I believe in working remotely, too.

We’ve now been living at our new house in Bray for almost two months now and we’re happily settling in. The move to Ireland has had almost no impact on my work because I’ve built freistil IT as a virtual company from the get-go. It really doesn’t matter where our team members do their work; it only matters that they do a great job.

Being able to freely move to another place is only one of the advantages we have as a distributed team. In his post on the Stack Exchange blog, David Fullerton lists several more reasons “Why We (Still) Believe in Working Remotely”:

  • It lets you hire good people who can’t move. Maybe they’ve just bought a house or they need to take care of a family member. Not being able to hire people who’ve made a commitment doesn’t make any sense to me.
  • You don’t lose people to silly things like their significant other going to medical school. Or like fulfilling their wish of moving to another country…
  • When done right, it makes people extremely productive. We’ve built freistilbox, our platform for Managed Drupal Hosting and Managed WordPress Hosting with a team of three doing everything from IT architecture to payment processing and accounting. The flexibility of our work environment helped us not getting burnt out despite many challenges.
  • It makes you focus on more than butts in chairs. Big companies like Yahoo! and HP recently called their remote workers back into offices with the explanation that this will make their teams more effective. I think that’s nonsense. “Going into office” doesn’t equal good work and “counting butts in chairs” doesn’t equal good management.

David goes on with giving some insight into their learnings and how they collaborate. I highly recommend reading the whole post.

Here are a few more reasons why we, too, think that the benefits of working remotely outweigh its disadvantages:

  • It makes expenses more effective. Instead of paying for more and more office space, we rather put money into the tools that make us more flexible and productive (powerful laptops, mobile internet access, collaboration software, coffee machines).
  • It makes teamwork multi-threaded. It’s like parallel processes in an operating system: Once you have the “inter-process communication”, i.e. collaboration tools and processes, in place, each team member can work independently without relying on everyone being readily available at the opposite desk.
  • It makes choosing the right things easier. My family is the most important thing in my life. Back when I was working in an office, I could not go home just to babysit for half an hour while my precious had a haircut. Today, a haircut can be an opportunity for both of us to take a break from our usual responsibilities.

I’m the first one to admit that running a distributed team has its challenges. And there are ways to master them. If you’d like to know more, please leave your question in the comments!

Want to make more awesome from whereever you’re the most happy? Join our team!

Work where you work best

I love working on my own terms. For many years now, I’m deeply convinced that the freedom of choosing your own work style is an important basis for good work results.

Working from home can be a really great way of achieving a balance between work and the other things that are equally important. I’m not going to call this “work/life balance” because to me, work is not an opposite to life but an integral part of it. The flexibility of working from home was one of the reasons I decided to make freistil IT a virtual company. My daugher was only about a year old and I intended not to miss most of her early development sitting in an office away from home.

Like walking a tightrope, achieving work/other balance needs constant adjustment and there are many things that threaten to throw you off. A screaming baby will quickly steal your attention and a stack of unwashed dishes is a great excuse to procrastinate. In my case, another kind of distraction that recently happened is going to lead to new screaming next January. ;-)

With a bit of reason and discipline, though, working from home has great advantages. For example, doing productive work while others waste their time commuting. If you’re interested in or already practicing working from home, I recommend you subscribe to the “Home Work” podcast. Aaron and Dave have great insight into home office reality.

I found that my home office isn’t the holy grail of work spaces, though. Unfortunately, I won’t have a separate room until we move house next year. The main problem of this situation is that I’m physically at home while being mentally at work. During the time my daughter is in day care, it’s rather quiet, so I only have to fight for focus on the weekends. But sharing the place with my partner all the time without sharing her current tasks and concerns can also be a source of conflict.

That’s why I’ve tried the offer of a local real estate company that rents office space by the hour. (Yes, this model can actually also be used for rooms with a desk.) Every time I needed a change of scenery or had to make sure I’m protected from disturbances, I booked a room for a few hours and went to town (literally). This worked quite well and proved to be a good complement to my desk at home.

Coworking spaces are another “lean” alternative and I have first-hand experience since we have our two-day strategy meetings at the coworking space my business partner Markus helps to run. They offer inexpensive desk space as well as other important infrastructure like a printer and a fridge stocked with Club Mate. They also provide something I didn’t realize I was missing at first: social interaction. Joining folks for lunch or just having a chat while waiting for the coffee to brew can be a healthy break from self-imposed isolation and an opportunity to exchange thoughts.

Unfortunately, there is no real coworking space in my home town. But there’s a company that does office sharing on a daily or monthly basis, and I’ve decided to give them a go. After a test period of a few days, I got myself a good office chair and a big monitor and moved in permanently. So, this is how my work place looks now:

My new office

I use the screen in the middle for my current task, the laptop screen on the right displays chat windows connecting me with colleagues and customers, and the one on the left shows a dashboard view of our IT infrastructure.

My triple-screen setup

So far, I’m really happy working at this office community. The building is in the city centre, about 50m from my favourite Starbucks – in other words, perfectly located. My office mates are nice and their different occupations make for interesting chats.

I can work there whenever I want, too – I wrote this blog entry at the office on a Sunday afternoon. I was in need of some solitary time, so I first had a Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks, where I read the second half of Steven Pressfield’s “Turning Pro”. His writing in turn motivated me to get something done myself, so I went the few steps to my desk and started typing. Now I feel balanced again.

Family First

Founding my own business has proven to be a very fulfilling venture, but it’s also very time-intensive. Balancing my professional duties with the responsibilities of a father and partner actually is a challenge every day.

Over the years, I had many opportunities to experience how much the support of my family means to me. That’s why I follow Gary V’s advice in “Crush It” (which, by the way, did immensely influence me) and chose “Family First” as my rule number one.

Now, how do I put this rule into practice? The article “Manifesto for a Freelancer with a Family” on FreelanceFolder has a great answer with which I agree wholeheartedly! Author Brian McDaniel makes the following declarations, adding to each some concrete guidelines:

  • My Family Will Always Come First
  • I Will Keep My Marriage Healthy
  • I Will Pour Myself into My Children
  • I Will Keep Myself Healthy and Sane

I think having these principles really helps in making the right decisions and achieving something like “work/family balance” (I don’t like the term “work/life balance” since I regard my work an essential part of my life). That’s why I copied the Manifesto into my “Important Notes” folder and reread it from time to time.

I have to admit that there are still some points I’m struggling with, for example with “Be present. Not just physically, but completely present, even when I’m working.” because it seems to conflict with my very focused working style.

Since I know from experience that working as an employee can be as taxing on your family life as is working for your own business, I recommend reading Brians article to every professional that has (or intends to found) a family.