☆ How a company without an office makes a great team… better?

Exactly 9 years ago today, I launched my productivity startup: Nozbe. I wrote this web application to help me get things done and decided to show it to the world. Back then, I was a one-man-shop. I did all the coding in Javascript+PHP+MySQL, I wrote the website copy, I designed most of the graphics… and I was the one responding to emails in case someone actually tried it and had a question. When I launched premium plans, I was the one to write the payment system and automate accepting money. And for the rest of 2007, I was doing all of that. Part time!

NoOffice Team

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From a part-time one-man-shop to a team of 30+ people...

That’s right, for the first year Nozbe wasn’t my full-time project! I still had my day job as an “Internet Marketing Consultant” for my past customers. I’d start working on Nozbe after my “day work” — between 4 pm and 9 pm. I decided to go full time with Nozbe a year after the launch — in Spring of 2008, and then I hired my first developer. Today he’s still with me and he’s the CTO. A year later, I hired a support person, then another one… and as Nozbe grew, I kept hiring.

Today we’re 20+ core team and 10+ contractors working on Nozbe. And we have an amazing team, here’s why:

1. We don’t see each other every day

We don’t have an office. We do have an official address in my home town but nobody goes there. Not even my father, who’s the Chief Financial Officer.

We all work from our homes.

We have a great team, because we don’t see each other every day. We interact with each other by chatting on Slack, talking via Skype when needed and of course by delegating and commenting on tasks in Nozbe. This way, we are not tired of each other. And we feel we work effectively together. We get to do great things without being sick of seeing each other every day in an office. Without unnecessary meetings and interruptions of a traditional office.

2. We have a “process” that helps us do great things together

We just know how to work with one another:

  • We have only the very very necessary meetings scheduled.
  • We communicate through tasks.
  • We do lots of things asynchronously, thus leaving us time for focused work.

Because of the fact that we literally can’t just go to someone and ask them for something, we had to build processes to make our work more efficient.

Thanks to this, we feel like we’re really making great things happen as a team. We feel we’ve got each others’ backs. We are great together… even though we’re not really together in the same physical place.

And of course, we need to be really good (competent) at what we do to make it all work. That’s why we hire only the best :-)

3. We miss one another. And this strengthens our friendship.

I know, you shouldn’t hire friends. I don’t hire friends… though I feel like everyone on my team has grown to become a great friend of mine through our work on Nozbe.

The fact that we don’t work in one office makes us miss each other. If you work with someone for a longer period of time through digital tools, on a human level you want to see them in person. You need the “human touch”. You want to go out and “grab a cold one” with them. Talk to them face to face. Feel the human emotions.

That’s why every half a year we meet in person. It’s called a “Nozbe Reunion.” The last one took place in September 2015. The next one is in a month — in mid-March. We rent a hotel for a week and work, play and party together. We’re all looking forward to this reunion. We really can’t wait to spend this week with our colleagues. Doesn’t that sound crazy?

4. We only hire people we trust and like

When you work remotely you need to trust that other people get their part of work done. Faking work is not possible in a “no office” environment. Truth will always come out.

Also when you only chat and exchange text messages with your team, you need to give them much of the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to write something stupid somewhere and without realizing it offend the other person. That’s why you have to really like your colleagues and trust they’re on your side even if they’re in a crappy mood.

You really have to be fond of each other.

That’s why I love my team so much — it’s our small team and we make sure we don’t have anyone there we don’t like.

And it’s not like we agree on everything. We fight. We argue. We have our differences. But we respect each other and we genuinely love working with each other even when we’re not entirely on the same page. Life is too short to work with people you don’t like.

5. Our quality of life is off the charts!

Going for a run in the middle of the day because the sun is shining? Running an errand at noon? Picking up children earlier from school because they don’t feel well? Starting work at 4 am because you didn’t feel like sleeping and then taking a nap in the middle of the day? Not spending 2 hours a day commuting?

Yes, all these things are possible thanks to the fact we work from our homes. Our schedule is flexible. As much as we want it to be. This gives us the quality of life traditional office workers can only dream of.

Add to this the fact that we can live wherever we want and this is really unbeatable. Stay in your home town or move to a big city? It doesn’t have to be a choice if there’s no office.

Always dreamt about living in France? On Spanish mediterranean coast? In Japan? Or maybe in China? Or you need to move close to your parents to help them out? These are difficult decisions if you’re moving away from the offices of your company.

These choices don’t exist in a “no office” company like ours.

Does this scale?

I don’t know. It did scale when I was alone. And when we were three. And now when we’re 30+ it still scales. And I really believe these 5 characteristics make our team great:

1) We don’t see each other but 2) we work together very effectively so 3) we miss each other a lot which makes us 4) very fond of each other and additionally 5) love the way we live.

To prove my point here’s a video from our last year’s “Nozbe Reunion:”

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Posted on Thursday, February 4, 2016 (medium,NoOffice)

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