Hiring and Working Remotely, Benefits and Values to Make a Company Culture – By Nicole Fallon-Peek


Nicole Fallon-Peek joins the Navigating Business Podcast to discuss how she has built a fully remote team and a strong culture with her agency, Lightning Media Partners. She also discusses if a fully remote agency is sustainable, why it’s beneficial for their team, and how hiring virtually can actually be a benefit to the team & company. 

Learn more about Nicole at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicolemariefallon/  & https://lightningmediapartners.com/ 

About the company:

Lightning Media Partners specializes in high volume high quality editorial content for digital publishers. Working with small to medium size businesses that want to increase their content publications.  We have an expert team of SEO and journalism, so we could leverage that to provide well researched seo-friendly articles to our clients audience.

Building a virtual team during Covid-19

In Lightning Media Partners, we built the team throughout peak covid time and the workplace has changed a lot of ways since then. Remote work to hybrid work and the flexible schedules are now open a lot more. 

We have been fully remote since we started in 2018 and the pandemic really solidified our decision to always be a remote first agency. All of our services are delivered digitally there’s no reason to force anybody to come into a physical office. Or we restrict our talent pool to our local area. My husband and I live in New Jersey, and we run our business out of New Jersey.

Working remotely can be fun!

The first couple of our employees were all based here but as we decided to grow we realized there were so many people out there who may be a better fit for the job and by expanding that we were able to find employees all over the country. We now are spread across six different states. Our team really enjoys the flexible work from home schedule and we have plenty of communication tools and protocols in place to make sure that we all stay connected.

How to find and choose the best tools and software for communications and tools to stay connected

Inspiration from the previous jobs (experience), led us to borrow a lot of things like Slack, Zoom and Google for email and storage. We looked up a few different project management software and landed on Trello, because it’s very user-friendly and visual with board style, where you can create project cards and move them down the line as each stage of editorial process.    

A client of ours had recommended us to use Trello and we really like to keep using it, and that was one of the earliest tech investments that we had. 

We usually expand our tools when we see a real need for it. We were very tired of using spreadsheets for this and we should look into a specific software solution. That is how you can expand the tech stack over time. 

There might be tools that we don’t use as often anymore and we might have to pare that back a little bit for obvious budget reasons. For the most part, everything we have invested, we do use on a regular basis. 

Challenges in the process of hiring virtually 

Hiring virtually definitely has its perks – one of which is a wider applicant pool to choose from. We received 300 requests in just 48 hours after posting on LinkedIn last year, and most of them were qualified candidates that we were able to easily weed out. LinkedIn has great filtering tools that do auto-rejection for you so you’re not stuck going through a ton of applications manually. Once you have pared down the pool, it’ll start looking like a regular hiring process!

Hiring Process 

We established a system, where we do a few rounds of video based interviews, and assessments and sample assignments that we had candidates fill out. And it might be more insightful to interview someone via video call. Because you can see how they present themselves. Not only through their physical appearance but theri background, but lighting on the wall, personal touches, their desk, etc. You don’t necessarily get that if they come to your office for an interview. 

People may have a bit more of a comfort level when they are in their own environment in their home interviewing. Actually, you might be getting people at their optimal or presumably in their optimal state. If you don’t see them as comfortable then it’s informing something for you in hiring decision. 

Building a culture where a group of people are not permanently connect or seeing each other  every day

It’s definitely possible to build a strong company culture even when everyone is working remotely. The key is to be intentional about it. We started conducting employee surveys to get a sense of what people want from their remote work experience. Many of them are anonymous, so people feel free to be honest without worrying about whether their comments will be tied back to them.

As a small team, everyone kind of knows each other very well. So, with the surveys, we have been able to develop initiatives like weekly professional development workshops. 

Meeting in-person while working remotely 

We do quarterly employee charity initiatives and team happy hours that are all conducted virtually. This is actually something we weren’t able to do right away for budgetary reasons but last year we actually hosted our first in-person employee retreat to get everybody together for a few days to meet in person for the first time.

