Remote Work, Can You Do It?

I have followed the remote work movement ever since I spoke with Sam Rosen and Pat Griffin at a breakfast in January of 2012.  That conversation lead to investments in Deskpass and into Nextspace.  Nextspace didn’t make it but Deskpass chugs along.  They are expanding and growing into new cities.  If you do remote work at all, you need to look into Deskpass.  It can be a game changer for you.

However, not all companies can be remote.  At least in their beginning.

My daughter works for an agency, One Design Company.  They have had remote work incorporated into their culture for a long time.  For a while, the company operated out of The Coop in Chicago.  Sam and Pat started The Coop, which was the first co-work space in Chicago.

My wife works for The Policy Circle.  They get together at least once a week.  For this month, they all are remote working but since the inception, they have already created their culture.  It’s a brief hiatus that recognizes people go on summer vacation.

Other companies I know like Basecamp have a long history of remote working. It was a part of their company from Day 0.  Jason Fried has talked a lot about it.  They get the job done.  But, Basecamp is a statistical outlier and rare.  Companies that function as partnerships adapt to co-working a lot better than companies that are trying to create a corporate culture.   I had a startup try to do remote working almost at its inception, and it didn’t work out.  I was against the idea.

Corporate salespeople have remote worked for decades.  It just wasn’t called remote working.  In 1984, I had to get a two bedroom apartment, not a one bedroom, so I could keep my office at home.  Most corporate salespeople went through an intense training regimen designed not only to teach them about what they were selling but designed to ingrain the corporate culture into them.

Currently, I am remote working up in Minnesota and my partner Kenny is in London.  But, we have had over a year together every day so we pretty much understand each other.  We are also a partnership, where each of us does a lot independently.  It’s different than a cohesive company since a lot of things are ad hoc and done better by one partner.  In our line of work we tend to do a lot of phone calls which can be done as long as you have internet and cell service.  Fred Wilson likes to say as long as he has a phone he can work from anywhere, but their partnership has been together for years.  The cultural norms are built in.

I saw this article on Techcrunch, and I agree with a lot of it.  If you are going to do c0-working, you need to think hard about a few things;

  • How are you going to communicate?  There is a lot of non-verbal communication that takes place when humans are together. How will this come across a virtual network?
  • How do you bring people up to speed who join the company and aren’t enmeshed in the existing culture and aren’t used to remote co-working?
  • How do you build corporate culture?
  • How do you motivate? Often times, teams that work together physically feed off each other.
  • How is your company structured?  Is it flat with lots of autonomy or is it line and staff with tightly wound chain of command?  It’s important to note that neither is better than the other.  It all depends on your target market and how you are going to attack it.

These are just some of the things to think about when you inject remote work into your company.  Remote work can be pretty advantageous.  It can allow people to escape the high rents of big cities like NYC, LA and SF.  But, you need to think critically about the processes you will need to put in place to make it work for your company.

  • awaldstein

    I agree that the nature of work is and will continue to change.

    But I think the dynamics of groups and people is the glue that keeps driving us to touch each other and connect in the flesh on a scheduled basis.

    Skype helps and I choose it over voice for all my regular work communications especially with groups.

    But I’m a believer that handing out makes work work better so I get on planes to keep my groups and my communities fresh.

    • I’d be open to the argument that our generation works differently than the millennial generation. It takes 30 years for big technological changes to work their way through the economy and be maximized.

      But, how can you get a sense of “touch” or “physicalness” via virtual if you never have met in the first place? Can one do it without touch? Can we decrease travel etc?

      These are questions I have been pondering since 9/11, and don’t see any real answers yet for companies starting from the ground up. For established companies, possible

      • awaldstein

        I think we are agreeing–possibly.

        Teams are definitely more spread out, more heterogeneous, more specialized.

        And communication more than ever is essential.

        We can do this in a structure remote way.

        We can’t do it effectively without getting face to face with others and with our customers.

        I believe is travel as an essential line item i our budgets.

        It always pays back.