In January of 2017, Robly switched from a company where everybody went into the office every day in Manhattan to a fully remote organization.
Since it’s been about a year since we made this transition, we asked our CEO, Adam Robinson, to share his reflections and perspective on the pros and cons of remote work.
Whether you’re a CEO who is thinking of trying to go remote or an already fully-remote organization, we love digging into this topic. Read on for Robinson’s take, and by all means share your own thoughts, concerns, and ideas on remote work in the comments!
Remote Work is the Best Thing Ever.
Well, the positives outweigh the negatives in my opinion. I want to qualify this by saying that our company is at a bit of a crossroads. We had a growth strategy that was finite, involved a team of 40, most of whom were outbound cold callers.
We’re now a team of under 25, fully remote, with one inbound sales professional. We’re an entirely different organization.
The Most Important Benefit: Employee Satisfaction is Dramatically Higher
This isn’t scientific, but with a small team like ours, you can get a pretty good feel for how happy people are. More than half of our employees have literally said “thank you” to me for giving them the opportunity to live the life they currently lead.
One of our employees bought an RV and is touring the country with her husband. Another has been traveling all around the world while working on our customer support team.
I personally gave up my apartment in Manhattan, along with our office and all my possessions except for a suitcase and a guitar. Since then, I’ve worked from seven countries and 25 cities.
I still find the notion that you can continue to develop professionally, have a project that you are excited about and is PAYING you, AND travel the world at the same time to be one of the most amazing gifts ubiquitous connectivity has given the world.
That notion was completely unheard of for my parent’s generation.
As the Boss, Remote Means You Get Way More Done Per Hour of Work
During the last iteration of our company, I doubled as “the guy in charge” and the office manager. I have very close personal relationships with many of our employees, and I genuinely care about what’s going on in their lives.
My office door was always open, and people would pop in to chat whenever they had a break. Sometimes about work, sometimes just to talk. I loved this part of having an office, and it fostered deeper personal relationships. But, it came at the cost of always being interrupted, and as the Basecamp guys say, interruption is the nemesis of productivity.
My co-founder James Murphy always quotes his late father-in-law who said, “As the boss, you never get a day off. People are always watching what you do and analyzing every interaction you have with them.” If you’re not one who particularly loves that responsibility (and I’m not), the remote life frees you from this burden.
We Plow Office Overhead Into Dope Work Retreats
We’ve taken employees to Mexico, Antigua, and as I write this, our core team is in Nosara, Costa Rica for 2 weeks.
We’re taking private surf lessons every morning, have a chef that cooks us lunch and dinner in a beautiful villa, and go to sleep exhausted at 8:30 pm. Then we’re up at 6:00 am the next day, ready to do it all over again.
The fact that this can be a part of work life a couple times a year and it’s completely within the realm of acceptable activity is something I am so grateful for. I’m not sure who I have to thank for being able to spend time like this with our team, but whoever it is, thank you! [Ed note: Probably you should send yourself some flowers, Adam!]
Culture & Connection Take a Huge Hit Between Retreats
We used to have office happy hour every Friday. No más. I grabbed a drink with someone at least one a week. Not anymore. The flip side to being the boss and having all eyes on you is that you can lead by example and inspire people to do things with the depth and rigor that you would do them yourself. None of that is an option anymore.
It’s hard to say exactly how our culture has changed, but it has. Luckily, all our employees are self-motivated, self-managing individuals who are excellent at their jobs. As such, I haven’t noticed any slippage in the work product that we create as a team.
No matter how many Slack rooms you have or BlueJeans meetings that happen, it’s impossible to substitute for authentic, good-old-fashioned human contact and the way it brings people together.
Outbound Sales Would Be Impossible
Having run a call center, I believe it would be impossible to have productive remote outbound cold callers. There was so much to the energy of our call center that promoted healthy competition and positive vibes that I believe it lead to more closed deals. I’ve never done it, but I find it impossible to believe that a cold caller could sit at home and be as productive as a colleague in the office that he’s trying to out-sell.
The Smartest Guys in the World Believe Spontaneous Encounters Generate the Best Ideas
Google and Pixar seem to think that people randomly bumping into each other gives them some of their best ideas, and they’ve designed their office space with that in mind.
I’m not going to say they’re wrong. What I can say is that if that’s part of your business model, you’re not getting that by being remote. I would go out on a limb and say that there are far greater differences between Robly and Google or Pixar, so having an office for this one thing that helps the super geniuses take over the world isn’t something we deem worthwhile.
That’s my take on the remote life. I love it and hope I never give it up. For now, I’m totally comfortable sacrificing wealth for freedom, flexibility, and time, but at the same time, I acknowledge that I don’t have a check for $100mm or whatever staring me in the face if I just go into the office for a few years.
I hope this has been a worthwhile post, and would love to know how other people at my spot and others in remote organizations feel about remote work. Let me know!
-Adam Robinson, CEO