Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. January’s topic is working remotely.
About the author: Josh Cramer is the founder and CEO of Cramer Development, a Web and mobile application development company that helps startups and innovative enterprises create digital products. The Cramer Dev team members write about their remote work experience on RemoteNation.co.
In 1976, a man named Dale Chihuly was in a head-on car accident in which he flew through the windshield of his vehicle. As a result, he sustained severe injuries to his face and became blind in his left eye. Prior to this incident, Chihuly had studied the art of glass blowing and had begun a career as an artist and glass instructor.
The incident and resulting blindness forever changed Chihuly’s life and perspective as an artist. This incident enabled him to transform his art and work from fairly traditional to truly revolutionary and unlike anything else. As he puts it, “Once I stepped back, I liked the view.” His glass art is now world renowned and featured on the ceiling of the Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip among other prominent locations.
In 2003, I had a similar change in perspective, though perhaps not quite as dramatic. That year, I moved from Ames to Iowa City, and as a result, my 3-year-old company with offices still in Ames, became a distributed team overnight. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this move would enable me to see things differently with regard to the way I built my business and lived my life.
Up until that time, the business leveraged a fairly traditional office setting. We all worked out of the same location and when it was time to hire, we limited our talent search to within a small geographical radius around the office. As I was leaving town, I almost sold the business, thinking it would be too difficult to keep things going from afar. But at the last minute, I decided to keep it and see if I could make a go of it. To my surprise, the years immediately following the move were our best ever. This made me realize some truths that I’ve used to my advantage both professionally and personally:
- We can do the best work of our lives without sharing the same office. Embracing this principle enabled us to set up better work management systems and put processes in place that made us more focused and efficient as a team. Because it was necessary for us to build a highly organized collaborative framework in order to survive, I believe we leveled up as a result.
- We can be highly collaborative as a distributed team. We stopped looking at distance as a limitation and started seeing it as an opportunity to be more intentional about how we collaborated together. Our distance and isolation enabled us to recognize and appreciate boundaries between working together as a group and working alone. We’ve continually refined our protocols over the years to strike a good balance in this area. If we were all in the same office, protecting and exploiting these boundaries would be more difficult.
- We can hire better people if we eliminate geographical restrictions. Finding and hiring the right person for our open positions is significantly easier now that we don’t have to limit our candidate pool to a very small area. We’ve been able to radically increase the quality of our team and more quickly find cultural fits by being open to hiring from anywhere in the United States. We now have full-time team members located in nine different states.
- Our jobs can conform to our lifestyles rather than our lifestyles conforming to our jobs. Most of us choose the cities we live in as a function of the location of the company that we work for. At a minimum, our jobs are an impediment that keeps us from moving to the cities that we may otherwise want to live in. Because Cramer Dev is a distributed team, we are able to allow employees to move freely about the country and take their job with them. One person on our team moved from Ames, Iowa to Chicago to West Lafayette, Ind. Another moved from Iowa City, Iowa to San Francisco to Madison, Wisc. I’ve personally spent extended periods of time living in areas of the country with my family that we’ve always wanted to experience. To me, this is perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of remote working. Yes, our jobs are important. But there are other aspects of life—like family, culture and adventure—that can be enhanced when we embrace the opportunities built-in to this new remote work lifestyle.
There are certainly challenges we face every day as a distributed team. Although some of these challenges may not be faced by teams in a centralized office, there are others we no longer contend with because of our distributed nature. I believe our pursuit to improve and overcome these challenges will continue to enable us to be successful as a distributed team and open up new opportunities for us in work and in our lives.
Credits: Josh Cramer photo from Google+.