How We Fired Our Office

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Firing your office can be stressful, nostalgic, and liberating, especially if you use the right tools.

First, a little story to make sense of things…

In October of 2011 we felt like we had reached an important milestone in our four month old business by moving into our first office on Capitol Hill. Planting our flag in a cozy 500 square foot office meant respect as a legitimate business and a space for our then four person team to spread out and grow.

And grow we did…

Over the following six months we tripled our staff, growing from four to twelve in what felt like a month. The office played an important roll in helping us interview, hire, and train a good sized group in a semi-efficient manner. Granted my partner and I had never managed a group of this size before, so the process was not without it’s flaws by any means. Honestly though, watching a group of young people all come together under one roof to create and experiment was beyond exciting. The closeness and shear speed of growth forced us to all learn from each other, while the pressure exposed who the true future leaders of our company would be.

Visioniz Office

Of course, cramming twelve designers, developers, and support staff into a 500 square foot space also presented it’s fair share of annoyances. Making private calls was a joke (we literally had to go into the building hallway to get some quiet privacy) and getting in the “zone” was almost impossible because of the constant unavoidable chatter. It was affecting our team’s concentration and creating unnecessary tension between devs, designers, and management; It had to be dealt with.

Our first thought was to have the majority of developers work remotely and find a bigger office! So we went on the hunt but could not find anything that piqued our interest enough to justify a hefty hike in rent and the cost of breaking our current lease. We were torn and figured we’d deal with it as we got closer to the end of our lease in October of 2012. In the mean time we ended up slowly having 90% of our team work remotely while checking in periodically for meetings. It was actually nice, our team loved the freedom and we loved where this experiment was heading. Plus, because of the prior bonding and trust gained during our office months, our core team was super diligent about tracking hours honestly and staying on task. Clients were happy and we were feeling blessed to say the least.

Then in mid May I got an email… The business next door to us, DENY Designs, was interested in acquiring our space as they were growing and needed some extra inventory space. I couldn’t believe it! We contacted management and inked the deal before the end of June! Not only did we get out of our lease without a fee, we also were repaid our deposit. Oh happy day!

Moving Visioniz OfficeEmpty Visioniz Office

So did we go and get a nice big new office with a fancy kitchen area and private offices for management?!

Nope…

Instead we went 100% remote. That’s right, we took the dive and it’s actually been great! Our entire team now works from home or coffee shops, with the occasional group meetups at The Desk co-working space. I do miss seeing everyone’s face each day but with a couple of really amazing tools we’ve been able to effectively handle working in different locations.

So, either you found this post cause you’re thinking about firing your office or maybe the thought never crossed your mind but I’ve now convinced you that your overpriced office may not be necessary. If either is the case then read on cause I’m about to break down what tools we use to collaborate remotely and why we use them. Keep in mind this is a constantly evolving list and as new tools pop up they may come in to replace the current one’s we’re using but that’s just the nature of a technology driven business, things are constantly changing for the better but you’ve got to constantly be on the lookout in order to find the hidden gems.

Here is a list of our most used applications, in no particular order:

(To see an updated list of the services we’ve added to our daily routine, check out this post: My 10 Favorite Services for Managing a Remote Business)

Basecamp

We love Basecamp for working with clients. It’s a pretty good platform for keeping the team-to-client conversations in one place, allowing any of our team to quickly see the status of a particular project. I highly suggest this suite for any creative agency. There are some drawbacks like the lack of an API and a poor mobile experience on Basecamp Next.

Team Gantt

Visioniz Team Gantt
This is a newer addition to our tool kit, which I found through Ryan Carson’s blog. It fills a very important role for businesses with a team bigger than three that also happens to be working on multiple projects at once. It has been especially helpful for our management team as we can get an idea of where we’re at with a particular project by simply glancing at our Team Gantt timeline. This is something you can’t do nearly as easily with Basecamp. We’ve only been using Team Gantt for less than a month but I seem to find something new that I love about it everyday.

Wunderkit

Our whole team doesn’t utilize Wunderkit but a few of us do and we love it for simple group task management. I also like the ability to make group notes. It’s simple, effective, and it has an iPhone app :)

Streak

Visioniz Streak
Boy has this been a game changer for us. Streak.com allowed us to ditch Highrise, which we loved but we weren’t really utilizing the full power of Highrise as we’ve never been very sales focused. What streak has allowed us to do is manage all of our creative service orders in our inbox. Our Project Managers can easily assign incoming orders to Designers with a due date and notes. Our Designers and Project Managers can then move those orders between different categories like “Proof Stage” and “Limbo”, for clients that we’ve lost contact with. We’ve also created a “Pipeline” for customer service inquiries and I’ve got a few experimental Pipelines going that I think will help us further streamline our internal communication.

