How "No Office" makes us… better?
When I talk to people about the way we work at Nozbe, that we have a team of 30+ people (core team and collaborators) working from homes, I get mixed reactions.
Very often, people think we will “grow up at some point” and get a “real office.” This is quite funny, taking into account that we’ve been working like this for the past nine years.
Others think I’m just stingy or that the business is not doing so well if we cannot afford “a real office,” which is also not true, because our business is very healthy. Selling subscription-based software, we enjoy really nice profit margins which we can then re-invest into the team, sales and marketing.
What they don’t know and what I tell them is this:
Not having an office made me a better CEO in five different ways.
Not having an office made all of my team better in the same five different ways.
1. Better mindset
When you don’t have an office, you’re more likely to think “outside of the box.” You’re not following the “industry revolution” where everyone had to go to the factory every single day. You’re more open to looking at problems from a broader angle. And this helps!
You’re suddenly open to hiring people from anywhere in the world; you can afford to get the “best of the best” because you’re not limited to the time or geo-zone of this person or your company.
It gets even better – you’re open to opportunities of collaboration outside of your comfort zone. Not like most Silicon Valley VC firms who say they’d happily invest in a company from outside of the USA, provided they’re ready to move the headquarters to the Valley.
Thanks to my “no office” way, I started Nozbe right away for the US market. I didn’t focus first on the Polish market just because my company’s formal address is in Poland. I went to offer my software on the other side of the pond. I wasn’t constrained by a “traditional way of doing things.”
2. Better productivity
When you don’t have people in the same office – or worse yet, in the same room called “open space” – you learn to work better as well as appreciate “focused time” and work asynchronously with your team.
You learn not to interrupt people just because you can. You and your team get more stuff done because you have significantly more time for your work. You can choose to shut off and not respond to chats or phone calls, and you are also not tempted to use these tools to work with others.
You learn things like “Pomodoro technique” and “Unschedule calendar” to block 30-minute chunks of time and get stuff done.
Finally, as a manager and CEO, I can’t afford “management by walking around” because I can only walk around my own home office :-) I’m all about “management by objectives,” in which my team shows me their work not by pretending they’re busy, but by delivering results.
3. Better communication
“Less conversation, little more action please” – sang the “king” Elvis Presley in one of his most popular songs.
Thanks to the “no office” environment, you can become a better communicator: instead of chatting, you learn to communicate through tasks. In Nozbe, we add comments to tasks and this is where all the action is. The comments are all focused around the task that needs to get done. There is less noise, but more discussion about the task at hand and helping each other be more productive.
The entire team becomes better at this as they learn to delegate tasks to each other, even if they officially don’t hold management positions. Everybody becomes a manager and every manager is also a “producer” of great work.
Above all, when you do have meetings, they are so much better. You don’t schedule meetings only “because you can.” Also, you don’t invite “everyone” just because they are at the office. You only schedule meetings when they are really necessary and only with people you really need.
Thanks to all this effort, you better make sure you’re prepared for that meeting, which is a great bonus. And usually everyone’s prepared.
4. Better business
All of the above translates into better business. We save costs by not renting a huge office space, by not having to relocate everyone to the same place… By just not having this huge overhead.
These savings can be either enjoyed by offering higher salaries and perks or by reinvesting in the team and in the marketing. And the extra money can help you scale the company faster without needing to switch the offices every year. Just in 2015 we doubled our team, and if we had an office, we’d have to move to a bigger space, which is never an easy process.
As mentioned earlier, you can choose “better customers” for your product, just like I did with focusing on the US market first. You can also hire the best of the best, which is especially true for my business: to make Nozbe the best suite of apps it can be, I need to have the best developers I can get, and not just the “best developers within a 20 km radius.”
5. Better lifestyle
Ultimately this all comes down to a better lifestyle. Not just for me, but for the entire Nozbe team. We’re not forcing anyone to move. Better yet, people can now move to a place that better fits their lifestyle. And many did. “I’ve always dreamed about living in … ” is no longer a problem. As long as we all have fast Internet connections, we can literally work from anywhere.
This also impacts your social life. Traditionally after a day at the office you don’t have energy to meet with people. You’ve just spent a whole day with them. Your social life is your company. When you don’t have an office, you want to spend time with people in the afternoon. You’re happy to go out, and you choose your friends, who usually are not in your business or your industry. This way you get to have a more diverse set of friends who like you for who you really are, not for the position you hold at the company.
And my favorite part – your workday is flexible. Just the other day at two in the afternoon I went to my daughter’s school for an hour because she was running a race. Few parents were there because they couldn’t leave work. Both me and my daughter enjoyed the fact that she had her father’s support and we got to enjoy her run together. She’s a great runner, and I got to experience it first hand.
It’s just better for me and my team
For all these reasons, working without an office is so much better for me and my team. Our mindset, productivity, communication skills, business and lifestyle are all impacted positively by the way we work. Not having an office helps us grow and become better.
That’s why, even if you work at a “traditional office,” I encourage you to think about this:
How would you do this or that if you didn’t have the office? How would you improve your work, yourself and your team? What would you do differently? What would you do better?
Photo: Flickr/EgoAnt CC BY 2.0