Timeshare CMO has been a 100% virtual company since its start in 2014. Today, we collaborate remotely from across five states and four time zones.
In this blog series, we're sharing our experiences and tips to help anyone who’s trying to make a virtual company work. In the attempt to uncover what makes our virtual company work so well, we’ve hit on a three-part framework, and we’ll share it in a three-part series. A successful remote workplace starts with certain types of individuals, then company culture builds around those individuals, and the tools that support them come last. And, as is our habit at Timeshare CMO, we like to go well below the surface—no casual, vague tips here.
PART ONE: THE INDIVIDUAL
We believe that people are more important to the success of our company than specific tools. In most blog posts you’ll see about remote work, it’s just the opposite. Lots of discussion about Slack, and at the end you get one line about people.
We’ve come to recognize what kinds of people will be successful in our environment and who will not. This is rarely a function of skills or education, but is instead a function of these four factors.
#1: HAS SUPPORTIVE HOME ENVIRONMENT AND GOOD BOUNDARIES
Everyone likes working in their pajamas or yoga pants. But having a home environment or coworking space that is as productive as it is comfortable is critical to long-term success as a virtual firm. Even if you don’t have a dedicated room, a space devoted to work makes it so much easier for the brain to get to work at the appointed time. Here’s what our team members recommend:
Haifa, SEM Strategist: If you work on the couch with the TV blaring, knees supporting your computer, and back bent over to type, you will feel terrible at the end of each day. Find a dedicated spot in the house and invest in an actual desk and a comfortable chair.
Michelle, Senior Editor, Accounts Lead (and Mom of 4): Close the door, put on headphones, and be like a grumpy bridge troll to anyone who tries to pass the threshold when you’re heads-down working. Noise-canceling headphones make a huge difference in keeping calls clearer and reducing noise from garbage trucks and the occasional toddler. (Plus, the headphones signal to anyone at home that ‘Mom is in do-not-disturb mode.’)
Bonus tip: Set up outside if the weather’s nice! Work from your patio, your local coffee shop, or while house-sitting for a friend—JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN.
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, TOO.
On the other hand, one of the downsides of working remotely is that you might work all the time. And while liberation from chatty coworkers and sad cubicles is appealing, you may feel isolated without a social aspect of your work day. Here’s how our team deals with that:
Scott, Managing Partner: I have my general set hours and get as much as I can done during that time, then stop working. I take a short break every hour or so, which helps me solve any problems I'm stuck on. I’d also recommend socializing during down time and doing things that aren’t computer-related.
Melinda, Founding Partner: You have to know when to stop working and let your brain rest. I walk my dog every afternoon for the sunshine and to remind myself that I am allowed to take breaks like these; it’s why I chose this life. That half hour, and frankly sometimes it’s an hour, is built into my day via my calendar.
#2: THEY HAVE A DESIRE & A REASON TO WORK REMOTELY
Everyone may say that they’d like to work from home, but it takes quite a bit of discipline. When employees have a reason why they value remote work and can identify what they get out of it (that they can’t get out of most work environments), it shows that they’re willing to make sacrifices or put in extra effort to build the life they want.
This is a critical part of a sustainable work culture, because it ultimately leads to employee retention and better work output.
Sean, Social Media Strategist: I like being able to work without commuting and wasting that time. I like having fewer distractions at home because most offices have open layouts these days. It also affords me flexibility for family time and allows me to have my dog by my side all day. Extra bonus is a refrigerator full of my food close by!
Shannon, Senior Account Director: Working remotely has been by-far the most satisfying work environment. I have more ability to craft my own day, and interruptions to my workday are minimal as I have more control over my time.
Melinda, Founding Partner: Where do I start? Some of the most important reasons I like remote work are: fewer meetings, the ability to see an out-of-town friend on a moment’s notice, being able to help my partner’s elderly mother, and not having to get dressed up every day!
Michelle, Senior Editor, Accounts Lead, and Mom of 4: I value the flexibility. I can bring my kids to school, surprise them in the lunchroom, or be home with them if they’re sick. It makes me feel more connected to them and more available if there’s an emergency, even if that emergency is braiding someone’s hair. I do maintain pretty strict work times and have ways to signal to the family when I’m focusing on work, but on the other hand, I have dinner in the slow cooker right now!
#3: ABLE TO CREATE THEIR OWN STRUCTURE
“Although it’s one of the perks of remote work, your schedule can also be your downfall. “-Shannon, Account Director
One of the toughest parts about remote work is the lack of external structure. There’s rarely a boss tapping their foot when you’re late and there are fewer meetings when your team is in multiple time zones. You don’t have as many expectations to anchor your schedule.
So you get to make your own. Now, we happen to think this is part of the fun of working remotely, but it’s also part of the challenge, and each person has to address this in their own way.
Melinda, Founding Partner: I have ADHD, and I would be unable to run a company without my schedule. I get up and go to bed at the same time each night. I work out at the same time of day. I usually break for lunch with my life partner, who also works from home. We often eat the same things for lunch every day just to remove one more level of decision-making so we can stay focused on work. If I didn’t have my routine, I’d be on Twitter all day.
David, Professional Screenwriter who blogs for our client Netflix DVD: I have a fairly strict schedule for my posts. I watch all or large chunks of each movie I am going to write about. I read about the movies and then set up the post. After writing, I try to set the post aside for a day, so I can come back to it and edit and rewrite. I keep fairly odd hours and often am awake between 1 am and 3 am, which is when I do a lot of writing. (editor’s note: professional writers have a LOT to teach us about how to set up a structure and live by it to get stuff done).
Shannon, Senior Account Director: I no longer have two hours in my day dedicated to commuting, but having a routine is vital. I use “chore” breaks (like tossing in a load of laundry) as breather moments for a change of pace, but I don’t let myself get in the habit of letting life distract me when I work from home.
Some bonus tips:
Try taking a blank paper and blocking out every hour of the day. Cross out times for sleeping, eating, working out, bathing, etc. Then you’ll see how much time you have to work with. Try using a timer to see if your assessments were correct.
Try to make whatever tasks you can into a routine so you don’t have to think about them.
We’ll discuss communication in our next post, but we do encourage our teams to block off unavailable times in google calendar and make heavy use of Slack status to communicate “do not disturb” during “heads down” work time.
#4: EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATOR IN WRITING
Because so much interaction in a remote environment is via written communication, such as Slack, Google Docs, and code commits, the ability to express oneself in text is very important.
There are always opportunities to move things to call/video if needed, but people need to be able to get most of their day’s work done in writing, in a way that doesn’t hinder, distract, or distress others.
Melinda, Founding Partner: The ability to use emojis, gifs, or videos to communicate nuance is really important in virtual work. But so is the ability to slow down and think through what one wants to say before saying it. Communicating in writing becomes the primary method by which you are known in remote work, so a basic fluency and comfort level is needed.
How do you make the most of being a remote worker? Next time, we’ll talk about how we’ve created a work culture that enables remote teams to be their happiest and most productive.