Thursday, April 28, 2016

☆ Individual talks with your team members. How? When? And... why?

I'm lucky to be running a small team of 20+ people that I get to know very well. I don't know how it's going to be with a team of 30 or 40 or 50 folks but I'm going to find out in the years to come, since we’ll eventually have to get to these levels to be able to spread Nozbe’s "good message of productivity" to as many people as we'd like. I guess we'll see. Now while I can, I still try to get to know my team as much as possible and be approachable to them. That's why I hold individual one-on-one talks with each company member every three months and this is how I do it:

Nozbe team Photo by Krzysztof Lenda

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

One-on-one meetings are important!

Again, I'm writing this from the perspective of a 20+ person company, not a 100+ one... so my opinion on this might change with time, but for now I think it's essential to meet with everyone one on one at least every three months. I schedule a 30- to 60-minute window for this conversation to make sure we give each other full, undivided attention. And it's important to be prepared for it, to actually have notes and topics to discuss.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

☆ If you want everyone on the same page - you're doing it wrong!

I am a person who runs an "all remote" company and you might already know my opinion on so-called "open offices." Exactly! I hate them. I think they're great for socializing but really bad if you want your team members to perform at their best. However, many smart people defend these setups with the premise of "better collaboration" and "openness" and my favorite one: "keeping people on the same page." Well, let me explain why this kind of attitude is anything but helpful for keeping your people productive, focused and doing their best work. People shouldn't be "on the same page" with their entire team all of the time. Here's why:

Same page

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

Your developer doesn't need to know your up-to-date "lifetime customer value"...

...unless they are working on a piece of code that is exactly correlated with that metric. You see, your developer should know the "overall direction of the company" and the specifics that relate to his or her work. Nothing more. Everything else is just noise and unnecessary distraction to them. Any additional information won't help them write their best pieces of code... and when you're trying to keep them up to date in an open office, you're not even letting them get into "flow" - the state in which the real magic happens.

Ask yourself - why did you hire this amazing programmer if you're doing everything to keep them from entering the flow state. With the distractions of an open office or up-to-date info you're effectively disturbing them and not letting them do their magic! Trust me, you hired them for their magic!

Let people have access to info. Keep them updated. Some - weekly, everyone - monthly.

Yes, in my team people are not on the same page all the time. Eventually they are. From time to time. In regular intervals. But not every minute. Not even every hour. Not even every day. A big part of my team is updated every week. And everyone else gets on the same page at least once a month. And that's how I think it should be done. Here's how I do it:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

☆ 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.


I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

What the people I talk to about the remote work don’t know and what I tell them is this:

Not having an office made me a better CEO in five different ways.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

★ My Home Office 2016: whiteboard, stand-up desk, chill-out sofa and less stuff

Every year I'm changing something at Nozbe headquarters, aka my home office and tonight after work I decided to change a few things as well. Here's how my 2016 home office looks like with highlights:

home office 2016

Whiteboard front and center

I've already sang praises to it, but really, whiteboard is my favorite tool for planning and brainstorming. Lately I've been doing a lot of that so I've moved it a little more to the center of my wall to make sure I can take advantage of every inch of it.

Stand up desk still rocks

I've been standing a lot recently while working and I enjoy it more than sitting actually. And when I do want to sit I just lower the desk and use the pilates ball as my chair or...

Chill out sofa is there!

Haven't had that in a few years in my home office so I decided to bring it back. Makes the space more "cozy" and will be useful for reading or sketching on my iPad.

Less stuff and clutter...

As always when I modify my home office I always end up questioning lots of things there and getting rid of clutter that always piles up. My environment here is now cleaner and nicer!

That's just my home office...

In my company everyone works from home and if you're curious how other people on my team work, feel free to check out our home offices as well as our Nozbe customers offices. Hope these set ups will inspire you to improve your workspace just like they help me improve mine every year.

Question: How does your productive workspace look like?

Sent from my iPhone 6 Plus

Thursday, March 3, 2016

☆ I don’t have an office. Why should I anyway?

Running a business has become synonymous with owning an office. While planning to start a company, almost every entrepreneur’s main concern is where to set up the office. The question is: will our clients visit us there? Most likely not but we mainly need the office for ourselves. To have a sense that our new company is “serious”. But in reality, it’s not the office that gets the work done, it’s you!

I don’t have an office.

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

I’m not even working on a “serious” computer…

A few years ago, when I switched to the iPad as my main computer, many people thought I was crazy. They kept saying that for “real work” you needed a “real” computer. That the iPad is just a touch-screen toy and you can’t use it for work. That it’s not serious.

This reminds me of an old definition of the word “revolution”:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

☆ 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

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

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:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

✔ My #NozbeOffice - what's my desk like? What helps me get things done?

