The information age has ensured that we can do many things without paying attention to location.
This is particularly obvious amongst software developers; however, many are not taking advantage of the communication possibilities that having connected computers introduce. Yahoo was recently given a lot of flack after calling all remote workers back to the office, something that seems almost absurd when you look at leading startups like Github, Basecamp and Etsy.
Many business founders like the idea of having a distributed team, but assume it won’t work for their business.
Basecamp is an excellent example of how well a distributed team can work. The company was once 37Signals, and are seen by many as the founders of remote work- they’ve even published two books, titled Rework and Remote.
The leaders of Basecamp asked where people get the most work done, and found that the most common answers included a certain time of the day, a particular place, or on a moving object (commuting etc.). Few people said they felt they got the most done in the office with their team, and instead the overwhelming response was that people get more done when they’re not constantly interrupted.
Jason cites involuntary interruptions as the reason why things aren’t getting done. He calls managers “interrupters” and meetings “toxic”. Meetings are incredibly disruptive, as they stop people in the middle of work, and while it’s easy to assume that the meeting will only take an hour, if you have ten people in that meeting, that’s ten hours of productivity lost.
Because distributed teams are using passive communication (emails and instant messages) instead of active communication (taps on the shoulder, interruptions, and phone calls), employees can choose when they want to be interrupted, and can check email and IMs at specific times during the day- allowing them to spend more time in deep work. As Jason says, very few things are urgent enough to need to be answered immediately.
Employees of Basecamp are located in 26 different cities around the world. While their main office is in Chicago, anyone who works for the company can live and work wherever they want. The company’s founders understand that having a distributed team is good for productivity, and many believe that the fact that the company is distributed has lead to its success with delivering a solution for distributed teams around the world.
While Basecamp is taking a completely remote approach, many other growing companies have distributed, office-based approaches. Mozilla is a great example example of how a business can thrive with this type of thinking with 13 global offices around the world, along with plenty of remote positions.
Buzzfeed is another company with employees located all over, and has opened offices in Asia, South America and Europe. Fareportal is a travel tech company with offices in India, Ukraine, New York, Canada, the UK and Canada, while Spotify has offices in more than 20 countries around the world, including Hong Kong and Oslo.
If you’re thinking about launching a distributed team, but unsure if it’s the right choice, start small. Maybe one of your developers will be on maternity or paternity leave and wants to come back part time, you’ve found an amazing developer you’d love to hire but they’re based overseas, or one of your best employees is planning to relocate.
It could be that you want to hire talented people in a specific country and are considering launching a remote office but are unsure if it’ll work.
Using this these people as your “test subjects” is a great way to see how a distributed team can thrive. You’ll be able to try some of the excellent collaboration tools currently available and will probably be surprised to see that your employees get just as much (if not more) work done in the same amount of time, without needing to be based with the rest of your team.
Before you know it, you’ll be reaping the rewards of a distributed team, finding top talent around the world and cutting costs.
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