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Founding a remote native company with a fully distributed team
In this article series, I would like to share my experiences in founding a remote native company. But before I get into the topic, I have to clarify a few basics. So let’s get started with that in this part 1 of the article series.
What am I talking about when I say remote native?
Probably the most common term for remote work is home office.
The permission to work in the home office exists in some “modern” companies. Often it’s a kind of privilege. Closely connected with the home office is the feeling of loss of control for many bosses.
Another form of remote work is a company structure in distributed branches. Although nobody is working alone here, the problems that can result from such a structure are very similar.
Some companies also have the strategy to have a head office where certain departments are regularly found (for example, accounting, finance, marketing, and sales), and other departments such as development and consulting work remotely from the home office. This approach is also very risky.
Finally, there is the approach of fully distributed teams or remote native. This approach is characterized by the fact that there’s no central office. Although it can happen that employees work together in a co-working space, for example, the entire structure of the company is designed for “remote” or “distributed.”
Advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches
Head office without branches and with occasional home office
This is certainly the normal case today. But is “normal” automatically the right one? Was it always “normal?” No and no, at least related to the so-called knowledge work. The technical infrastructure, so essentially access to high-speed internet, a notebook, and a quiet workplace is no longer a privilege that only the office can offer — on the contrary. And the communication tools are available to everyone with the faster internet and modern tools like Slack as business chat or Hangouts and Skype as videotelephony.
And is working at headquarters really that personal? Often people are already phoning each other when they’re on the same floor. Going to another floor or even to another building, however, is avoided by most employees if possible. In groups and open-plan offices, there’s usually a ban on talking and telephoning. Instead, communication takes place via messengers like Slack.
So why take on the often time-consuming journey to headquarters for this? 22% of Germans spend between 60 and 120 minutes a day driving to and from the office. Why? Why? Why? Why? Because of the high motivation which they experience here daily by their superiors? Or because these superiors think they have better control over their employees? My perception is that it’s all about better control. As a supervisor, I can see exactly when the employee comes and when they leave and when they talk to someone and for how long. That conveys security
I counter this with a study from eCommerce: If you look at the distribution of online sales over the weekdays, you can see that they’re relatively evenly distributed with a slight peak on Monday. That alone doesn’t say anything, but a glance at the times of these sales condenses the assumption: people shop online during normal office hours. To such an extent that one can’t explain it with housemen/women, home office workers, and so on. The obvious conclusion is that the control of the employees in the office is only a supposed one.
Head office with (many) branches
Today, fast-growing companies often start to form decentralized hubs, for example, to gather developers or support staff in different regions. Experience shows that it’s very difficult to establish communication between the different locations. As a rule, local communication predominates. The same problem exists with the distribution of the corporate culture. From my experience, I can only advise against this approach, as it involves very high risks.
Head office as “home port” with many home office employees
The head office houses several departments — typically management, administration, marketing, and sales (when not with the customer).
This is also a common approach. But this also involves great risks. Because the company’s culture and communication will be centralized. This means for the home office employees that they’ll always be a little out of it and won’t notice many things that are discussed “just” in the hallway.
Remote native or fully distributed teams
There’s just no office at all. There may be local clusters that share an area in a co-working space — but they don’t necessarily have to work together on a technical level. Of course, it’s much more difficult and time-consuming to communicate in this form of organization. And of course, a corporate culture like remote is much more difficult to cultivate.
But communication and the chance to become a part of culture are more equal than in the other forms.
In order to let the experiences from 1.5 years of decentralized workflow in here directly once: Both work very well, but the result is certainly different from that of a classic company. And different doesn’t mean bad.
The only right business form
Of course, there’s no such thing as the right type of company. My only concern here is to inspire you to look beyond the boundaries of traditional forms. We, too, have not chosen the remote native approach dogmatically, but see it as the sensible first step.
Most importantly, I strongly believe that it’s much easier to transform a remote native company into any other form than vice versa.
Next in this series: The needs of the knowledge worker
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