On our Nozbe blog we started an action showing our offices. We also asked our users on Twitter with hashtag #NozbeOffice and it's amazing to see how and where people get their things done. So in the spirit of sharing my home office space I decided to write this blog post explaining why my home office in 2016 looks like this - because everything is here for a reason:

Michael's Nozbe Office

My 2016 home office setup in a nutshell:

Ikea height-adjustable desk, iMac 5K with Microsoft Sculpt keyboard and Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, iPad Pro with Logitech Ultrathin keyboard and Apple Pencil... and lastly my iPhone 6S Plus (taking the picture). And a mug with my hometown (Gdynia) name on it.

Now, why I use these devices? Here goes:

Monday, January 11, 2016

☆ There is no office…

I’m a big fan of the movie Matrix. It has quite a few memorable scenes. One of the best is when a boy is “bending” the spoon. In this article I’d like to explain how this scene has everything to do with how we get things done every single day:

There is no spoon

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

Try to realize the truth: there is no spoon.

In this scene the boy is telling Neo, the main character, that bending a spoon is impossible… but as they are in the Matrix, the truth is that there is no spoon, and the only thing they can bend is themselves… not the spoon.

There is no office… there is only work that needs to get done!

It’s so funny to me that the modern pre-requisite of getting job done is the office. It’s like there is an equation between the two: work = office!

Maybe, but if you think about, why would you need an office? Here are a few reasons:

Monday, December 14, 2015

☆ Open spaces: the Industrial Age of the 21st Century?

If Facebook, the $300B company is building the “biggest open space in the world”, they have to be doing something right? Right? Wrong… Why? Because productivity.

In January of 2010 I was traveling to Silicon Valley. It was my second trip to this “Mecca” of startups. I was just about to celebrate my third year running my own small productivity company, Nozbe, and my friends from Codility invited me to join them on a trip to the Valley and visit some of the best companies in the world. It was so great. To me personally, visiting different offices was so much fun. Just seeing how the best of the best organize their work and get stuff done was eye-opening. But my eyes really popped out when I finally visited the offices of Facebook. I saw this:

Open Office

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

Facebook is “fostering collaboration”, right?

Industrial Age of the 21st century…

I was in the office of the most successful company in the Silicon Valley. That same company that was growing like crazy and “aqui-hiring” the best and most talented small software companies in the world. They were famous for hiring or getting the best engineers around…

And then they put them in that office. Seriously.

It was a huge “open space” where everyone would sit next to each other like workers in the factories of the Industrial Age in the 19th century. Yes, they’d give them the best tools of the 21st century, like iMacs, screens, chairs… but then they’d just cram them next to each other.

And they’d expect them to do their best work.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

☆ Remote worker's luxury: changing offices for different tasks and better productivity

At Nozbe we all work from our homes. We're really a "No Office" company. And as the CEO I usually work from my home office. I really love my home office. It's the best place for me to work. But not this November. We have a renovation going on at the house and we had to move to a rented apartment for a month. And because of the works at the house, my home office has no electricity at the moment, so I can't work there. So I took a month off... right? Nope. No I did not. I couldn't. November is usually our busiest time at Nozbe so I had to work even more than usual... and I had to make it happen in these unusual circumstances. What I noticed over the last month was that I was working at different places depending on my tasks. I was living a remote worker's dream: "if there is a specific task, there is an office for that". Here's how it went down:

My different offices

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

Let's start with the Internet connection...

At my home people are working so most of the house has no electricity. That's why I moved my router to the garage (level -1) and thanks to that I had my high-speed broadband connection right there in the garage and in the kitchen above it.

In the apartment we rented there is WiFi... but it's very slow and unstable. So it does work most of the time, but you cannot rely on it. And let me repeat that: it's painfully slow...

Most of my devices have 4G/LTE sim cards: iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Pro, iPad Air2, so in theory they are connected all of the time. I sometimes use my wife's Macbook Pro which solely relies on the WiFi unfortunately.

Now that we've defined how I'm connecting to the Internet, let's get down to my tasks and my different offices, here goes:

Friday, November 6, 2015

☆ The Pyramid of Communication in a Remotely Working team

In the 18th episode of The Podcast with Radek we talked about how we use different tools for different types of communication. The credit for this idea goes to Radek (just listen to the episode and him explaining the thing) but the credit to the way we’ve developed it goes to the entire Nozbe team. And I strongly believe companies NOT working remotely should also pay attention to this because this is how you get meetings done efficiently. And when you’re located in the same place, you might be abusing one form of communication and under-using another one. OK, I’m getting confusing now. Anyway, this advice below is good for both, remotely and non-remotely working teams. Here goes:

pyramid of communication

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

The Foundation — Level 1: Asynchronous communication with Nozbe and Github

The tools we use most are Nozbe (to manage our projects and tasks) and Github (to manage code — we’re after all a software company). Communicating through these tools is slow, but more deliberate and most efficient. When you share a project with someone, you can create a task for them, add a comment… and you expect the other person to deal with it when they see fit. You know this task is now on their Priority list and when they review the list, they’ll see the task and get on with it. The same goes to Github. You work on code, you commit it, you review other commits. You add comments. At your own pace.

