The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many companies to adapt to a home-based workforce. TaxJar, a platform for compliance with sales tax, has been quite remote since its founding seven years ago. All 160 employees work remotely, mainly from their homes.
Mark Faggiano is the founder and CEO of TaxJar. I recently talked to him about managing a large, remote team. The following is our entire audio call and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.
Kerry Murdock: Tell about yourself and TaxJar.
Mark Faggiano: We started the company in 2013. Our mission has always been to facilitate e-commerce. I am a career entrepreneur. I understand the demands of entrepreneurial life. I have developed a passion for trying to help entrepreneurs succeed. One of the biggest problems, especially for e-commerce companies, is compliance with sales tax. By helping to solve this problem, we facilitated e-commerce, giving business owners a better chance of success.
We do three things, basically. First, we help merchants calculate how much tax to be collected at the point of sale. We do this on several channels. Second, we take all that information, normalize it, give it back to the seller to submit VAT returns on their own. Third, sellers can use our AutoFile service, which means we will take care of the whole thing – filing VAT returns and refunding the amount on time.
Murdock: How many employees?
Faggiano: About 160.
Murdock: And they all work from home?
Faggiano: Yes. We are completely remote. We have been so since day one. We never paid a dollar in rent. We didn't plan it that way. Those of us who started the company lived in different places. We knew each other well. We didn't have to be in the same room to be productive. During the first year or so we realized we were onto something. It has been an amazing experience for us.
Murdock: Does all the time frame work, say 9am to 5pm?
Faggiano: No. We are a team based on trust. Confidence is essential in every business, but it is a whole fun game for a remote organization. There is no way we can look over the teammates' shoulders and look at every single thing they do. But it's about making sure we hire the right people, who know how to work in this environment and then set them up with the right tools to do their best work.
We do not care if they work with traditional at. 9am to 5pm. or 6 pm to 2 pm It's up to them. We hopefully do a good job of boarding them and making sure they understand what their role is. And we trust them to figure out their schedule.
Murdock: Are you involved in their secret workspace or environment?
Faggiano: We have suggestions. We screen for this when we interview. We ask people about their environment. We are clear that "we hire you and we expect you to do your job, do it really well and do it on time." It hopefully says the tone. Most of our people work from home. Some prefer to be in a cafe or maybe a place of cooperation. We have security requirements for these situations. All employees receive a scholarship to ensure they have everything they need, such as a standing desk or an extra monitor, so they can focus on the work.
In addition, every new employee gets a new computer. We are a Mac store. Ninety percent of our teammates have new MacBooks. And we have a very purposeful onboarding process in a week that is crucial to the remote experience for every employee. We cover a lot of information during that week.
And yes, the onboarding process is also remote. Everything we do is remote – mostly through Zoom. We also use Basecamp, where we live as a company. We have a dedicated on-board team.
Murdock: Is it easier to attract employees with a remote control?
Faggiano: Yeah sure. We have no major challenge when it comes to recruitment. Part of it is the remote factor. Working from home has become much more popular since we launched seven years ago. People no longer question it.
Murdock: You mentioned Basecamp and Zoom. Are these the most important internal communication tools?
Faggiano: Yes. We don't use text at all. Email is for external use only – mainly for our partner team and sales team. We do not want employees to email each other. Basecamp provides that feature. It is home to an internal dialogue. A team member can write, for example, “Hi, I have an idea. What do people think? “It is not an urgent need. It is possible for several time zones.
But we definitely have urgent questions. Deadlines for sales tax are a good example. We can't ignore them. That's when we encourage people to jump on a Zoom call and have that conversation face to face.
Murdock: You have 160 employees. How many states does it represent?
Faggiano: About 40, I think. The size of compliance – income tax, income tax for workers, unemployment tax – is quite alarming.
Murdock: Something else?
Faggiano: The Covid-19 situation will lead to permanent changes in the labor force. Companies that are forced to hire remote employees should think about it. When the pandemic passes, some employees will not want to go back to the office. Some will miss the office and want to return.
But a significant group of workers will love being at home. They will resist going back. It will cause problems for some organizations. They will probably need to be more flexible with their remote policy and reconsider whether they need an office and pay all the rent.