Each year in Q1, ExpandTheRoom (ETR) has a senior offsite meeting. This allows us to step aside from running the business for a few days, so we can work on the business. During this annual meeting, we critique our previous year and do our best to plan the next. It was here, with a beautiful Colorado view in every direction, that the idea for “going distributed” first surfaced.
After much healthy discussion, we concluded that the distributed model made a lot of sense for ETR. We decided on an approach that would allow us to experiment with the concept rather than going cold-turkey. We wanted to test ourselves, and the business, to confirm this made sense for ETR before we committed fully. We created a plan that encouraged feedback and debate from team members and clients alike.
As anticipated, when we delivered this news to the team, there were lots of questions. What will happen to our culture? What will our clients think? When are we doing this? Where will we have meetings, etc? We addressed each item thoroughly and openly. Over the course of the session, we watched the surprised faces start to warm up to the idea and, ultimately, most folks ended up excited about the potential.
Here is the plan we shared with the team. We announced this in early March, so everyone had roughly 3 weeks notice.
In short, this was a calculated process to ensure that working as a distributed company was a good fit for ETR. The first three months of the experiment called for everyone to work from the office on Thursdays. Having one day a week together provided a good touchpoint to acknowledge what was and wasn’t working and conceive solutions where needed. After that, for another two months, there was no commitment to the office, but it was still available for anyone to use as needed.
After a successful test, we made the final decision to move forward on August 31st. This gave us another two months to make sure everything was running smoothly before our office lease lapsed.
The remainder of this article speaks a bit to the process we drove and our learnings.
The main reasons we decided to explore the distributed work model:
Eleven Tips for Success:
Admittedly, we’re early into this game but we’re already seeing a lot of benefits. Healthier, commute-less employees who have more time for their families. It’s easier to get heads-down and focus, which ultimately makes us a more efficient and productive team. Flexibility for our employees to travel (during the experiment we had traditionally NYC-based team members working from Tennessee, Washington, North Carolina, China, and Korea). We believe travel makes people richer and broadens their perspectives, which ultimately benefits the work and our clients.
This whole experience has brought our team even closer together in a lot of ways. It’s also been great for our clients, who have enjoyed the productivity lift and our commitment to getting in the same room with them whenever it makes sense.
One more big win, it will be more convenient for us all to vote next week. Register here if you haven’t already.
Of course, there are challenges, there always are. Candidly, here are a few we still wrestle with:
Occasionally, more conservative clients need a little warming up to the idea (understandably so), but it only takes one experience with us to convert them.
It’s a pretty hairy day when someone’s internet drops or Slack or Asana fumbles — however, the reality is that these days are few and far between and were just as disruptive when we were all in the same office.
Often there’s no replacement for facetime (old-school not Apple’s) — we need to continue to acknowledge when we need to be in the same room and make it happen.
Consistent process is your friend — as we discover inconsistencies in our process, we firm them up along the way. We’ve created our Purpose-Driven Design Toolkit to help with this (internal today, but we hope to release it publicly in the future).
Hiring is even more critical. You need to make sure you are hiring the right people and onboard them thoroughly. On that note, we’re hiring.
Are you thinking about going distributed? Drop us a line if we can give you any more insights. Have you already gone distributed? What are some of your big takeaways? Need a little Purpose-Driven Design in your life? Hit us up.
I publish this today, October 30, 2018, the last day of our traditional NYC commercial lease. And for the record, I’m working from Bonaire right now.