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How we became a remote team

startup journey

Remote working desktop

When we first began we had a small office and as we grew and brought on more people we got a bigger office with a kitchen, meeting room and all the amenities you could want, even a balcony though the view was of our car park but still it’s nice to have a balcony.

The trajectory seemed obvious at the time, we grow bigger, bring more people onboard and our office grows with us.

But things don’t always go the way you think, and that’s good - how boring life would be if everything was predictable.

This is a story all about how we lost our office

Looking back at it now it was obvious we were trending that way but at the time it was a difficult decision to make.

When all you’ve ever been used to is an office the risks of trying something different can be quite intimidating.

So let’s go back a couple of years, a few members of our team asked if they can do a few days in the office and a few days out of the office temporarily for various reasons. We wanted to be flexible with our team and gave the go ahead, it was short term and most of the team were in the office so disruption would be minimal.

The weeks rolled over into months and the number of days in the office declined with these team members but output didn’t, in fact during this period we were really ratcheting up the development of RealtimeCRM to make it into a minimum viable product (MVP).

One of our guys in fact moved back to Paris to be closer with family. He’d be back in the office for a week but back in Paris the rest of the month.

This meant though that our office was beyond our needs, and we’d have company meetings over and over again not over whether to go remote but to downsize the office. Remote working was still not really on the radar.

So we finally stopped dithering and downsized and got a smaller office - still with a kitchen though. We need coffee in our veins to function properly.

As time went by though more and more of our team decided to rotate in and out of the office, and the guys that initially kicked off the remote working experiment went permanently remote.

This meant our team had greater flexibility in the way they worked and it allowed them to balance work and their personal lives much better than before.

It also meant we now had two classes of worker, one more office based and the other remote. We had to change the way we communicated.

This was an issue for us as we didn’t want there to be this disconnect between the two, that one group would feel left out.

We started using Slack heavily to recreate the office water cooler digitally that we feared we were losing as you couldn’t just walk over to someone’s desk to just have a catch up and a conversation. For a lot of our team this was pretty easy as most of them are devs who have used it in the past, and anyway even when we were all in the office in the past you’d see a sea of headphones so they were communicating via instant messaging regardless. They might as well have been remote at the time, a few odd team members though preferred human contact and it took a while to get them into the habit of slacking.

It’s really important to have a company culture beyond just work. The ability to build camaraderie and a level of comfort between team members is crucial to team building and effective working. That means you need that water cooler conversation, the dumb and fun conversations and also just to keep up to date with what’s going on and congratulating team members on their successes.

Slack RealtimeCRM team celebration

We’ve also implemented weekly group hangouts so everyone can catch up with what’s going on and throw problems to the whole group and bounce ideas off of each other. It isn’t just that each team member isn’t communicating individually outside of this but it’s crucial to keep this group dynamic fertile otherwise your company culture will wither and die.

For us since we have all worked together in an office before for a significant amount of time this wasn’t a huge issue but it is still something we’ll have to consider as we bring more people onboard and how we integrate them into our company culture as efficiently as possible now that we don’t have an office which creates this through the power of proximity.

Iphone as swimming pool

That question again

Over this period the old question of going remote came up again and again as more and more team members started working remotely. We ended up in our smaller office with only three people in there with the rest of the team working remotely, only coming in when required for a big company meeting or to meet with clients.

The office was once again more than we needed. It was obviously not useful to have an expensive but underutilised office, that money could be better spent elsewhere.

Initially, the idea was to downsize again but none of the offerings were attractive and anyway if we went with a smaller office eventually we’d have the same conversation a few months down the road as another team member went fully remote.

We considered coworking spaces too but they were too little of what we wanted and too much of what we didn’t. The answer was staring us in the face to go remote but we were apprehensive about taking the plunge as with a few of the last remaining office team members - they’d never done it before and once we went fully remote we didn’t think we’d ever go back.

So far we haven’t mentioned anything around our guys putting their feet up when remote working because fortunately we don’t have to. They’re a good team and put in the work. A lot of places measure work by hours spent at a desk. That’s not really a useful metric, for us we measure it by goals achieved, and that works perfectly for us as a remote team.

The biggest hurdle facing us wasn’t whether the guys would turn remote working into an endless vacation but whether they would be comfortable with it, we didn’t want anyone to feel isolated.

It’s a big decision to make. So in the end our managing director Philip had a chat with each of the office guys to be sure if they’d be OK with going fully remote, and also for his own contentment as this would be the first time he was going fully remote as well.

Once satisfied the decision was made and the ball rolling on going fully remote. The office guys would transition into going fully remote working a few days in the office and a few days out setting up their own offices.

Then we cleared out the office and passed it onto its new occupants on the condition they would take care of the office plant Audrey who is about 7ft tall.

RealtimeCRM team slack goodbye office

And we did it, we’ve gone fully remote. We use Zoiper for handling calls, Google Hangouts for team meetings and slack for general chat and passing quick notes.

It’s the beginning of a new chapter for us but it feels natural and right. We all think we’ve made the right decision and that we’re moving forward.

We still have the ability to meet up in person when required but in reality we see each other every day and because we can’t just walk over to each other’s desks it really encourages everybody to work harder to keep in touch because it can’t be taken for granted.

Remote working might not be suitable for your team but its no longer something that’s contrarian, more and more teams and startups are going remote.

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