People are often surprised when they find out that the Okaya team is extremely distributed. On any given week we have people in Boulder, Nantes, Paris, Grenoble, Bucharest…and anywhere in between! Obviously, this is a setup that works for us, but my goal is not to convert you but rather answer a few basic questions I often get about why and how we make it work.
Why aren’t we all in the same location?
- Legal. Let’s address the elephant in the room first: Having the proper visas to work in certain locations is not only getting more and more complex, it is also getting very expensive.
- Wellbeing. Why would we force people to live in place they may not like much, far from their extended families and support systems? This is not productive at all, and even goes against what we promote with Okaya. Happy Team means happy customers as far as we are concerned.
- Costs. In a future blog I’ll tackle the question of the costs of running a startup in the US vs. elsewhere but for now let’s say that us being remote is actually a lot more cost effective than if we all had to move our families to the Bay Area.
How do you get any work done?
Who says we get work done? Just kidding! The most challenging aspect of having a remote team centers around communications.
Which tools do you use?
We use Slack a lot. Making sure the communication flow is wide-open is one of my most important roles as a CEO. I always encourage people to get into video/voice call because nothing replaces someone’s voice to really detect emotions and concerns.
And, because people are always interested in the nitty-gritty, beyond slack we also rely on Trello, Google Doc, and either Appear.in or Zoom (we’re testing what we like best)
There is one advantage to this setup: From a company standpoint, we are always making progress thanks to the multiple time-zones we are in!
Do people feel lonely?
Now this is a good question. Most of us work from where our friends and families are; we are not roaming the world like digital nomads so there is a support system in place. At the same time, it can become lonely to work from home so some of us often go to co-working spaces to be in a different setting. In my case I’d rather go to a coffee place than a co-working place as I really, really, really dislike open spaces!
Is it all peachy?
Of course not! There are times when being in the same place makes things simpler which is why we did our first retreat in January. When doing some white-boarding about strategy and product, close interaction can be a plus.
One interesting thing we’ve seen as well is that when being distributed you don’t celebrate the small victories as much as when you share the same office. Which is a problem because it’s these small wins that make everything easier during the early moments of a startup. So we pay particular attention to this problem.
What are the big advantages?
- We don’t waste time. Walk into most offices and you will see lots of people who are just there to “show” that they are around but are not doing anything productive. Somehow, being distributed takes care of the problem. We know what we have to do, by when, and how much the team depends on us. How we make it happen is up to us.
- We are more creative. Group-think happens within a company but it also happens in a locale. By being in different countries, with multiple cultures, belief-systems, and situations we get to tackle challenges from many angles in a way that truly benefit our customers. Okaya is a better product because of our distributed team.
Where are you right now?
Well this blog is getting written on the United Flight to Chicago, a set of eyes in Paris will review it and it’ll be live in Boulder!
Where would you like to work from next?
Ok…I’ll bite…if I knew I could get the same amount of work done from a catamaran with my family I’d raise anchor right away. Of course, I’d need to know how to sail first!