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Why We Chose to Build a Remote Team

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Pete Davis

CEO, Ampjar

24 Mar, 2020

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In many ways I think we all dream of having a swanky New York warehouse-style office with neon signs that greet you when you come out of the elevator. 

Those wooden floorboards, those breakout spaces, the yoga sessions in the huge conference room.

While it can still be a dream that many of us hold onto, there is another way that comes with very different benefits and drawbacks. You don’t get the swanky address, the bring-your-dog-to-work days, and you don’t get to play ping pong on a Friday afternoon, but it’s the way we’ve chosen, and it feels so much better for us.

We’ve built a fully remote team, 15 people (and counting) working from their own place of choosing, working together, sharing hours and often popping up somewhere new at very short notice!

Remote is the new way that has suddenly become acceptable, thanks to some changes in technology and changes in attitude, as well as an acceptance that the benefits might be too hard to pass up.

In this post I’m going to break down what happened when we went remote; the benefits and drawbacks that we’ve experienced, and some that we haven’t yet come across but have heard lots about.

Building a remote team is no walk in the park. It’s pretty easy to get wrong, but if you can get there, I think there’s a whole lot of upside.

Why we built a remote team

So why have we done it this way?

Personal work/life balance

I have 5 year old twin girls who are just starting school, and spending time with them is important to me. As a founder, I usually have to work pretty hard, but I want to be present in my girls’ lives too.

The more I looked into this, the more I found a whole under-utilised economy of people (very often moms) who were incredibly talented and weren’t being served by the requirement to work a 8+ hour day from a centralized office in a big city. 

Being remote means that commuting is almost non-existing for our team, and we can afford to let our team pick up their kids from school, or book a doctor appointment in work hours. 

Everyone is responsible for working the hours and we find the trust and respect between us all is higher than I’ve ever experienced in a team environment. People share if they’re running off to the gym to burn off some energy, or will be online later after dinner. 

I’m not sure many of our team would ever go back to the old way!

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Hiring the best

We hire globally and using a mix of tools, platforms and communities we have constructed a team of 15 incredibly skilled people that I love working with. We live across 8 countries on four continents. I am 100% confident that we wouldn’t be able to find the same quality if we have run that recruitment process in one city. 

Perspectives

A global team comes with an incredible variety of perspectives. We don’t think with a single point of view, we think with a broad range of ideas and experiences. It’s easy for us to get out and understand something new and test our ideas because we have such a vast range of experiences and communities from which to pull ideas.

At times this can be challenging as someone living in an African city may not have the same experience of buying at a bohemian market by tapping your credit card on a square reader. However we think this would be true based on different personalities anyway, not everyone shops at bohemian markets anyway, especially not the average developer!

Time seems to be valued even more

Because everyone is working the hours that work for them, and distractions are greatly reduced (from work colleagues, maybe not pets!), we seem to spend more time focusing on what is really important.

Meetings don’t roll on and on, and people only attend the meetings that benefit them.

We run all of our meetings with the camera on, via Zoom or Google Hangouts. The beauty is that anyone can take the floor, and when you have it, everyone is listening.

No office costs

Anyone who has built a business previously knows that the cost of an office can be significant, and the switching costs can be the worst part. We’ve grown from a team of 2 to a team of 15 in 8 months –  when would we have signed a lease on a building and how long would the lease have been for?

Being remote means we get away without that. We do offer to support people who want to take a spot in a coworking office, and personally I have a dedicated office in a space a 7 min bike ride from my house (which helps when the kids aren’t at school!). This cost however is a fraction of what we’d spend to house 15 people in a centralized office.

…and the tech that you need as a remote team is actually no different to what you’d use in a centralized office: Slack, Zoom or Google Hangouts, maybe Jira or Clubhouse with the dev team.

Now I hope those sound attractive, because we love it, and want you to love it too, but there are some challenges that you need to be comfortable overcoming. They don’t need to be killers but for some of you, these are roadblocks that you won’t get past.

Remote team challenges

Good internet

When you hire people all over the world, especially in countries like the Philippines or Africa, you don’t always have incredible internet. I never really thought about floods and volcanoes but for some of our team, it’s a regular consideration. The resilience is incredible and they just seem to pick up and get on with it even though there’s a foot of water outside.

If the internet breaks down, getting work done can be a much less simple process, and the quality of video calls can be shaky at the best of times. 

No water cooler moments

Some of the best conversations happen in hallways, in chance kitchen discussions or as you bump into someone heading out for the evening. 

No one seems to have found the way to transfer this into remote teams. We just don’t have anywhere as many of these chance conversations. We try to build it into the culture to have these chats, but we’ll freely admit we haven’t cracked it yet.

Brainstorming can be tough

Meetings when you can’t properly scan the room, read expressions and that might come with a 0.5 second delay aren’t the best environment for brainstorming. Especially when there are more than say 4 or 5 people on the call, and when the call may be taking place at 10am for some people and 10pm for some others.

Our team offsite in Thailand was an incredible eye opener. It showed us how well we work together, but also what we’re missing by not working so closely every day or week.

Thoughts from the team

The following are quotes from the Ampjar team on working remotely: 

“Working across timezones means we also have flex scheduling – I love being able to start early or take a long break in the middle of my day – helps me stay productive.” – Quincy, SEO & Analytics

“Based on a recent survey backed by Upwork, by 2028, 33% of all full-time employees in the US will work remotely. I love paving the way as a 100% remote early stage startup, figuring things out as we go along, and being able to share remote working best practices with our community” – Roslyn, Growth

“In regards to the “no watercooler moments” I think we’ve actually been able to recreate that through these slack channels really well.” – Michelle, Community

“Working remotely is a game changer for me. Without wasting hours on a morning commute, I get to put in extra time for my morning routine – and that routine sets me up for a super productive day.” – Stefanie, Social Media

“Working remotely gives me more time to tick a lot of items off of my bucket list. I can travel anytime and still have a job. I have more time with my cats and dogs now and my ‘commute time’ was replaced with ‘me time’. Being a remote employee is the best decision I made in my life.” – Dianne, Community

Is it for you?

So that’s our assessment of running a remote team. While I’ve ended with the few challenges we face, I honestly love it!

We would never be able to have such an incredible team if we did it the old centralized way. You need to hire people with resilience who can get past the challenging stuff and who you can quickly build trust with. Once you do that, you’re going to be more effective and efficient than you ever knew was possible!

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