Going Remote

Moving to a distributed team model and what that means for our our team, our clients and how we work.

Richard Banfield
May 27, 2018 · 4 min read
Our beautiful office outside Boston, once the center of our physical universe, now another historical milestone in our growth.

“But where will you work?”

As I write this article from an apartment in Girona, Spain, that question seems slightly more ridiculous than usual.

This last quarter our Fresh Tilled Soil team has done Design Sprints in Memphis, TN, Burlington, VT and Mexico City, discovery sessions with new clients in Seattle, New York and Hartford, and run workshops in Barcelona, Reykjavik, New York, Lisbon, London, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. All this on top of the regular Boston based work we do as a result of being located there for so many years.

For a user experience business like ours, office location has always mattered less than doing exceptional work. As each day passes, location matters less.

Since 2005 much has changed in the world. Technologies and process have become more effective at delivering value remotely. However, the biggest change has been our team’s ability to deliver on-time, on-budget and at the highest quality without needing to be co-located every day.

There are a lot of other reasons an office no longer made sense. In no particular order they are:

  1. Global clients means they are unlikely to come to our office for meetings.
  2. Our team prefers the flexibility of not having to commute to an office.
  3. Rent in and around Boston is expensive. And rising.
  4. The best talent is not always commuting distance from an office.

Our people first

Like any high-performing team that collaborates to solve problems, our team definitely benefits from spending time together. However, time together isn’t our only tool. As our team matured, physically and mentally, we’re now more interested in outcomes (high quality work that solves real problems) than on outputs (clocking hours on a project).

A subtle but important consideration for any group is the environmental stress that they encounter as part of their activities. Commuting for hours in traffic is one of the biggest stressors in cities. Apart from the stress of driving, the lost time and expense of commuting can impact performance in several ways.

Giving our team the option to work from home or in a coworking space mitigates a significant amount of stress. Happy team means happy clients.

Remote culture

Although there’s lots of exceptions, it helps if a remote working culture is something you nurture from day one. From the start we’ve had a few remote workers so being out of the office was never a problem for the company culture. One of our first employees was based in Idaho. South Carolina, Texas, New Hampshire, Virginia and now Illinois are some of the other locations.

The remote vs. co-located argument is much like the open-plan vs. closed-plan office debate, it misses the other fifty shades of grey. High-performing teams are neither one or the other. They benefit from both spending time together and being distributed. Preserving the best of these two worlds, and the degrees in between, is the goal.

How does going remote affect our clients?

For the most part it doesn’t change anything about the logistics of working together. Meetings will happen at either the clients office or at a mutually agreeable location. That’s also more attractive to clients because by being at their location(s) we have a better chance of meeting more decision makers and stakeholders on a project.

I liken this to a doctor making house calls. We’re more likely to get a clearer picture of the clients needs if we can see them in their own environments. Being experience designers we gain significant insights from observing the donuts being made, and not just hearing about it second-hand.

Another advantage of not having a full-time office is we’ll have no rent. This means we can be more efficient about running our business. That allows us to deliver the same high-quality work but with reduced costs, and thus a financially healthier business and more competitive project fees.

How will the transition happen?

It’s already begun. In fact we’ve been operating as a remote team for almost a year. In the spirit of good user experience design we have been running this experiment for several months. We’ve established routines and processes that amplify what our clients and team members need.

Our annual summit, UX Fest will be the last event we host at the gorgeous Riverworks space. It will be a fitting farewell to the space that has been our home for the last several years. For those of you who will be there, we’re excited to see you and celebrate together.

What’s next?

For the foreseeable future nothing really changes. Our team will continue to dive deeper into the user experience challenges facing our clients. Right now we’re working with UX and product teams from category leaders like FedEx, Keurig, Lending Tree, Broadridge, New England Medical Journal and more.

Thank you to our peerless Fresh Tilled Soil team for helping make this transition so easy and to our clients for supporting us as we made these changes.

Fresh Tilled Soil

We’re Fresh Tilled Soil. UX Designers and strategists inspired by human biology. Our strong opinions are our own. We take full responsibility for what we say and create.

Richard Banfield

Written by

Dad, husband, cyclist, CEO of @freshtilledsoil. I write books on design & product.

Fresh Tilled Soil

We’re Fresh Tilled Soil. UX Designers and strategists inspired by human biology. Our strong opinions are our own. We take full responsibility for what we say and create.

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