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Ask HN: Is a team of work-at-home employees realistic?
33 points by abalashov on Feb 1, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments
Hi everyone,

I was wondering what you think about the feasibility of building a team consisting of employees who work at home. I don't mean a completely remote team; I am talking about local people, and certainly with some measure of face-to-face meetings and physical interaction when that level of collaboration is required. I just mean people who work mostly at home on a day-to-day basis.

As far as I can tell, corporate America is mostly terrified of telecommuting. Admittedly, it can be legitimately said to pose some very real management challenges. But no matter how much I consider that, I just can't see a justification for paying for office space and forcing people to spend time there for 8+ hours a day. I think I agree very strongly with what PG has had to say on the topic of corporate office space and its relationship to talented individuals and their productivity.

I agree that it's harder to manage remote people, and I've certainly taken stock of the allegedly widespread tendency for remote workers to take advantage of their independence and lack of direct oversight. And lack of consistent and direct communication can certainly be an obstacle. But I think there are technological solutions to these problems: better backoffice tools, better collaboration and messaging tools, VoIP, instant messaging, presence, good ticketing and workflow management systems, etc. I think the technology is there to make up for the shortfall.

Now, admittedly, the angle from which I am approaching this problem is a little bit orthogonal to the typical dilemmas of web startup entrepreneurs. I am 23, and at the moment, I am trying to grow my VoIP / telecom systems integration and engineering consultancy beyond a one-man show so that I can get to the point where I can be a product company. In other words, I suppose it's fair to say I am taking the "consulting route" that PG speaks of in his various essays on startup funding. Good, bad, I have various reasons for that, but the goal in the end is to end up with actual "deliverables" - no mistake about it.

Still, the reason I mention that is because consulting is a business model that lends itself to measurement of individual productivity a bit better than, say, a software startup. Product development and engineering - pure CAPEX, none of which is directly rebilled or amortised any way (especially in a short time to market) - is a little more murky. And certainly, there are some business models where almost the entire risk can be shifted onto the employee, as one sees with commission-only work-at-home salespeople. In my case I think I'm in a happy middle.

Regardless, I'm not going to go all Japanese quantitative management on people. I want to build a progressive and humanity-affirming company where people are happy and proud to work on interesting problems in the telecommunications space. I am just wondering if I am being too idealistic here about remote work; are people just going to take advantage of me, in the main? Or is it reasonable to suppose that I should be able to afford them the benefit of working wherever they want as long as they meet certain criteria as far as productivity, availability, and good communication? (All my prospective employees are excellent written and verbal communicators, and I would not have it any other way.)

I am in Atlanta, a city notorious for its vast, empty suburban sprawl, unconscienable freeway distances, and gridlock traffic. I really, really don't want to compel anyone to trek through this disaster of urban planning and infrastructure design to my office if there is no real point.

Does anyone here have experience building a team like this? If so, can you share tips on what strategies you used to make it work better?

Thanks a lot!

Absolutely this can be done and in my opinion is the best way to build a great software team. I am the CTO of Openair.com and this is how we have always operated. We have a dozen developers, about half in the Boston area and the other half spread across the US and we all work from home. Using this approach we have built a successful startup that has steadily and profitably grown every year for the last decade and we are now the dominant vendor in our space.

I believe that this approach creates a work environment that allows us to attract and retain great developers. The kind of developer that really likes to write software and has the maturity and discipline to manage their own time and decisions.

Some implementation notes:

1. We release a new version every two months, the continual releases keep everyone on track with constant customer feedback.

2. We all see and read the check-in diff's, absolutely the best way to know what someone is doing and how well they are doing it.

3. There are great developers outside of the traditional Valley/Boston/Austin areas and a telecommuting team lets you find them and hire them.

4. After about 6 months it becomes very clear who can handle the telecommuting setup and who can't.

This is only tangentially related to your post, but why does corporate America have such an aversion to telecommuting?

I was by far the most productive employee in my group at the large bank I worked for previously. I outproduced others, even while taking the hardest problems -- and we had a pretty good metrics systems, so I wasn't just gaming it.

