‘Where the f… is everyone?’ — Or: Does remote work actually work?
My main motivation to work as an entrepreneur: Freedom. I can choose with whom, how and where I want to work. Any limitations to that are just in my mind.
Iknow: not every business is a potential distributed business but most of the jobs that can be done with a computer are potential remote jobs. So I built the set up of my current company exactly around this idea. But I did not go traveling for a while. It took me until last year to finally overcome the thought that I still need to be around clients and also close to my team. But last summer we finally did it. Quite spontaneous (6 weeks ahead) me and my family decided to fly to Canada and meet our friends and go on a road trip. I’m not talking about a 2 or 4 weeks vacation, but a three month road trip all around British Columbia. This freedom to manage a company from another continent for three months (our headquarter is in Hamburg, Germany) was only possible because of a Distributed Work DNA not because of any fancy tool. And no matter if you really want to travel for three months or run your company entirely remote, the idea behind this setup is a big opportunity for every business.
We want to be able to be productive no matter where we are.
This is my 3rd company, but the 1st one with a 100% distributed team setup. This means that my team, currently 15 people, can choose from where they want to work. On particular occasions, team members also decided for instance to escape the German weather and work from Ibiza, Nice for a week or work from London for a while to be close to their partner.
Actually there are much bigger companies like Blackboat that work with a distributed team set up: Automattic (the company behind WordPress 400+ people), Basecamp, Buffer, Zapier (check the link for their fantastic remote work guide), Groove, Baremetrics or Toptal (80M revenue with a remote team!) to name a few.
But to be clear: we do not discourage working at an office. In fact, we have an office in Hamburg and one in Berlin where I work most of the time from and some of our team members as well. It’s just like we care more about the collaboration setup. We want to be able to be productive no matter where we are. This means that whenever a person from our team wants to travel, he or she does it. Or if he or she wants to move with their family to a new city, they are not dependent from their job location. In addition to the opportunities that a Distributed Working Set Up offers for the team itself, it also facilitates the recruiting process for our company. We can choose from a larger pool of people spread across the globe. We are not limited to our local job market.
But what are the reasons that there are so many companies that hesitate with this work setup?
I think the technical setup is easy to handle. There are enough smart cloud tools out there. I believe it’s more a limitation due to work habits and a misunderstandings about this kind of setup.
Two reasons why people neglect this working format
#I People mix up remote work with a Distributed Team Setup. A remote work or home office policy in most companies implies that your company has 2 different integrated working cultures — working in the main office and working remotely. This leads to conflicts between workers of the two systems. There will always be “the remote workers”.
A distributed team means that by default every employee is a remote worker not just a few of them and there is no good or bad between the office or any other location. Since everyone learns this setup it is much easier to bring people together if needed than the other way around. If the team needs to meet they do if not it’s just fine.
#II People tend to stick to their communication habits. We have a simple communication rule that everyone learns during onboarding. There are two dimensions of communication: Asynchronous (writing and reading) and Synchronous (talking and listening) and here are many communication tools along this dimension. But after a while people become lazy and stick to one preferred channel, even if the channel is not necessarily the one best one for what we were aiming for. One example: our rule of thumb for those struggling to choose the right communication dimension says “the more emotional the topic, the more synchrone the communication style”. If it’s a super emotional topic you’d rather talk a walk in person than having a chat or video conference. It is therefore important to learn which channel makes sense for the respective topic, even if it is not the one you like in particular. In daily business a quick chat via Slack is most of the times better than an email. And most of the times a Hangout is as sufficient as a face-to-face meeting.
So next time you dream of a 3 month road trip or want escape from bad weather for just a few weeks just ask yourself if you really want it or if it’s the old working biases that keep you from doing it.
And now the question remains why I’m the only one in the office today. But that`s another story.