Communication here is asynchronous because what you do in Nozbe and Github requires blocks of focused time. And responses from other people require also focused time. So these tools are not designed to bother others (although we do have push notifications there if we want), these tools are designed to get stuff done effectively with full focus on tasks and code at hand. With these tools we move projects (and code) forward together, while each of us moves at their own pace.

Again, the key word here is “focused time”. This is what we, knowledge workers need the most to get things done. And I’d argue that we, who work remotely, have more of it than the rest. But I digress, let’s move on to the second phase:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

☆ It’s official: working from home is the best

In Nozbe we’re a small team of 24 people in the core team and 10+ cooperating people and companies. Altogether a bunch of more than 30 people. And we all work from home. Yet many “management gurus” still find it hard to embrace this kind of working arrangement and that’s why articles with titles like this one are being written every now and then: it’s official, working from home is the worst. At first I totally dismissed that article but then I found it quite inspiring as it represents most of the urban legends about working from home so in this post I’d like to go through that very article and give arguments for future discussion about working remotely. Something Silicon Valley still has to embrace. Here are a few typical remote working myths I found in the above mentioned article:

Best place to work

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

Myth 1: While working from home rarely can be a good thing, doing it too much reduces productivity and happiness…

First off, all the productivity gurus these days tell you we can only achieve better productivity when we find more “focus”. Working from home creates possibilities of much longer stretches of “focused time” also called “the flow” than working in an office, especially an “open office” so popular these days. Happiness? Study after study shows commuting as the single biggest reason of stress every day. When you commute to work you get to work stressed. And that’s supposed to make you feel happy?

Myth 2: there’s “little empirical evidence to suggest that telecommuting is a generally effective way to mitigate work-family conflict,”

Of course there isn’t. For two reasons:

Monday, October 19, 2015

☆ Silicon Valley is disrupting everything but the way they work

Recently Peter Thiel’s book “Zero To One” was translated to Polish and my friends started commenting on it on Facebook. I read the book a year ago and while I enjoyed it, one thing that stood out to me was the author’s take on “remote work”:

Peter Thiel writes that “Even working remotely should be avoided, because misalignment can creep in whenever colleagues aren’t together full-time, in the same place, every day”.

So sad. That’s just so sad.

Silicon Valley is disrupting everything but the way they work

I originally posted this on Medium where I post about remote working as a part of NoOffice publication. I'd appreciate if you followed me there and recommended my posts, thanks!

Sadly Silicon Valley is in the Industrial Age of work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of Silicon Valley and whenever I visited the area I really enjoyed the spirit of it and the whole “startup ecosystem” created there. I’m a CEO of a productivity app so I really liked the SV entrepreneurial vibe. But when I talked to other founders and VCs over there I quickly found out that their approach to modern work is.. not really that modern.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

▷ The Podcast #18 - Meetings don't have to be toxic

New episode of your favorite weekly podcast about "technology, productivity tips, business, publishing, and whatever else comes to mind..." is out! This time we talk about meetings and how we do them at an all-remote company:

The latest episode of The Podcast

We've tried different kinds of meetings at Nozbe and in this episode we talk about all of them. What we learned from our early mistakes and which tools we use for different types of meetings at a company where everyone works from home. I think it was a great follow up to the previous show. Let me know if you liked it!

Jump to listen to the episode »


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And please let me know what you think about my new podcast with Radek - post your comments over here or on our podcast site. Thank you!

P.S. And if you really like what we're doing, don't forget to rate us on iTunes, we'd really appreciate it! :-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

✔ Individual talks on a Team meeting - why it's important to us

I mentioned recently that we're currently on a Nozbe team reunion where our remotely working team gets together in the same place for an entire week. Today I'd like to share how each day looks like and why it starts with me... talking to people one-on-one. Well, here goes, we start each day with a breakfast at 8 am, and then...

Personal Touch

Personal time one on one

Before I explain what we do after breakfast, let me get back tot he subject of this post - the personal meetings with each and every one of the team. We're 20+ person strong team now. We doubled our team size in a year. Yet, every time we meet for our reunion, people want to talk to me. And I want to talk to them. Folks want to have a one-on-one with the founder. They ask for it. And I want to give them my time. That's why when we schedule our Nozbe Reunion I make it my priority to be able to have an uninterrupted one-on-one conversation with each and every one from the team. This is how we do it: