Why we’re building a ‘distributed company’

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

Lots of companies have Slack channels pockmarked with team members’ announcements that they are WFH that day. Working From Home. And that’s usually virtue-signalled that they’re doing so, not because they want to watch Homes Under The Hammer, but because they actually want to get something finished.

WFH as the efficient option.

At Aio, we don’t have any other option. We don’t have a WIO (Working In Office) choice. We’re an entirely distributed company. Many of the people who work ‘here’ have never met.

We used to have an office. We used to work together, and that allowed me to get to know the people and build a team I considered ‘cool’.

But the benefits of the distributed model have quickly become clear — not least the fact that we’re not forking out for rent and desks and the like. And yet I don’t feel we’re rootless. The company seems, to me at least, to be based somewhere — Croydon in this case. To me, we feel like a local company.

But while we’re rooted, we’re not limited. Having a ‘virtual team’ means I can cherry-pick the talent that I was and they can be based, as they are, in Scotland, the North East and scattered across London, while not worrying about the services from Southern Rail or the East Coast line. I can still have the people I want.

We may miss out on camaraderie and on team nights out and bonding activities like that, but the idea of team drinks on a Friday has only ever worked for a certain cadre of employees in any business. Many will never make that sort of evening as they head home for childcare or other personal commitments. Team bonding is never all-inclusive.

What the distributed model does give us is the empowerment to juggle exactly those commitments. I don’t need to see people in an office in Croydon between the hours of 9 to 5 every day. I just need to know they’re getting the work done. If they do it after the school run, walking the dog and doing the weekly shop, and then return to it after 9pm, then that’s fine. Get things done in your own way.

That’s not to say that some things aren’t scheduled. Regular dial-ins (usually on Skype), and semi-constant connection (often on Slack) means that the joys of technology enable us to retain the flow of information between us without compromising other important aspects of our lives.

It also enables us to focus on the key elements. We don’t waste much time asking who’s turn it is to clean out the fridge or why the towels in the company shower are so manky. We just have the job in hand to do. In our case, it’s about making sure we deliver our services to our customers in the right way. We concentrate on perfecting the product and the user journey to that product.

That means our conversations are focussed on what we learn from each new customer, rather than what we heard on the semi-fast train to East Croydon. It makes us sound a little duller than we are, but it’s also about getting things done., and about the purpose, and values, of the company.

We’re a services company and worrying less about our own environment allows us to think more about the customers’ experiences than our own. Its frees up mind space. It makes us more efficient.

But it also allows us all to work within our own environments. We trust each other to get the job done, in the way we want and in the circumstances that suit us best. We’re all empowered to work in our own way.

The product we’re building is one of empowerment for the people who use it. It would be odd not to translate that same idea to our own work.