Everyone who came out of that feeling said they had strengthened their relationships with their coworkers and felt a lot more connected when they went home and hopped on their next Zoom call. They felt like they knew each other better, so just having those in-person touchpoints, if possible, are really helpful to strengthen a remote culture when you’re not in the same place every day.

Some of the initiatives came from the surveys 

Our quarterly employee charity initiatives is something we’re very proud of. Every quarter we have one of our employees. We have a kind of a rotation list to choose a charitable initiative that they would like to support. 

In-house charity and donations 

Lightning Media Partners makes a monetary donation to that cause and then the employee who chose it helps us come up with a virtual activity that we can do to support that cause. We have done quite a few virtual 5K walks, we made hand made cards for Children at St. jude’s Children’s hospital. We have run animal shelter supply drives that we have all like brought to our local animal shelters. 

At Lightning Media Partners, we make a monetary donation to the chosen cause and then the employee who chose it helps us come up with a virtual activity that we can do to support that cause. We have done quite a few virtual 5K walks, made hand made cards for children at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and run animal shelter supply drives that we have all brought to our local animal shelters. We’re proud to be able to support the causes that are important to our team members and make a difference in our community.

The feeling of the team working remotely and blending it with working outside

Our team absolutely loves the flexibility of remote work. A lot of them have told us that the biggest perk for them is being able to build their work day around their personal life and not the other way around. I think it’s very hard when you go into an office 9-5 and you have got to kind of either take time off or plan your days around if you need to go run an errand or make an appointment. With remote work, they can easily take care of things during the day as they come up without having to plan everything in advance or take time off from work.

Missing the feeling of getting together in office

A lot of us miss the social interaction that takes place in an office setting. Being able to walk over to somebody’s desk and brainstorm or go out to grab a quick lunch with your coworker. To help recapture some of that, we have really encouraged our employees to get out of their houses and work at a coffee shop or a coworking space.

We invite our employees to join us for open office hours twice a week via Zoom. This is a dedicated time for them to ask any questions they may have about projects they’re working on, or even about the business in general. We know that a lot of our days are taken up by things like client meetings and communications, but during open office hours we’re focused on being there for our employees.

Is a remote setup a sustainable model for agencies?

The remote work model is a sustainable one that many agencies were already using before Covid, and it makes sense to continue using it during and after the pandemic. There are so many advantages to working remotely – you don’t have to worry about renting office space or furnishing it, and you can stock the fridge with whatever snacks you want! Employees really value the freedom to work from anywhere, and in today’s world it’s more important than ever to give them that flexibility.

Would you ever consider moving back to office space?

We have no immediate plans to move to an in-person or hybrid model – it just wouldn’t be practical or worth it for us at this point, being spread out as we are. Maybe someday, if we ended up hiring a lot of employees in one specific region, but I think the way we have been growing remote work works for us and we are happy to stick with it. I think it makes those kind of in-person touch points when we do have them much more special.

This might not be the case for large corporations 

Larger corporations have been moving back to in-person work, but there has been a lot of pushback from employees. The Silicon Valley giants have been saying that employees need to come back to the office x amount of days out of the week, but there has been a lot of resistance to this change.

Overview of next couple years 

I know plenty of people who work for larger corporations who were really unhappy when they were told they had to come back into the office. I think a lot of that is driving the so-called great resignation, where everybody’s leaving their jobs and trying to find something that’s more conducive to the life they got used to during this period of fully remote work. If larger corporations do have people come into the office, I think they will offer remote work as a regular option – not just as something during a pandemic.

What do you feel passionate about in business?

The number one thing employees are looking for is to feel like they are valued. This can be done in a number of ways, such as investing in their growth, offering benefits and professional development opportunities, or having a clear career path. When employees feel like you care about them both as workers and as people, they are more likely to invest their time and energy back into your business. Even small companies who may not be able to afford big benefits packages or bonuses can show their employees that they are valued.

You don’t always have to spend a lot of money to show people that you appreciate them. Something as simple as a handwritten thank you note or a door dash gift card for dinner can go a long way in showing someone that you value their work. Birthdays are also a great opportunity to show your appreciation with a small gift. With such a small investment, you can make a big impact.