Why I believe that the output-based system leads to better results than the traditional 9 to 5 based on a deeper dive into the different types of operational systems that we use to make our own team’s remote work, work.
Our Remote Team
Linum Labs is a blockchain software development studio, working on decentralised solutions in the health and identity sector. We are a global team of 21 individuals, who all work remotely in South Africa, Berlin, and Switzerland. Fortunately, the industry we operate in has enabled us to grow and nurture a remote working method in a positive way, allowing us to experiment with different adjustments to get to where we are now.
If this is the first time that you’re hearing about a remote team, here’s what it means to us: a team of individuals working from across the globe in our own homes, at cafes, or in co-working offices. We have flexible hours, a “work from anywhere” culture, an unlimited leave policy and an output based performance system to maintain deliverables.
There is a massive difference between productive vs unproductive time spent working. If you can capture the energy of your productive hours and throw them into your task, it often turns out that you can get it done faster and better than trying to slug through it in an unproductive phase, watching the clock from your cubicle, looking at memes, googling random thoughts (“How tall is Kim Kardashian?”, “Why does a platypus need poison?”), wasting time until you can head home at 5pm.
To make sure this never happens within our team, what we’ve done to improve productivity & maintain team happiness, is to provide them with the flexibility to work when they need to, from wherever they want to, as long as the work gets done, and done well. We believe that our team works a lot harder and faster because of this as we have a high-quality output for our products and work ranging across all departments.
Presence-Based Workflows — Traditional
A presence-based work system can be defined as your traditional way of working. There is a level of output required from you, within a set number of hours, and you are required to physically be in the office with your team when completing it. If your work isn’t completed within the timeframe then you’ll need to stay late, come in early, or work from home on the weekend.
This works for some teams, especially teams that need to get together and build physical products or require frequent in-person check-ins. Our team also still occasionally gets together for “On-sites” when we do a product launch or need a focused developer sprint — but often we can get the same amount of work done, if not more, by harnessing the power of our most productive times and saving the boredom Googles (“national animal of Scotland?”) for another time.
Even if you absolutely love your job and you kick ass at what you do, on bad days there may be an unproductive time that you could better spend being creative, connecting with a friend, or taking a nap — and then picking up again in the evening when your energy levels are restored. Why keep you there if your output will be significantly lower? Just because something has always been done that way, doesn’t mean it should continue to be done that way.
Output-Based Workflow — Our Chosen Operational Method
An output-based work system is in contrast to this because it does not require you to physically be in the office to get your work done. Yes, we still require you to get about 8 hours of work every day, but as long as your work is done and it’s done well and we can see you’re working and adding value to the team then it really shouldn’t matter if you’re sitting next to me, at a cafe, or on a beach in Mauritius on your laptop. As long as you have good Wi-Fi, make it on time to all of your meetings, get your work done properly and positively contribute to the team, it shouldn’t matter.
Your output could vary in terms of deliverable types depending on your team, department, and field of work. For example, because we work in an open source environment our developers often use their code commits, their 2-week work sprints and their code reviews as a mechanism for checking the output. The marketing team may use articles written, social media posts posted or campaigns run as a measure, as well as weekly and monthly progress reports. Designers may use the number of new designs, operations may use efficiency of the team, etc. and so it goes on across all aspects.
Tools that we use to enable our remote workflow include, but are not limited to, Slack (written communication), Zoom (verbal communication, video always on), Trello (project and task management), Google Suite (collaborative work on docs, sheets, slides, calendar) and Streak (CRM). We have played with a number of others as well through the years but these are the ones most integral to how we operate.
Timezones and Work Hours
Flexible hours to us means using your time to maximise your output and increase your happiness levels with how you manage your week. This means there’s a lot of flexibility to work when you are most productive, and also to have the freedom to take a quick hour to go to the dentist or start work a few hours later if your mom is in town and you want to take her for brunch.
Most of our team generally work between the hours of 9am to 5pm CET. Generally, everyone is still available during a normal workday to maintain effective communication within the team. Flexible hours does not mean fewer hours, it means smarter hours.
For example, it is predominantly our developers who prefer working night-time hours, (apparently, the best coding happens between 10pm and 2am) and their days start a lot later with a break in between. Most of our marketing team prefer waking up at 6am to get their day started at 7am and work through till 3pm to have the afternoons to themselves — both of these are fine as long as it’s clearly communicated with the team they’re working with and that it works for everyone.
Because of this, we have never hired anyone outside of a 2 to 3 hour time difference of the CET timezone as it becomes too difficult to coordinate.
Work Tools and Routine
Remote work is not unstructured as most people believe it to be, in fact, it’s often MORE structured than in physical offices. As soon as there’s a routine that works for everyone, it’s a lot easier to find flexibility within it. Some of our set structure includes mandatory weekly/monthly meetings ranging from team syncs to town halls and an occasional beer o’clock.
We also use a large number of tools to stay connected with the team and manage our communication on a day to day, weekly and monthly basis in order to remain efficient, focused and connected with the team.
Technology has significantly improved in assisting remote teams to work more efficiently. You can now efficiently run a global team remotely using tools like the Google Suite, Slack, Zoom, Trello, Hubspot and more — I’ll do a deeper dive into our processes in the next article and what we do on a day-to-day basis to keep things running smoothly.
Fooling the System
You may think, ok, it’s remote — how will you know if people are working or not? Surely there’s a way to game the system? Well, Yes and No. But firstly, If you’re worried that your team will start slacking off if you go remote then you have a much bigger problem than you may think.
It is VERY easy to see when someone is not producing output in a remote team. It’s also VERY difficult to fake your output without doing the work to actually produce that output.
We use a lot of open communication channels throughout the day, and just by being online and available all of the time you can in a way “fake your presence” by replying to messages, half-heartedly contributing and not actually producing any work. However, after a few days of this, and with a proper project management system, it gets picked up very easily when you aren’t actually delivering.
To end off, I’d like to re-emphasise a point from my previous article and restate the importance of having the right people in your team. I cannot stress this enough. In all of my written pieces about building a decentralised team, if you remember nothing else I want you to remember that it is the people that make or break your team.
With an output-based system, no matter how flawless your methodologies are, how perfect your routine is or how on the ball your management is — if you do not have the right people IT WILL NOT WORK.
You need a team you can trust, you need people that are capable of working remotely, you need people who actually WANT to work on what you’re building and love what they’re doing.
We work in an output-based system because it works for us. We put a lot of effort into each and every single one of our hires with a thorough interview process that factors in skills, experience, personality and their ability to work remotely. As a result, we have managed to cultivate a unique internal ecosystem of creativity, growth, communication, and development.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment your thoughts and questions below. If you’d like to hear more about how the company got to where it is now you can check out: How we built our decentralised team.