16 lessons learned after a San Francisco startup ditched the office life and went fully virtual
When someone mentions they “work remotely”, it can be easy to imagine a picturesque scene of a life of luxury; a plush setup on a beach somewhere with a laptop open and a cocktail in hand. Or maybe a team video call in the early morning before an 11 am yoga class.
And while maybe not every day is a walk on the beach, remote work is pretty darn great — if the workplace conditions are set up for success.
Here at OhmConnect, we’re a completely distributed company, meaning we have no central office and our remote workers are all over the world - mostly located in the Bay area in California but with team members as far-reaching as Toronto, Canada and Melbourne, Australia.
“Thanks to being an entirely remote team now, what we call “R-Ohm” (stands for Remote Ohm, pronounced “roam”), we have reclaimed the time spent commuting which averaged 8-10 hours a week before we switched. Now, our team uses that extra time to exercise, spend time with their family, get more done at work, or catch up on a little extra sleep.” says OhmConnect President Cadir Lee.
An added perk that means a lot to our sustainability-minded team? The carbon benefits of ditching the commute.
“All in, R-Ohm helps us abate roughly 138 tons of CO2 per year,” explained OhmConnect Co-Founder, Curtis Tongue “Which means that not only does the lack of commute help to improve the quality of life for the team, but it also takes a big bite out of our company's carbon footprint.”
This is a new world for us, with the transition from a traditional office setup in San Francisco and Campbell to a work-from-anywhere scenario happening just this past Summer.
Are you considering transitioning your company to a remote setup? Hopefully these principles and practices (which are constantly evolving, so watch this space!) can help you learn from our first few months:
1. Work from anywhere*
We allow people to work from a location that is best for them - home, office, coffee shop or shared workspace - while still making good business decisions. While “anywhere” might eventually include anywhere on the planet, we are currently transitioning from our San Francisco office in phases as we evaluate travel costs, timezone, cost of living, tax implications and business licensing.
2. Commit to productivity
We know that working virtually can have many challenges - social interaction, motivation, interruptions. We use technology, communication and experimentation to figure out what works best for OhmConnect. We rely upon everyone to honestly evaluate their own ability to be productive and ask for help if they are not able to deliver their best.
3. Be a professional
Professionals get the job done. They're reliable, and they keep their promises. If circumstances arise that prevent them from delivering on their promises, they manage expectations up front, and they do their best to make the situation right. Professionals don't make excuses, but focus on finding solutions.
4. Establish a personalized and balanced ‘work time’
At OhmConnect the expectation is that salaried employees work 40 hours per week. Normally this will be eight hours per day for five days per week, but that schedule is flexible. We don't expect or want anyone to routinely put in much more than 40 hours a week so that we all can maintain a good work life balance.
5. Communicate more
We aim to communicate more often and more deliberately than we might otherwise communicate in an office. We encourage new ideas about ways to better collaborate and communicate and we will invest in technology, travel and time to facilitate communication.
We utilize tools like Slack and it is every individual’s responsibility to fine tune their alerts/subscriptions/etc over time. We try to err on the side of over-communicating, spinning up/down new channels, adding participants etc. We let the individual opt-out of the comms they don’t need, rather than the publisher assuming they don’t need it.
6. Deliberately be together
We want to regularly get together as a team, in person, and when we do so, we want to deliberately focus our attention on connecting with each other. In this way, we can foster trust, help onboard new people and explore ways to work together better. Whether for lunch, happy hour, a team meeting, a group offsite or a company retreat, time together should still be a priority even if it happens less frequently.
7. Fast follow
We hope to learn from others while still developing our own particular style of working virtually. We encourage reaching out to other people or companies that have experience overcoming different challenges and bringing ideas back to the team.
8. Strive for symmetry
We recognize that some of the most frustrating collaboration experiences happen when some people are in person and some are remote. We aim to be either together or apart so that everyone is on equal footing.
9. Be practical
While we’d hope to eventually embrace working from anywhere, we want to be practical in evaluating locations. A variety of factors might come into play when evaluating a particular location for a particular role including:
10. When hiring, we choose positive impact
Our company is driven forward by the clear, guiding mission to improve the lives of people and health of the planet by reimagining the way we use energy. Each person on our team has decided to invest their most precious resource - their time - to translate their deep desire to make this world a better place.
“In Silicon Valley, where there are a myriad set of options for one to devote time, often in a mercenary way, it is refreshing to find dedicated, passionate, and forward-thinking individuals to have come together with such a deep resolve to Choose Positive Impact.” says OhmConnect CEO Matt Duesterberg.
“When we make any decision, we choose the one that will most likely have the most positive impact. This principle has become our table stakes, the basic entry requirement for our team to operate, and it guides us to consensus on our decisions.”
11. Set some sort of work hours
We aim for core work hours of 9-4 Pacific -- some people choose to work later and some start earlier but having a rough time frame allows for easier scheduling of meetings, more fluid ad hoc connection and relatively clear expectations.
This schedule is flexible to accommodate the various lifestyles of the team. For example, OhmConnect’s CEO Matt Duesterberg sets his work hours from 8am - 9pm but has set a clear expectation of being off for around 4-5 hours on any given day to take care of his two young children.
12. Ensure the team has the right tech
We want to outfit everyone’s preferred work environment with technology to facilitate productivity. OhmConnect pays for some or all of this setup which includes a mix of what would help an individual team member feel most productive but typically includes:
13. Allocate commuting allowances to other expenses
In the past, we had a $300 commuting allowance which has now been repurposed to include expenses related to the ‘work from anywhere’ principle. One time equipment costs (see above) don’t count towards this allowance but co-working space, lunch get-togethers or the like are included.
14. Maintain company-wide and team meetings
When we all worked together in an office, we had regular weekly (or sometimes more frequent) stand-ups with the whole company and our smaller teams to keep each other up to date on projects and progress. These still happen! We just do them on Zoom instead of face-to-face.
15. If possible, create a separate ‘work’ space at home
“We’ve found it’s really helpful to have some sort of ‘office’ space at home,” said OhmConnect’s Chief Technology Officer, Max Dunn. “This may be a separate room or maybe just a desk in a bedroom. The reason for this is that when we are in that space, we are working and when we are elsewhere we are relaxing. It’s really helpful to keep those activities separate so we don't just keep working continually or spend the entire day in one space.”
16. Encourage face-to-face connections when possible
By NO means do we claim to have it all figured out. Every day is a new chance for learning and for us to better figure out how to make our work setup as efficient, productive, enriching and joyful as possible.
… but we’re a few months into the new R-Ohm world and we love it!
Do you work remotely and have thoughts on what works for you or doesn’t? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks!