Distributed companies, digital nomads and the ability to work from home are all the buzz these days. Technology is disrupting the traditional workplace and enabling employees to work from anywhere in the world.
Entire companies are forming and thriving with entirely distributed teams: no headquarters, no central location, just a network of digitally connected people.
About three months ago, my company made the switch from a cozy office in the heart of Silicon Valley to going completely distributed. Now I usually work from home, as do my colleagues. I’m excited to share some of the benefits of distributed companies, a few of the tools we’re using, and some of the initial lessons learned.
Why did we switch from office to work from home?
The tech giants, the venture capital, the world-class education, and the generally spectacular climate and culture are bringing more people here than the infrastructure can comfortably handle.
I believe that distributed “offices” could be the solution to the overcrowding problem.
If more companies embraced remote workers, and stopped incentivizing people to live in major metropolises, maybe we could alleviate some of these issues.
That said, I am so excited to share our experience transitioning from an office to a remote setup. I hope I can inspire more founders to flirt with the idea and maybe follow our lead.
Communication: ‘Can you hear me now?’
One of the biggest hurdles we’ve overcome has been relearning how to communicate. After a few months working remotely, I’ve found that in-person communication is not necessarily “better,” but it’s a lot more natural, and it was ingrained in our workflow.
Chat messages aren’t as spontaneous and casual as a quick over-the-shoulder conversation. Chat just isn’t in our nature as humans the way verbal communication is.
When walking into an office in the morning, it’s natural to welcome everyone with a, “good morning.” Sitting down at a desk, alone, doesn’t invoke the same reaction. It takes a conscious effort to recreate the natural banter that arises from being in the same physical space.
Slack is great, and it’s our chat tool of choice here at Beaver Builder. However, from the earliest days of the Internet there have always been chat rooms and message boards. While Slack has been our main communication medium, I think it lacks an element that the message board format really complements. Slack is amazing for real-time communication, but it's awkward to contribute to a conversation that happened yesterday.
Message boards allow for hyper-specific conversations that can be ongoing over a long period of time. If you want your team's opinion on something specific, everyone (regardless of their time zone or online status) can pop into that thread and respond in their own time.
In Slack, you might get a few messages from everyone that happens to be online, but the conversation will inevitably move on and fragment. We haven't found a good message board solution yet, but I believe it’s going to be the next step in improving our communication.
Social outlet: ‘Oh, boy! The crow is back to keep me company!’
Shifting from working in a social environment to a remote setting can be really lonely.
If the office was your social outlet, you must find a new way to replace it.
I've been doing a lot of work from coffee shops (I am sitting in one now as a matter of fact). I've been getting to the gym more, and I have been making a deliberate effort to reach out and connect with old friends and professional colleagues.
Working from home has been a great excuse to grow my professional network, spend more time with family, and meet new people.
‘Post-it notes are NOT scalable.’
There's some excellent content out there on tools for remote work. Instead of trying to rehash it, I’d rather suggest a few articles from companies like Buffer, Zapier and Automattic that inspired us:
- What Remote Working Means & The Tools We Use at Buffer
- The Ultimate Guide to Remote Working
- Automattic’s Awesome Remote Work Culture
Beyond specific tools, though, it’s notable that "tools" you might have been using before won't work anymore. For example, we never kept a calendar. We would always just chat about upcoming events, and then I would pop a Post-it note on my monitor.
Needless to say, this quickly stopped working, and we had to set up a shared calendar.
Also, a solid headset (I got this one and I love it), a webcam, and a bit of time to work out your A/V setup will go a long way toward making those conference calls more enjoyable.
Hack your work from a home office
Depending on where you're planning to do your work, investing a bit in your home office can be rewarding and beneficial.
I've done quite a few office mods over the last few months:
Does anyone like wires? I hate ‘em! So, I spent half a day drilling a wire grommet into my desk, then mounting and re-wiring all of the cables so they’re out of sight.
I set up a smart LED lighting system for my office using Philips Hue. I can match the light temperature to the time of day (similar to f.lux), and I have some wicked ambient lighting strips behind my desk that create a gorgeous colorful glow that I adjust depending on my mood.
Power outages are a bit more common where I live, so I set up a beefy battery backup for my network equipment and monitor. Now I can go for about two hours on battery power!
I got a fancy chair. It's an Aeron. Even though I got it used, and for a screaming deal, it was still really expensive. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I love this chair and gone are the days of sitting soreness. A bad chair can be a real P.I.A. ;)
With no one else to bother, yelling at Siri to schedule a meeting is actually really convenient.
Working from home is a great opportunity to tune and personalize your work environment to your preferences.
Psychology: ‘What if it’s not for me?’
I tried taking a few online classes when I was in school, and frankly, I failed miserably. I tended to do much better with the structure of an in-person course. I really worried this meant I was going to have a hard time with remote work. To my surprise, the opposite happened.
We still — more or less — work the same hours that we did when we shared an office, so I feel accountable to my teammates to be around when they expect me to be. Also, I find myself far more likely to jump into a work project after-hours, on a weekend, or during a time that I otherwise would be disconnected.
I'm able to work when I feel motivated and inspired, and I think that I am actually more productive because of it.
Give it a try!
Going distributed has been an exciting and challenging experience. There have been some immediate benefits and some adjustments and downsides. I truly believe distributed companies and remote work are the way of the future. We’re excited to be at the forefront of this revolution, and encourage everyone to try it!
Do you work from home or manage a remote team? What hurdles have you overcome? What do you like about it and what do you miss about the “old” way?