At the start of the Christmas break we closed those black double doors on our office of the last 13 years one last time – as of January 2017 we’ve become a ‘distributed' team. Basically this means that we work together remotely day-to-day (from our respective homes most of the time), meeting in person every week or so.
There wasn't one catalyst for taking this decision – as with most big changes there were lots of reasons – but certainly one of the biggest drivers, and biggest changes for each of us personally, was to get rid of the daily commute.
Ugh, that commute! Despite the team all being based in and around Birmingham, between us we were still managing to rack-up a ridiculous 26 hours a week travelling to and from the office each day.
It's one thing having some time to get into the 'work mindset' every morning but that’s more than 3 working days worth of time sat in cars or on packed commuter trains. That’s how long it’d take to (re)watch a complete season of 24, with several generous tea/loo breaks between episodes. That’s the time it took the entire globe to see-in 2017 – from Kiribati to Baker Island – for goodness sake.
By any measure, this is neither good nor sensible use of time – but particularly in terms of work/life balance. Not to mention the significant environmental impact and monetary cost of all that travelling to-and-fro.
And how often were we actually meeting with clients at the office? A handful of times a year at most; which doesn’t really warrant having a permanent dedicated meeting space. And the construction work happening in the street, while not crippling by any means, had been fairly noisy for a good few months and was unlikely to be finished in less than a year. Plus there was the possibility of our building being sold within the next couple of years and, if so, we’d have to find another office anyway – paying a lot more than the current rent for not-as-nice a space. Hmmm. You can see where this was going …
We realised we’d actually been working perfectly well with clients in different locations for years, so … why not each other? We’d done the odd day of home-working anyway, so making that a permanent set-up didn’t seem an impossible leap.
Once the idea was planted it was time to hit Google and research the pros and, particularly, cons of moving away from all working in the same space, from people who’d already done it.
A combination of our hypotheticals, along with the practical experiences of those who’d already taken the no-office plunge, gave us a decent list of pros and cons:
- No commute! This is a big one – saving time, money and the environment – so definitely counts as three-pros-in-one
- No travel disruption (leaves on the line, snow/ice on the roads etc.)
- Not paying over-the-odds for city centre rent; hell, not paying *any* rent!
- We could each create our perfect working environment; noisy/quiet, messy/tidy, dressed/pyjamas
- Forced to be at the cutting-edge of digital technology and communication – as we’d be relying on it
- We’d have to be more structured with internal meetings – yes, this was a ‘pro’
- More internet connections = someone’d always be connected
- No construction noise/disruption from the new flats apartments being built a stone’s throw away
- We’d be all set-up incase of out-of-hours emergencies
- Opens the possibility of working in-house with clients, with little disruption/set-up
- If any Supercoolers move away from Brum, they won’t have to leave their job
- We could recruit from further afield without the need for someone to relocate or have a huge commute (and, practically at least, setting-up a new home-worker’s easier than adding another body to an office)
- Possible barriers to effective communication – both regarding projects day-to-day, and the ‘team spirit’ side of working with others
- It doesn’t suit everyone
- More temptation to eat ALL THE BISCUITS IN THE HOUSE
The pros pretty much speak for themselves and are pretty convincing; but obviously the big worries were the cons.
Communication barriers were mentioned in nearly every essay, news item and blog post we read as part of our research into remote working. However, each of these articles also detailed how other companies had overcome potential communication issues; primarily with tools we were already using day-to-day – Slack, Trello, Hangout, Skype etc. We also knew it’d be important to be sure and maintain social/personal communication as well as working together on projects. So, this 'con' was definitely surmountable.
A large part of the reasoning behind ditching the office was to give everyone in the team a better work/life balance, so this change absolutely had to work for everyone. It had to be all or nothing … so, how did we go about planning for, trialling and, clearly, ultimately taking the plunge into ditching the office?
Find out in the next thrilling installment: How to go remote – detailing the myriad considerations and months of planning that go into becoming an office-free business.
(Oh; and as for being tempted by unhealthy snacks, I'm still working on it …)