The path to a no-office culture

LiquidSpace is an office sharing network where people lease space from 3 hours to 3 years. We are a team of about 20 and at the end of February we got rid of our month-to-month office that, you guessed it, we were leasing from one of our private business partners on LiquidSpace.

So how does that work? Is the question I most often get when I tell people I don’t have an office. Our small team is truly distributed with people in Minneapolis, North Carolina, San Francisco, New York, Belorussia, Florida and a couple of nomads who’s location will be wrong by the time I publish this. It did not make sense for us to have a space for 10 people when normally about 4 would be at the office on any given day.

When I first joined LiquidSpace we had an office at WeWork in the up-and-coming, step over a couple of people sleeping on the pavement neighborhood of Tenderloin. I liked everything about LiquidSpace except the office location and the fact that our team is distributed. I would not overhear the chit chat and and my watchful oversight would not extend to every decision? I would fear for my life walking to work each day? Gasp! But I took a chance. What I learned is a Liquid Life works well with the right mix of attitude, people and technology.

Technology that enables remote working is core

Have you been at a company where a meeting has one remote person? You cringe, because you have no idea how technology [X] works to make that person be able to hear what is happening in the room.

Most often if you are not at the mothership office, your chances of being in the loop are very close to zero. You feel like you are unimportant and tune out. After that you start getting disgruntled, and start giving even fewer percent of your skill.

Because we are distributed and most of our conversations are remote the technology we use Zoom and Slack just work. They are core to the way we work, rather than an after thought and everyone knows how to use them. You can hear the other people. You can screen share and you can record. You can pre-chat and after chat as needed and pop up a zoom for a virtual in person. In fact we get a bit confused when there are several of us in a conference room together and we are not just virtual. Most of all everyone is heard and ready to contribute.

Hire great people and treat them as professionals

But what about face time? But what if someone is slacking off and I have to watch them to get them to do things?

Be honest with yourself.

You standing over someone and making sure you don’t leave until he gets his work done never really works out. If the person is not strong your public shaming, annoying, coxing is not going to make a lic of difference. You’re just going to get annoyed and waste more of your time.

In a startup you don’t have room for B players because everyone needs to perform at 150%. I am lucky to work with a team of professionals who are FUCKING AWESOME! We subscribe to the Netflix Manifesto. We are an A player team not a dysfunctional family. That means I don’t always agree with a colleague but I trust that she knows how to do her job and I don’t have to micromanage her. We also have the luxury of hiring great people where they are, we are not confined by a location. The only way I can explain it is it’s because we hire awesome people and we are treated like professionals. We have the

“freedom and responsibility” — Netflix Manifesto

to do our best work and so that’s what we do. On our schedule we go bike, paraglide, kitesurf, play with the kids, travel, spend time outside … have a life. On our schedule we get results or get cut from the team.

Liquid Life of my Team Mates

Manager vs. Maker Schedule

“For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.” Paul Graham

As a product manager I am on both schedules. I spend my manager time strategizing and organizing people and plans. I use my maker time working out logic and details, going through data, talking to customers... I need room for both. The development and design teams are on the maker schedule and need large swaths of time to focus without my or other interruptions. Our setup allows for quiet time in private spaces without the folks on the manager schedule constantly passing by our desks fueling the nightmare situations of an open plan office design.

If we don’t want to be bothered we turn of or ignore slack notifications. The result — with a smaller team we get more done because quiet uninterrupted time for making is a given not a luxury.

Inspiration

LiquidSpace is in the business of connecting people with the space. Even though we don’t have one office we have 5000 in our pocket. At least once a week people in the same location find a new place to work from together. This helps us put ourselves in our customer’s shoes, meet hosts providing the digital to physical experience and get inspired by working in a new place. Sometimes it’s a cup wall, a lunch made on premises or a really cool maker space. Checkout our favorites in NY and LA. The best for us is we get to explore a new neighborhood, discover a lunch spot and get creative fuel from our new surroundings and the people we meet.

Communication

Potentially even more than in a fixed location, communication is extremely important to building a culture of trust and responsibility in a distributed company. Misunderstandings are that much easier through a flippant text, or a perceived lack of a response. You can’t always go grab a coffee with someone in the Maldives. The time to you finding out someone’s feelings are hurt has lengthened. We have to be even more conscious of hearing the other person, and when its clear something is not getting across quickly jumping on a virtual meeting to talk and mostly listen in order to create an environment where each person feels safe enough to contribute.

‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. “But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’ What Google Learned From Its Quest to
Build the Perfect Team

We are continuing to figure out the right share out levels and cadence in fostering the right environment at LiquidSpace. And of-course every chance we get we make an extra effort to grab a margarita and otherwise connect.

The team at El Techo, SF

Culture

So how do you build a culture when you don’t have an office crammed with perks generation Z is expecting? How do you make the people working at a company feel like they are a part of LiquidSpace and not just a bunch of contractors alone on their remote island?

What’s working for us is making sure that everyone understands what we’re doing and why on a visceral level through clear, continuous, transparent communication and how each person is important to making our grand vision a reality. In the time of the sharing economy, people are much more comfortable with the benefits of sharing vs. ownership. To us the office is where we are, rather than a specific address. We make the time to connect. The freedom, responsibility and ditching a commute is greater than that of any combination confined within 4 walls. As flexibility becomes a part of the way we work rather than a perk to be negotiated I look forward to LiquidSpacing becoming the norm for others as well.

Do you have a distributed team? I’de love to learn from what is working for you. Leave me a comment.

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