Remote teams and the company of the future

One of the things that makes Seb Azzo different than perhaps other companies out there, beyond our focus on e-learning and design processes, is the care and time we put into managing a flexible team culture — before the pitches and the business, we strategise about building a team which is truly satisfied with their way of life. Lifestyle before work, every time. To achieve that, we must allow the team to work from any location they choose, and when they choose. Our work, sector and the technology we use allow for that. This has become the foundation upon which we build. It informs decisions and helps us direct our energies and improve our products, in such our team becomes happier and more effective.

Working remotely is by no means perfect. However, being stuck in an office 8 hours a day, 5 days a week cannot be the best solution in a world full of connectivity and online collaboration tools like Google Hangouts, Mural, Asana and Slack to name a few.

For me it all stems from one simple question: Why should I lock-down 8 prime hours of an adult’s day and make them sit in my office from 9 to 5? What if person X likes to take their dog out for a walk at 1pm, visits their parents on the way back home and then have lunch with the children? What if they work best at night, and prefer to spend the day painting or running errands? Who am I to stand in the way of these? The simple things are what I like most about my days, and I think so do most people. It’s as simple as that. Flexible hours for all, and an office is not required. Why? Because we trust the good people we work with. It all boils down to who you choose to work with.

The truth is, not every design company can pull this off. If the deadlines are tight and the projects are brief, remote teams become more challenging to manage. That’s why we took an important decision early on at Seb Azzo, to narrow down our focus to e-learning and only take large enough projects that fit around our schedule; to not let them alter our lifestyles.

We care about our output, obsessively.

There’s an underlying myth that remote teams lose focus, see a drop in quality, or react less to new business or growing opportunities. Sure, that could happen if the team has that tendency, but that could also happen in a traditional office (in fact, it happens all the time). Success isn’t always correlated with location, because employing the right people has always been and will remain key. Ever since we committed to going full-remote, our focus has sharpened, distraction levels decreased and output greatly increased in both quantity and quality — because we’re happier with our personal routines and methods. The one-size-fits-all model works for many companies, but it’s terribly wasteful and inefficient and comes at the cost of your team’s real satisfaction and work/life balance.

Meet to play, not just work

These days our team meets at least 3 times a year in one location (everyone is entitled to fly into London and enjoy a couple of days in the city on us). But we don’t meet to work, we meet to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy a little bit of down time. The rest of the time is spent dreaming up new ideas around learning experiences and other products which can only come from being relaxed. Stress and feeling ’busy’, although still an occurrence, is at an all time low in the remote company’s day-to-day.

Amazing talent is everywhere

Seb Azzo was founded in London. We still have very strong ties with the city, but for years we swam the ‘red oceans’ of cut throat competition — and I’m talking about talent. Good designers and developers are hard to come by and we were limiting ourselves to the London talent pool. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big, diverse, high quality pool, but it’s still limited and often expensive. A self-funded startup needs to look beyond the neighbourhood and become creative in recruitment. Going remote opened us up to a wealth of candidates we never would have otherwise met and we now have team members based in Austria and Malta. As long as you have overlapping timezones and manage your time well, things will work.

Get organised and use the right tools

Stress, low energy, communication breakdowns — these are all symptoms of a disorganised team which doesn’t have the right processes in place. These days productivity and project management tools are incredibly effective. Try them out and pick the right combo that works for you and your team. We use Slack with Google Spreadsheets, Asana (Trello in some cases) and Mural. We use Harvest to track time and Wacoms to sketch and communicate effectively. Google Hangouts is our goto conference product. Another useful tool we use is Evernote. It helps me unload any ideas, todo’s and tangential thoughts which come about and tend to slow me down. I also share them with Seb to keep him up-to-date with a rough snapshot of my current thinking, Sorry Seb.

You don’t need to be a freelancer or a business owner

You’ll get this point 5 minutes into Tim Ferriss’ ‘The Four Hour Work Week’. You don’t need to be indie to enjoy the digital nomad lifestyle. These days any sensible business owner or manager will understand the importance of a satisfying lifestyle. Get your case together and pitch it to your team. Show them how much this means to you, that the benefits outweigh the minor drawbacks, and that you’ll do what ever it takes to not only make it work, but show great improvements in your output. Try it out for a month, if it doesn’t work, go back to your desk. But trust me, if you really want it, you’ll make it work.