But when I asked if I could work from home when I'd decided to move, the answer was an emphatic, "No."

So, they'd rather lose their most-productive employee who also would've been far more productive at home and then have to hire a probably-inferior replacement?

Makes no sense at all, yet so many companies are like this.

It would appear that they simply don't understand how to manage someone who isn't physically at the office, so they can't just walk over to your cube every five seconds and dickishly ask for a "status update."

I _am_ accounting for the absence of physical contact. My employees will have a desk VoIP phone connected to the company PBX, email, IM, and all the other stuff that is used for internal communication in companies where a bunch of folks are sat in offices and cubes but hardly ever bother to walk over to each other's positions as it is not really part of the workflow protocol. And these are employees, not subcontractors. I will manage them. I just won't be standing over their shoulder.

I don't see why that's such an impossibly lofty goal.

More than likely they don't understand how to manage someone at all.

my experience is that the management in big companies isn't nearly as interested in productivity as you would hope. they're a lot more concerned about accountability, not screwing up, not doing things that could be held against them, etc.

so i'd say it's more likely a case of valuing a different set of things.

You're probably right.

This is the same bank that would email around escrow account information. These accounts sometimes had $295 million dollars in them, and they emailed this info with complete account information, wire instructions and routing numbers. No encryption. Regular e-mail.

Oh, the temptation.

But anyway, I am not sure what they valued. It certainly wasn't security or productivity.

Many years ago a company I worked for IPO'd and we all got stock options. Our broker's preferred means of communication was AOL Instant Messenger. As in, hi, I'm XXX and I'd like to place a limit order, and they would do it. Insane!

If they let you work at home they would need to let everyone work at home. The house of cards comes tumbling down.

Why? Is there some sort of law for that? I was the only guy working from home during the last 3 years on my former job. Last time I checed their house of cards is still up.

It's not a law thing; it's just that others would start demanding it more aggressively.

You can say no and keep the house of cards up, but it's just adding tension to the employer-employee relationship with all the other staff.

I'd say if teleworking puts a strain on your employee-relationship then you have bigger problems. Why do some people have bigger offices than others? Why do some people have no offices at all?

I have yet to see a company that truly treats all employees equal. That would be the only setting where I'd agree with your concern.

Yeah, but there is a qualitative difference in the ideological implications of office size/placement vs. fundamentally not having to come in and be stuck somewhere for 8 hours a day.

I don't know that the difference has a name, but it's a difference.

Imho it's not really qualitative but merely a quantitive difference: Jealousity. "Why does he have a big office when I'm in this sucky cubicle?", "Why can he work from home while I have to drive to work?".

I had a simple response to anybody who asked why I'm so rarely seen and why they don't get that privilege: As soon as you put in 50+ hours a week like I do and get up at 4am at least once every week to clean up the mess that you deployed...

That was my story, others may be different.

My wife just got approved to telecommute - after much initial UNenthusiasm from company owner. Between times the owner had to see how it worked on a small scale with another employee, and my wife did a lot to boost her own credibility as an effective and trustworthy employee.

Innovations, especially those that seem to threaten owner/manager control seem often to evoke paranoid responses. Sometimes they have to be broken down gradually with positive experience over time. Good luck to the OP!

why does corporate America have such an aversion to telecommuting?

It's a limitation of the OS that is built into humans. This is what you get when you try to build a global economic system out of bright, talkative monkeys like me. It turns out that -- amazingly! -- this can be done, but we find it much easier if we employ hacks that leverage the features of our underlying monkey OS. And -- even more amazingly! -- it turns out that we can go even farther: Using our most advanced mental and physical tools, we can do a pretty good emulation of disembodied brains sitting in the nth dimension. But the abstraction leaks. Especially when we have to interact with other people who haven't been fully schooled in the art of communicating with ghosts.

If dolphins ran the world, corporate boardrooms would be full of water. But monkeys run the world, so:

- Businesses are run as hierarchies, because the monkey OS is designed to manage bands of around ten or fifteen individuals. Beyond that, it operates in terms of alliances ("this platoon is allied with that platoon") and rivalries ("our platoon is doing its job, but that one isn't"; "our platoon is falling behind and will be targeted for cutbacks, so work hard and watch your back"; "let's all get together with Platoon Three to kick Platoon Four's obnoxious butt").

- Your status in the business world is judged based on the size of the conference room that you need to hold a physical gathering of your team members, and on the size of the contiguous physical territory that your team occupies and patrols on a daily basis. If you sit alone at your desk with the speakerphone on and claim to be conducting a meeting with fifteen colleagues, people will subconsciously think of you as a psychotic, or (at best) as a spooky witch doctor who channels the spirit world.

- There's a tendency to defer to people with grey hair, and/or people with lots of followers or lots of stuff that has taken time to accumulate, like corner offices or expensive desks.

- Talk is cheap. Many people will say they're your ally, but when a fight arrives they will not be there, or they'll discover some really interesting thing going on atop a nearby tree, or they'll hang back and not really fight very hard. You need to motivate them by really befriending them -- talking about their kids or their pets or their hobbies, bringing them little gifts. And by physically surrounding them with other friendly allies, such that they cannot easily flee without losing face. And by keeping them close enough to be able to slap them upside the head when they seem to be shirking.

- To really convince someone -- to really communicate at the highest level -- you need to be standing close enough that you could, in theory, pick fleas off of them.

Unfortunately, though humans are becoming better and better at understanding all this stuff and transcending it when necessary [1], we're never going to completely eliminate these tendencies. Unless the lizards rise up, overthrow us, and take back the planet. At which point they will have complaints of their own. ("Dear Gator News: How come companies always insist on holding meetings on rocks in the bright sunlight? I'm much more productive in my moonlit office, where I can sit on my dual 27-inch space heaters.")


[1] Such as: When trying to write software, which is an act so unnatural to us monkeys that only some of us can do it at all, and many of us are doing it wrong. And it requires all kinds of mental tricks and energy and focus just to manage that much.

Very well done! If you had a blog, I'd read it.

I think that getting to the psychology of the problem as you are attempting (or succeeding) is a very worthy task that lots of people need to be working on.

I'm no water vapor ignoring tree-hugger, but the inefficiency of our current work system where people heat and maintain homes that are empty for 12 hours a day, go to office buildings that are empty for 12 hours a day, using a car that they use for two hours a day, to do work that could be done at home, is insanity.

Why do we tolerate this as companies or as employees? We can seriously look for solutions, or we can wax cynically about "the man". One path leads forward, to a solution.

If your hypothesis is correct, there are compromises we can do, to satisfy the inner-ape, while gaining some efficiency.

- We can remove people's personal effects from their work areas, so multiple people can work in that cube. On Monday and Tuesday, it a marketing guy. On Wednesday and Thursday, it's an engineer. On Friday and Saturday, it's an accountant. Let groups that never interact anyway, REALLY not interact, and as a bonus, you reduce your necessary office space by 2/3rds while still maintaining ape bonding time for two days a week. The other three days of work, people work at home, freeing up our highways by 2/3rds as well. Actually, we free up our highways by 3/5ths (math left as exercise for the reader) because now we have staggered our weekends a bit. Nobody works on Sundays still, but accountants work on Saturdays.

Would there be tons of coordination hassles, with accountants needing to talk to engineers about their annual budgets? No, not really. Because our whole premise here, is that none of this face time is actually needed from a business standpoint. Internet and telephone would be just fine. It's needed at a deeper level, among team-mates and up/down hierarchies, but it's not needed from one tribe to another.

The accountant tribe and the engineer tribe will never form an alliance, they are evolutionary enemies. Why force them to live in the same jungle?

A few observations:

One: Glad you liked the writing.

Two: Please do not think like this:

The accountant tribe and the engineer tribe will never form an alliance, they are evolutionary enemies.

You need to refactor those tribes. Because, in fact, every engineer should know something about accounting. One of the things I regret is that nobody in my youth ever found a way to make accounting seem compelling enough that I was convinced to learn it. It turns out, though, that modern economic life is a big game played according to complicated rules, and accountants are the referees.

Most engineering decisions cannot be made without an accountant. If money were no object we could solve many website scaling problems by buying one server for every anticipated visitor -- or, alternatively, by only allowing one visitor at a time into our sites. (Let them stand in line!) These are not silly ideas: People used to have to stand in line at major universities to use scientific calculators, but now we've made them cheap enough that we can just give one to every math student. The thing which makes many obvious solutions silly is: They cost too much, or they don't make enough money. And to answer the questions "how much is too much? how much is enough?" requires accountants.

Finally, please don't call this thing I've just written "a hypothesis". That makes me wince. I'm having fun with the metaphor, but it would be a mistake to reify it:


The metaphor is fun because I really am related to monkeys (well, chimps, technically), and because many human behaviors really do make sense in chimp terms as well, and because it's quite possible that this is not entirely a coincidence, or a case of convergent evolution. But let's not go too far. It is only a metaphor. I'm built out of chimp parts, but I'm also built out of distinctly human parts.

For example, it would be bad to argue like this: Early humans lived as free-ranging nomads, so a better office design would be one that forces us to live like free-ranging nomads. That idea has been tried. And it turns out that one of the hacks that make the modern world possible is personal collections of artifacts: piles of papers (with the most relevant ones on top) and post-it notes to cue your memory, photos of your family to regulate your mood, egg timers to remind you to take breaks, vastly complex, expensive, and personalized suites of hardware and software to help you write code, the custom-adjusted chair that keeps your back in working order, etc. In other words: Having your own office makes you more productive.

I have to disagree with you on the personalised work areas. As the sibling poster pointed out, having those types of effects and environmental settings in a space that is definitively yours is highly conducive to productivity, a sense of organisational inclusion, and overall satisfaction and comfort.

No, I'm not saying that people that have personal effects in their cubes are all eminently satisfied; the point is that they would be even less satisfied if they were crammed into even smaller and yet _more_ generic spaces, or in spaces of which they could not claim even a provisional kind of ownership and which did not have any qualities of (semi)permanence.

I've had several jobs where the business owners didn't really want to spend money or time setting up any kind of meaningful barriers, even something so rudimentary and otherwise disheartening as a cube farm. Everybody basically got to sit in a large, contended, noisy and alienating open space at some kind of rickety, smallish plastic table. It was not feasible to define one's "space" in such a setting. Everyone felt like a temp. I don't think it helped anyone's morale, ability to concentrate, or productivity. It's a terrible idea; "open spaces" do not mean "open companies," to paraphase Joel Spolsky's biting criticism of open-area interior design thought in corporate circles.

In the jobs in which I and almost everyone I know has had, there is a clear and identifiable positive correlation between the amount of privacy and personal space in which they got to tailor their work environment to their preferences and the overall investment they felt in the company, its culture, and of course, the work. While, of course, environmental attributes cannot smooth over a crappy place to work, they can make an enormous difference in the level of psychological investment an employee has in a place that is -- by all other metrics -- decent.

I think the one exception to this may be in that I definitely think there is a market out there for creating workday "hubs" for freelancers and WFH employees to get away from the house (and small children, if they have them) and other environmental obstacles and show up with their laptop and set up shop. It could be something as simple as a glorified coffee shop whose table arrangements and interior design lends itself better to that than the average one. Make data ports and power abundantly accessible and you've got a winner. (Of course, you've somehow got to persuade these people to keep buying something all day, which is the problem coffee shops typically run into with students, freelancers and other people who spend all day there with their laptops. Perhaps there is an opportunity to charge a decent membership fee for a cool, happening freelancers' "club" of this sort. I'd pay $100/mo to be able to go somewhere close-by and ambiently pleasant with my laptop and partake of great bandwidth, numerous power and data ports (then I could bring a little SIP phone), and coffee and other beverages on tap or heavily discounted.)

Guys, my whole plan was getting you into your homes for three of your five day work week. You are utterly bombarded with "artifacts", "personal effects", etc. at home.

This is a compromise between the insanity of commuting, from a business standpoint, and the necessity of commuting , from a tribal and social standpoint. As is the case with compromises, it's not going to be up to your idea of perfect, but what it allows, is, with the sacrifice of your personal items for two days a week, you still get your tribal/social time with your team, bosses, and subordinates while at the same time, freeing our society of much of the inefficiency of the current system.

@fish, if you're uncomfortable with your explanation of why we insist on driving to office buildings in an age when it's not necessary, than fine. But it doesn't matter. The fact is, we are, and it's probably for reasons just as mysterious and ingrained into our genes as your idea. So, that's all we need to know. We apparently can't beat it, so we must adapt to it, rather than bemoaning the state of things, which you were not doing, which is why I liked your piece. Instead, we can implement a hack like this to allow us to have some of our cake, and eat some of it too.

That makes sense.

But I guess those two days you'd spend in the office would have to be largely in meetings and other things that capitalise on the "social" opportunity, with the idea that you'd be focusing purely on actual implementation (or whatever the work you do is) the rest of the time. Is that realistic from a scheduling perspective? Seems like corporate life always brings a steady composition of both.

pg, please re-visit the decision to have the post's text in gray-on-gray. It's awful for long initial posts like this one. No doubt I'm not the only one that selects the text to get it the slightly better yellow-on-black. It makes me less likely to bother reading the text through no fault of the writer.

It would also be nice if URLs in the body render as hyperlinks so I can just click on them instead of tedious copy/paste + enter.

True. Although are you aware you can select the text of the URL and, in Firefox 3, drag it up to the tab bar and either drop it on an existing tab, e.g. the current one, or drop it slightly to the right of the right-most tab to create a new one. If doing the latter, you should see a downward pointing arrow when you're over the drop zone.

Try using something like http://userstyles.org/

They have a Firefox extension, Stylish, which lets you apply custom user styles to sites, to override the native CSS if it's not to your liking. Just like Greasemonkey for Firefox.

I found it after becoming immensely frustrated with a site that had inexplicably decided to invert the colors for a:link and a:visited.

GitHub doesn't have an office, nor are we in any hurry to get one. We work out of our apartments and 1-2 times a week we'll hang out at a cafe and get dinner/drinks afterwards to discuss broader ideas. The company was built with the sort of people that can work autonomously, so while we stay in constant communication with Campfire, it's not a situation where you need to look over the other guy's shoulder to make sure he's still doing a good job. Until that's no longer a reality, I see no reason for an office; it's money better spent elsewhere.

To make this work, you need frequently-measurable goals, even if the measurement is subjective.

This isn't a matter of trust, it's a matter of motivation.

It can be something squishy like, "Let me take a look at what Bob's checked in so far this week", or something more quantifiable, like, "Bob has closed n tickets today".

[Even if you don't have a hard number of how many tickets someone should close in a day or week, you can generally eyeball it and if there's a discrepancy, look at the descriptions to see how hard the problems were].

It's best to make this as transparent as possible to all members of a given team, and provide a system of rapid feedback and especially fast positive feedback for all progress.

Try and keep communication focused on whatever channel everyone actually likes using. If you're using a wiki, trac, and basecamp to keep track of overlapping items, quickly ditch whichever ones nobody actually uses.

If you can keep everybody motivated, communicative, and measurably productive, then you will actually be far better off than large traditional companies that rely on the ass-in-chair visibility metric to determine whether "work" is working.

I don't have any experience building a team like that, but i recently moved from a full time work-at-home freelancer to a part time work-at-home freelancer when i took on a full time job.

I can honestly confirm that my productivity has decreased by more than 50%. One part of it is because of the wasted time in getting to the office and back. Another bigger part is because programmers work in an open space plan. Some other parts would be office politics and so on...

Working in a home office was so much better than i often ended up working 16 hours a day prior to a project deadline and not mind(i used to enjoy what i do).

We used to communicate all the time via IM, via email, and via skype. And of course make full use of collaboration tools. Also, me being in a different time zone helped the process a lot.

So yeah, some people will take advantage of this situation. But then again, bad people will try to take advantage of any situation. It is up to you to recognize those people and stay away from them.

Teleworkers appreciate terseness.

Hehe. Well, I guess that's one thing they won't appreciate about me, then.

Hopefully I'll find other ways to make up for the loss. :)

Yes, it can be but it depends on your circumstances. My shop has done it very successfully for 16 months.

But there are a number of critical issues to consider.

The physical organisation of a workspace is a function of communication. Place those people who communicate a lot physically together because informal conversation is a lot cheaper than formal conversation.

When you are writing software you therefore have to have the specifier and the coder co-located. Open Source projects work very well because (in the vast majority of cases) they are copying existing software. So sitting at home working on a clone of Microsoft Word - the specifier (a copy of Microsoft Word) is sitting next to the coder.

When writing original software where the specification/product development is the core task this will be much harder - it may be impossible unless your specifier is an expert business architect, software architect and designer and can produce build-able specs and your team are capable of reading and implementing them on sight.

You must also choose your toolset correctly to generate a high volume of informal communication, so: * central SVN * centralised mailing list (no point-to-point e-mails) * continuous build with statuses

Essentially on the software development side the complete open source software development stack is optimised for this stuff, so its a doddle - your work has an observable daily heartbeat. For other sorts of work (say sales, order fulfilment, HR, finance, etc, etc) it is much harder because the core stack doesn't exist - you will have to create it.

The final thing you will have to do is be rigorous on formal comms. You will need to have an all hands call every working day. Sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes 35 minutes. You will need to organise face-to-face meetings regularly, Xmas dinners, launch parties, drinks and stuff.

It can be very effective at reducing costs but it is a considerable management challenge and you need to think of it as such. If you adopt a "hey we don't need no steenkin management bullshit, we're way tool techies, hey!" you're probably doomed anyway.

Telecommuting can work well for established teams who have a history working together. But if the team doesn't have any history together, you might consider getting office space for 6 months to bond a bit and then do the work at home thing.

To overcome the lack of history together it seems like one has to substitute other forms of bonding experiences; occasional lunches together, conference calls, heavy use of messaging and email, and just making the effort to talk to the people a lot and really get to know them.

My concern isn't so much whether these things are qualitatively equal to the team-building experiences of being stuck in a room(s) together as whether it can work, in practise as well as in principle.

My personal experience is that this can work great, but not if you're talking 'ordinary' employees, you'll have to do a good bit of screening to get people with the right mindset. Some are stellar at it, others will not be able to handle the freedom. For those individuals that can not handle the freedom it is better to have a per-job style payment.

Of course. That is presumed. I am confident I have found the right people; I really believe they "get it."

What I wonder is whether this system will somehow fail to produce the results I need despite that.

It does work, I've been working from home for almost 2 years - leading a team who partly work in an office and partly work at home.

Not everyone may want to work from home though.

Campfire + VOIP works well to manage everything.

We all run on a central network using VPN but we're slowly starting to use more external services - and I hope we can ditch the VPN for most stuff in a few months - using Google Apps, Github and some proprietary web apps.

It gives more time to work as you're not commuting and if you have a young family it means you get to see the kids more.

Not everyone may want to work from home? Really?

While, admittedly, I've met some people that consciously or unconsciously value the social and possibly collaborative aspects of working in an office with others, they tend to be the kind that just get their social needs fulfilled at work without doing a whole lot of actual work. There are some exceptions in passionate people who are also extroverted and aware of the extrinsic dimensions of what they do, but they are not common enough to be statistically meaningful in my experience.

Can you elaborate more on what kind of person you think wouldn't want to work from home? I've hardly met anyone who wouldn't.

If it is at all feasible I'd suggest you get people together periodically, that will go a long way towards building a lasting configuration.

Whether that's feasible or not you'll have to make sure that people know that their contributions are being noted and to stimulate frequent contact between your team members.

