In our last installment, I introduced our distributed workplace and why we prefer it over a traditional office. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about how to make a distributed workplace, well… work.
The single most important we learned was how to work asynchronously. In other words, we strive to create an environment where people can complete their tasks at any time of day and without waiting on anyone else to do so. This removes timezones (and personal work habits) as a constraint for doing business. Tasks that aren’t asynchronous become road blocks to productivity in the form of, “I can’t do X until Joe does Y.” Here’s a few of the most common road blocks we hit and how we dealt with them:
Asking for permission. This is a killer and we’ve all but eliminated it at Lincoln Loop. We hire trustworthy people and then put our faith in them to make the right decisions. There’s no management layer or bureaucracy to fight to make things happen. Many decisions that would take weeks to make in other companies, happen in minutes at Lincoln Loop.
Asking for access. Everything in our company is open for anyone to access. We use software like Dropbox, Xero, and Google Docs to make sure that any information somebody needs is readily available to them. In addition, everyone has the keys necessary to update/change any part of our infrastructure: code, servers, passwords, whatever.
Asking for knowledge. Having all the knowledge for a specific domain wrapped up in one person’s head is asking for trouble. Inevitably, that person blocks progress when they are unavailable. In software development, best practices like documentation, automated tests, and one-step deployments give people the confidence that if they break things, they’ll know before it goes into production. For things that require review, GitHub’s pull requests are a great way to put aside a batch of work for review, allowing a developer to move on to a new task.
Meetings. We don’t have internal meetings at Lincoln Loop. We use IRC (logged by BotBot.me) for daily chit-chat and people have ad-hoc voice calls as-needed to work through individual problems. For anything else that would land on a traditional meeting agenda or memo, we push it to Ginger. It let’s people start discussions when they are fresh on their mind, but without interrupting the flow of the rest of the team. Likewise, people contribute when they are ready, not because they are forced to on schedule.
Being asynchronous is what makes our remote workplace work, but there’s nothing stopping more traditional workplaces from adapting the same principles. They should help anyone function more efficiently and help to increase productivity. Despite being remote and asynchronous, we still put a high value on face time. I’ll discuss how we accomplish that another day.