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5 lessons we learned from operating entirely remotely

October 15th, 2019 by Brian Chupp

Remote working in the park

At Atomic8Ball we've been a 100% remote workforce since 2006. There's a lot about having a virtual office that we think is really great! For example:

  • We've developed a set of management tools for tracking work, time, projects, and much more.
  • Since all our servers & services are remote and cloud based we've had to build a much more resilient infrastructure, and as a result we experience virtually no unplanned server outages.
  • What we don't spend on rent, utilities, and office equipment we spend on payroll for research and development projects to keep us at the bleeding edge of web technology development.
  • Our employees are happy! According to Owl Labs remote workers say they're happy in their jobs 29% more than on-site workers. Veronique, our Senior Web Designer says "I don't have to drive in the snow to get to work, and that makes me really happy".
  • Since we don't commute or use very much paper we are much more eco-friendly.
  • Many of our employees say they enjoy working from home for health reasons. It gives more flexibility for exercising throughout the day, eating healthier (instead of eating out every day), and there's no post-work stress drinking that is sometimes common in an office setting. "I love to take 20 minutes out of my day to do mindfulness by the pool" says Sarah, our Director of Social Marketing.

While we have experienced many benefits to remote work it hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. There are 5 major lessons we've had to learn and adapt to:

1. Isolation

Cat sitting at a window to symbolize isolation

Working alone may sound peaceful at first, but the truth is it can be very isolating. We have lost a handful of very good developers because they simply could not handle the loneliness. In addition to this, getting help with a project can prove to be very difficult when you're not just down the hall from your manager. To combat this we extensively use video conferencing for all our meetings. This helps everyone get face to face contact and has really improved morale since implementation. We also use video + screen share when a developer needs help or we're working on a project as a team.

2. Distraction

Woman sitting on the floor because vacuuming is hard

Do a load of laundry, pet the dog, fix that squeaky hinge you didn't get to on Sunday, play some video games, there's no doubt that working from home can be a huge source of distraction. To remedy this we make sure that all our employees have a designated work space. This helps to separate between work and home, encouraging focus and concentration. Eric, one of our Junior Web Developers says, "I feel like I'm 10x more efficient after getting a dedicated work space".

3. Find the Right Worker

Woman shaking hands after job interview

There are some people who are just not cut out to work remotely. It's not their fault, but some people just need a constant source of human interaction. To find the right type of employee we do extensive interviews, we are upfront about the challenges of working from home, and we incorporate DiSC testing to make sure we're getting the right match for the position. Luckily, when you're hiring for a remote work position your applicant pool becomes exponentially larger and you have access to a much deeper talent pool than if you had to hire locally.

4. In Person Meetings

Happy group of young people

10 years ago 90% of the company was located in Southern California, so in person meetings were a snap. Today, we have employees in 4 states as well as in Europe. This has made meetings more challenging but we still make it a priority to get together for a little work and a lot of fun whenever possible. We've found that having a dinner or fun event out with the team can really be a morale boost.

5. Culture

Business hands shaking

Whether you're trying to move your company entirely remote or you just want to have a few employees work from home you absolutely must create a culture of openness and appreciation. When your worker's actual live interactions with you are limited to a few minutes a day they can feel detached and that their work is unappreciated. We make an effort to constantly remind our employees how much they are valued and how important they are to the success of the company using routine personal check-ins over video call and public company wide acclamation messages.

Creating a successful company that operates entirely remotely is not easy and certainly cannot be accomplished overnight. However, with care and consideration you can reap the benefits that come with operating a virtual office.

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