how their work ladders up. And we celebrate progress not just at performance review time but all the time: every Friday, one of the co-founders writes an all-staff "weekly wins" emails where we call out awesome things that have happened recently and which of our goals each supports."
5. Build empathy across the team. "Real human relationships are stronger than any strategic plan. So we build positive bonds by having a variety of weekly appreciation threads where people shout-out things they're grateful for that others have done, big and small. And when there are conflicts on the team, we ask folks to "take a walk" together--both on the phone, walking, in different cities and sharing the context of difficult situations to understand where each was coming from and resolve it together."
6. Provide plenty of time to unplug. "We have an unlimited vacation policy, and we encourage Upworthians to take full advantage of this. In fact, we enforce a minimum number of days off, and we provide employees who do take time off with a $1000 vacation bonus to spend at their leisure."
7. Make camaraderie a priority. "We make every effort to ensure that our staff gets to know each other as people despite not being in the same office. We have weeklong all-staff retreats every eight months where we talk about critical things like the company vision--but more importantly, we get to hang out with each other. We have a bonding budget for Upworthians who wind up in the same city so they can go out and grab a meal together on the company. We use technology to our advantage so we never feel disconnected (we're always on Slack, Zoom and Hangouts), and we have lots of virtual gatherings, like a book club (it's always interesting to hear perspectives from different cities) and happy hour hangouts (there's no pressure to drink, and family members and pets often join). Camaraderie is perhaps the most motivating factor of all--people want to work hard so they don't let their peers down. It makes work way more fun when you're accountable to people you genuinely like."