I've had a (small) office in Toronto (about 10 people) and we worked from home as well for a while, it was quite interesting to see some of the best performers in the office environment turn into absolute sloths when given the freedom and vice versa.

Yeah, I think regular get-togethers are pretty much a must for the reasons you mention.

Can you elaborate more on the people that were good performers in an office environment and turned to sloths at home? What sort of qualities or peculiarities of their character made them do that?

Yes, at the risk of identifying one or two of them:

I think that the biggest part of it was the presence of temptations in the home environment not present in the office environment that they found hard to resist, as well as a 'home front' that was pushing in the wrong direction.

All this in an office of about 10 people, for 6 of them it worked very well, 2 were so-so in the working from home environment and 2 didn't work out at all. We had some good conversations about that and parted friends (still in contact) so it was quite clear that nobody really was at fault, it's just a situational thing.

I can see why you would be concentrating on the 'bad apples', but the best bit in my opinion is that for a larger than the majority section it actually worked out very well, better than I ever expected.

Right now I'm working together with people across 6 time zones, we don't even have a formal office and it feels pretty good. Regular meetings are a little harder for us though :)

The company I work for was, until recently, completely WFH, with ~20 or so people. (In the US. In Europe, its HQ, there was always an office, and in other satellite offices.) One of our WFH US locations is, in fact, Atlanta.

It works fine, IF you can find the right people. Not everyone can work from home. Not everyone wants to.

Our biggest hurdle was training. We had nowhere really to meet to get the new guys up to speed after they were hired. In Atlanta there are plenty of "remote working" locations like ROAM, Jelly organizations, etc.

We have since leased a small office, mainly for this purpose. But it provides a place to "land" when we need to, and for those of us with families, a place to get OUT of the house once in awhile to get work done.

Can you tell me more about these "remote working locations?" What is ROAM/Jelly/etc?

Yes it can be done. We have a setup like this, but we try to spend 2-3 days in the office a week and a minimum of one (Thursday) for everyone.

The key thing has to be communication and the ability to maintain motivation. We use Google Apps Premier to handle most of the comms, motivation is maintained through electric shocks... ok, maybe it's more regular meet ups and social events as well as making sure everyone has and gives feedback on everything.

There's a golden rule of recruiting that becomes even more important for telecommuters: Don't hire pricks. It doesn't matter if they're rock starts in their given field or if they're able to do something you otherwise can't. Don't hire 'em - they'll cause more problems than they solve.

That's how we're running our start-up (which, admittedly, is still quite small). We (the "active shareholders") meet physically once a week, but have no central office.

As for the development team (3 people), one of us actually lives in the States most of the year, so we don't meet physically very often - instead, we have iteration meetings 3 times a week on Skype. Tasks are broken down so that they fit into 2-day chunks of time to make it easier to measure progress.

There are certainly challenges, but I think if you're in the same geographical location they're not too hard to overcome. Good luck!

I don't think it's harder to manage remote people. In fact a random Jim Collins (ugh) quote applies - "If you have to actively manage someone, you've made a hiring mistake" - people who have a history of working remotely are much more likely to be self-driven and disciplined.


I am trying to do the same thing. Does anyone have any good recommendations for online collaboration solutions? For example I currently run a virtual private server to serve my email, wiki, website, git etc. I think it's still good for these things, but I might switch to say, Google Apps for email + the collaboration. Basecamp seems like an option but they don't provide email. I have also found hyperoffice. They provide email + collaboration. I haven't had the time to evaluate any of these yet. Do you have other recommendations? What do you think of VPNs?


Check out the book "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It" about the "Results-Only Work Environment". It's mostly a case study of how Best Buy implemented a workplace culture that made office hours optional.

Maybe also the books of Ricardo Semler, a business owner who did similar things.

Is there some particular reason a lot of you recommend Campfire over, say, running an internal Jabber server?

Yes, not having to install or maintain an internal Jabber server, plus a number of convenience features an internal Jabber server would not have out of the box. Filed under "I've more important things to do other than bitching about spending a few bucks a month with a Campfire account" :)

I wasn't saying it was the right thing to do.

Just wondering.

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