Last year I chatted with two different people working at startups in Silicon Valley. When the subject of remote work came up, they were both adamant that things move too quickly for remote team to be effective in a startup.
Of course, they aren’t the only ones saying this. I’ve heard the same arguments from the industry for many years.
Here’s a list of the most common arguments and how we address each one at Mysterious Trousers.
It takes longer to do things
The argument is that instead of just telling the person, you have to type it all out. This is true but it also works as an advantage. If you’re documenting something, it helps to compose your thoughts and to make sure it’s clear enough for someone else to read. Sometimes verbal instruction can actually be hazier. In the event where more elaboration is needed, we use Skype or the phone to talk through it.
You miss out on non-verbal communication
You do miss out on body language but the flip-side to it is that you also don’t get distracted by other things happening in the room. We actually believe video chat is a red herring in the tech industry and only serves as a distraction in virtual meetings. In our experience, we get MORE focus by using only voice and screenshots along with whiteboard software to communicate.
You lose the informal discussions
You miss out on the sidebar discussions in the hall, breakroom, at peoples’ desks, etc. This is the one I hear the most. But the assumption here is that you can’t have spontaneous conversation via IM, Skype, etc. We use a software tool called Kickoff which is actually great at capturing and encouraging "water cooler" conversations. But more than that, because most of the chatting happens in Kickoff’s public chat, EVERYONE gets the benefit of the sidebar. In addition, we get the huge benefit of FLOW.
You can’t create culture
I actually believe the word “culture” is overused in conversations about remote work. Culture is whatever you want it to be. Mysterious Trousers has a culture of working with amazing people and getting out of their way so they can do rad stuff. We also have a culture that enables people to be home with their families. Is that typical to most startups? Maybe not. But it works for us. Furthermore, as a team we all get to know each other through Kickoff and Skype and if we want to, we can always schedule a get-together.
You can’t move fast enough
This is another prevailing argument. It’s certainly the one I hear most from Palo Alto. There are very few firms in Silicon Valley that do remote and this is the reason they give. But there are plenty of firms who are remote and do work quickly. 37Signals is the obvious example, but there are others , and this trend is only growing.
In which I use the only French I know
All of these seem to be variations of this theme: There’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ of being in an office together that you lose when you go remote. But I think a lot of the fear about remote work is really about control and management. Those are two things which become very important if you don’t hire people who are intrinsically motivated.
In my opinion, it really comes down to this: Hire amazing people, find tools that enable remote communication and let go of the fear, uncertainty and doubt.