“So where’s your office?”
A lot of people ask us about our head office.
I can only assume they’re imagining a big room full of cubicles, fluorescent lights and mountain dew dispensaries. They are often shocked when I say we don’t have an office at all, let alone a head office.
We run fully remote, at the moment its 2 developers in Brisbane, 2 in Sydney, 2 in Melbourne and 1 in Newcastle, and we love it.
There are so many advantages to being remote, and because I get asked about it a lot, I figured it would be a great starting point for the new and improved blog.
1. The best people
Straight off the bat let’s get to the most important point: the quality of the team. When we’re looking at new team members there are lot of factors that we need to consider. The skill set, the experience, the goals of the person and most importantly the personality of the person and whether they’re going to not only fit in with, but enhance our company culture.
Suddenly even in a city of 5 million there aren’t a lot of people who fit the bill, particularly if they need to be in commuting distance. Open that up to the entire East Australian Coast and suddenly the odds of finding that perfect person dramatically increase.
2. The happiest people
So now we’ve got this team of awesome skilled experts. They’re creative, smart, love challenges and variety. They’re the sort of people who crave constant challenges, they know what they want in a workplace, it might even be fair to call them a little demanding, and we need to keep them happy.
Partially we’re able to achieve this because we’ve got such a wide range of projects that our clients bring to us, from straight mobile games to huge interactive installations, from serious games, to VR and AR projects, variety we’ve got in spades.
What about the rest though? Well we’ve found that having privacy and agency in your environment are huge factors in day to day operation. Want to throw on some super loud 80s revival electronica? Go for it! Nic has a super weird mashup obsession and he can listen to it all day long and there’s no one around to be bothered by it. Are you like our Leigh with a tea for every occasion, or like Jack and Paul do you run on coffee? When you’re remote you’re in control.
Want to work from home some days, cafes on others, and coworking spaces on the last? Go for it. Wherever our people can do their best work is where we want them to be.
Agency over where you’re getting work done mean less distractions, longer periods of flow and generally we’ve found everyone telling us that they love working away from an office.
3. The best outcomes
As a service company we work hard to deliver the best possible content and services on every project we work on. That’s why we need the best people, that’s why I work all the time, and that’s why Paul is pulling out his hair year after year.
Depending on the project and client an onsite presence can make or break a project and with 3 states covered we’ve got lots of happy clients who can have at least one of the team members come and help them out in person.
For those we can’t get to, there is still a big advantage: we’re already used to communicating internally with clear written documentation and regular video chats. Our delivery reports and project updates are appreciated by our clients as they are detailed, yet contain a clear concise summary and are void of any nasty surprises.
4. The hard yards
Remote is not simple though, there is no lying about that.
Being remote requires a more rigid structure, and a certain level of formality. The bigger the team the more formal we’ve needed to become.
The lack of face-to-face contact means that there are more chances to miscommunicate amongst ourselves. So we’ve spent years coming up with strong and reliable strategies for communicating effectively. When to write, when to call, when to chat, all with the aim of the clearest possible outcomes.
Wes, one of our newest programmers remarked recently that while he was worried about structure- as this was his first full time remote position – he actually was amazed that of all the teams he’s worked with, we were the strictest about ensuring we do formal standups, and regular catchup meetings. Those procedures are essential to ensure that everyone on the team knows the status of each of our projects and where their skills are most required.
We also run regular reviews of our production process, every quarter and at the end of every project, to ensure we correct problems in the process as soon as possible. We run these reviews first with the client, as their input is invaluable, and then internally action that feedback
5. The challenges
I’d be lying if I said remote is perfect. There are issues of course and we’re happy to share the tricks and techniques we use to get past them.
While its great not to have the flu spread through the office, it’s also a bit rough not to be able to pat someone on the shoulder in hard times, go out for a drink on a Friday night or chat Game of Thrones at lunch. There is no getting around it, remote is exactly that, remote, and you’ve gotta be ok with spending time alone.
“My screen share button is missing from hangouts”. Troubleshooting sucks, particularly when it’s just simple support software. We minimise the pain by having screen sharing and screen control software installed, it’s important to spend time with the team explaining that this is just as a support process and never to abuse the software by looking at what they’re doing without their express permission.
I work too much. I know it, partially because I remember having hobbies. When your workstation is right there, and you love what you do, the temptation is very hard to resist. It’s not just me either, we’ve found that we have to be more careful about encouraging team members to stop working when they’ve already put in a full week, or remind them to take a break when those 11pm commit notifications come through.
6. The future
Will we always be remote? I don’t know.
People have told us that once we get big enough we won’t be able to, but people used to tell us we wouldn’t be as able to be as remote as we are now.
I like the idea of a central office with a pinball machine that people come into when they feel like it, borrowing very heavily from 37Signals methodology of partially remote but with a communication and culture hub. Unfortunately that still requires at least all the directors living in the same place, and as Paul has developed a love affair with Melbourne while I still love Brisbane -although Sydney has grown on me too – this becomes increasingly difficult..
So who knows what the future holds. In an industry that moves as rapidly and randomly as this one we’ve found it’s important to be flexible so you can be ready for anything, but I think remote is going to part of the Cactus for a few years to come.
We’d love to hear what you think, do you love remote too?, hate it? Want to try it out and see what the fuss is about?