Quill insight: how we mirror our in-house culture within our freelance network

If you’ve spent more than 15 minutes in conversation with a Quill employee, chances are you’ve heard us talk about our culture. Since its inception in 2011, Quill has focused on building a culture of empowerment, respect and support. While our cultural values – striving for excellence, moving fast, acting with integrity, thinking big and people matter – have taken various names through the years, the principles remain unchanged.

It’s no surprise, then, that these principles are mirrored in the way we interact with our Network of over 3,000 content creators, and how we encourage our creators to interact with each other. Over my four years at Quill, I’ve had the pleasure of watching these parallels strengthen and evolve to the benefit of everyone involved. Here are four examples that I’m especially proud of.

Transparency

Our CEO and Founder Ed Bussey is passionate about maximum transparency. Employees are happier and higher-performing when they are given context on how their work contributes to overarching objectives. In our whole-company meetings, Ed and other members of the senior management team speak openly about revenue targets and business priorities, and are comfortable discussing the challenges they face at a senior level. Instead of shielding the wider team from issues, they are honest and expect honesty in return.

Editorial Managers mirror this behaviour in their management of freelance teams on projects, giving content creators context on everything from a client’s main content challenges to the key performance indicators for the broader project. They’re also encouraged to communicate project difficulties or share unfiltered client feedback with the wider team, rather than sugar-coating the message.

Ultimately, we’ve found that transparency builds a culture of respect and encourages individuals to see their contribution in terms of broader project objectives. We also hope that it shows the trust we have in all our content creators.

Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is the backbone of Quill’s culture. From day one, employees are expected to give feedback to those around them and to welcome it in return. Positive comments and constructive criticism are equally important, and both should be given promptly, directly and ideally in a face-to-face conversation. Twice a year, managers collect peer-to-peer feedback on each person they manage from across the business, share this information with the individual and use the insights to shape the next phase of their personal development.

When it comes to our freelance Network, Quill has a longstanding commitment to not just engaging but nurturing talent. This is why we take a uniquely thorough approach to training writers, translators and editors on each project, giving multiple rounds of one-to-one feedback during the early stages of a project. We show our content creators what they need to improve and how, and we encourage them to give us feedback in return.

To put it starkly, our view is that withholding feedback – especially when it comes to areas for improvement – is denying someone the opportunity to learn and grow.

Focus

In today’s fast-moving, always-on world, it can be easy to forget the importance of logging off. Time off from phone vibrations, email pings and Slack notifications is time freed up to focus on ‘deep thinking’ tasks – whether that’s writing and editing or drafting a plan of action for solving complex problems.

Quill employees are encouraged to set boundaries with each other when they need to divert their attention to solo tasks, and trade the office for a coffee shop for a few hours if a change of scenery is in order. We avoid constantly messaging each other with questions, instead setting up check-ins throughout the week to raise queries and provide a status update.

We strive to create a similar experience for our freelancers. Rather than expecting our content creators to be available at the drop of a hat, we draft and share schedules as far in advance as we can. We gather information and share holistic project updates instead of drip-feeding instructions to our teams during production. Communications tools like Slack should help and not hinder content creator efficiency, which is why we ask our freelancers to respond to non-urgent messages within a certain time frame rather than instantly.

Root cause analysis

There’s rarely time to learn a lesson twice in business, which is why root cause analysis sits at the core of Quill’s problem-solving methodology. When we encounter challenges or failings, we routinely organise root cause analysis meetings. The purpose here is to drill into the ‘why?’ of each step that was taken in order to pinpoint how far back a problem can be traced. Hint: it’s often further than you think. This enables us to identify issues at the source and implement long-term solutions, instead of addressing the short-term symptoms.

In our content production process we encourage our freelancers to take the same approach. When we encounter low editorial quality downstream in a project, we need to fix it immediately. But that’s not all – we also need to trace back through the previous stages to understand where the issue came from. Have we given our editors enough training? Are the editorial guidelines an accurate reflection of what’s required? Could incorrect briefing information be setting us up for failure? By tackling the root cause of the problem, we avoid expending all our energy in the wrong place.

We hope that by mirroring Quill’s culture in our interactions with the Network, we succeed in recreating the in-house experience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re logging on from a co-working space in Shanghai, a private study in Edinburgh or a beach hut in Nha Trang – you’ll see our principles in practice.

For me, based in the decidedly less exotic London office, the company culture is what’s made working at Quill so special over the last four years. That’s why I’m personally invested in replicating it for our content creators.

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