When we talk about remote work, we usually have one meaning in mind – work that’s distant from colleagues. But remote has another related meaning – distant from hustle and fizz of urban life; out of the way; rural. MacKenzie-Childs, the luxury home furnishings business run by CEO Lee Feldman, is remote in both these senses of the word.
Feldman is based in New York City, but his company designs and builds its products in tiny Aurora, New York, where the closest population center is Ithaca, 40 minutes away. So what are the benefits and challenges of this rural location? How does city dwelling Feldman make sure things are going smoothly up on the farm in Aurora? And does remote work hold out the possibility of bringing more jobs to other tucked away communities?
MacKenzie-Childs may have grown into a fairly large enterprise with international distribution, but Feldman is keen to keep the company agile and aggressive, and he hires with that – and the company’s remote set-up — in mind.
“We’ve grown into a pretty good-sized company but we still try to have an entrepreneurial kind of startup culture in terms of how aggressive we are and innovative and flexible. I think when you have a dispersed organization and you have a lot of people out there doing things independently, you need to hire a certain type of person,” he says. Maturity, independence and drive top the list of qualities Feldman most desires for his executives.
Feldman doesn’t use any flash techniques for getting at whether a potential new hire will fit in with the company’s independent spirit, recommending simple dialogue to get an a candidate’s work style, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t extremely careful about selecting new team members with remote work in mind.
“You are careful, because it’s not a company where people are going to be telling you what to do and when to do it all the time, and some people need that and they prefer that. We’re very careful not to hire that type of person,” he says.
Feldman calls his team “a pretty plugged-in group” and describes them as walking around each armed with a PC, iPad and smartphone. But with today’s tech, he doesn’t feel like keeping in touch across vast distances is a Herculean task.
“Not that any of this is rocket science or anything,” he says. “Most companies are doing something like this.” A Monday morning conference call with his team of five top executives and the occasional Skype video conference with agents or suppliers in distant locales are all Feldman relies on to keep his business running smoothly.
The company’s location at a former dairy farm in upstate New York is key to the brand’s identity and development, according to Feldman. “Our brand is very much about that place,” he says. “We have a group of artisans there that have come together that are absolutely critical to business and core to the brand. We’re based on a beautiful 65-acre former dairy farm with a beautiful show farmhouse. We get over 60,000 visitors a year, so the brand is very much about this place.”
The brand may have grown up in a small town over three decades, but current remote working tech has allowed it to expand its reach and for the company to expand it’s workforce. “We’ve grown our workforce by 50 percent since the beginning of 2010, so we’ve added a lot of jobs,” says Feldman, who believes that a more flexible, connected style of work may bring more opportunities to rural communities. “People don’t need to report to a skyscraper in the middle of New York every day for a lot of jobs now because of technology,” he says.
The result for MacKenzie-Childs is a fertile, tech-enabled loop – country sensibility enlivens a company and the company in turn enlivens the country with an influx of income and job opportunities.