Google Talk

Hopefully the reason we use this is relatively obvious. It’s internal chat, built into our email interface and we can access it with many third party smartphone apps. Google Talk is really our most used internal communication tool. Almost all communication between team members happens via Google Talk and you can even arrange group chats. Overall a great tool for keeping phone calls and miscommunication to a minimum. I do wish we could have a default group chat that includes everyone but hopefully we’ll get an add-on for that soon :)

G+ Hangouts

Visioniz Hangout
Before going remote I wasn’t that big of a Google+ fan. Now I adore Google+ but for pretty much one reason; Hangouts. We use Hangouts on a semi-daily basis to quickly get multiple team members together in one place to discuss and collaborate on everything from documents to site maps and even code or design. The ability to work together on Google docs and share screens in a snap has been amazing for our team. I don’t know why Google doesn’t advertise Hangouts for businesses more. I know this is great for teenagers to watch Youtube videos together but Hangouts are infinitely more useful for business collaboration.


So there you have it, a complete list of tools that will help make it easier than ever to effectively communicate with your remote workforce. The good news is that these tools are just the beginning, as the technological landscape evolves we are going to see an even bigger surge in businesses going remote. As I see it, there isn’t much of an excuse anymore to not go remote.

I’d hate to be in the office leasing business in 5 – 10 years…

Spread the word bird!
    • geeksweep

      are you guys still going to be using Wunderkit or move on to something else(Wunderlist?) since evidently Wunderkit is going to always be in beta?

    • http://www.freemanlafleur.com/ Freeman LaFleur

      Hey Geeksweep!
      We’ve added some new services to our toolbox. We moved away from Wunderkit and have embraced Trello and Hipchat as our main internal communication platforms. I’ve also been testing out the new Wunderlist on my phone and macbook. I like it, just not sure if it would actually be that useful for us right now.

    • Justin Clark

      I also work in a company that is 100% remote (Staff.com). There are ~50 of us around the world, and instead of G+ we use Skype. Regarding your comment about the limitations of having your entire company in one chat group, that limit doesn’t exist on Skype :) We have a variety of chat groups for different teams within our company, as well as on “everybody” chat group. Works great.

      For me to work most productively, I need complete silence and ideally no other people around – and that’s exactly what I have living alone and working from home :)

    • http://creativeagencysecrets.com/ Rebecca Caroe

      You are the leading edge. I’m writing a book called the Creative Agency of the Future and examining different ways creative people are working. May i quote this blog post? http://creativeagencysecrets.com/futureagency/

    • Freeman LaFleur

      Hey Rebecca,

      Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to quote anything in this post :)

    • http://www.freemanlafleur.com/ Freeman LaFleur

      Hi Rebecca! Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to quote anything in this post :)

    • http://twitter.com/damn_u_pucci N.

      check out Rizzoma (https://rizzoma.com) – it’s a collaboration tool which is perfect for remote work, our company uses it and its more than enough for all types of communication for us

    • Kaleem Clarkson

      Would love to see an updated blog post of the tools you are using.

    • http://www.boltonremote.com/ Edsel Mendoza

      Stepping Up With Remote Work

      I just actually stumbled upon this article while researching on remote communication and collaboration tools and ended up enjoying reading your company’s history. DENY Designs asking for your space like that when you’re starting to enjoy remote work is nothing short of serendipitous.

      One of our clients had a somewhat similar experience; starting off in a traditional office-based setup, eventually outgrowing the office itself to work remotely, then remotesourcing their further staffing needs through our company, Bolton Remote.

      With their core team working remotely from each other, turning to remotesourcing when the need for expansion came wasn’t a difficult transition. Not only were we able to provide the people they needed, but our office-based setup also meant they had the support of IT specialists and HR practitioners should the need arise.

      Tools Aren’t For Fools

      Great rundown on tech tools for remote productivity as well. With remote work firmly anchored on the premise of great communication, it’s important to leverage these online tools to make sure collaboration goes without a hitch. Here’re some of our favorites as well:

      - Skype – for quick and easy IM/video calling
      - Sqwiggle – seamless video communication for remote teams
      - Google Drive – for real time file collaboration

      Are Offices Out of the Question?

      While there’s definitely been a significant decline in the need for office spaces in some areas, office leasing businesses in countries that provide most of the remote work shouldn’t be all too worried. With remotesourcing kicking into gear, things might even pick up for them. Our company, for one, has even recently moved into a bigger office to accommodate our growing number of remote teams.

    • http://www.freemanlafleur.com/ Freeman LaFleur

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your client’s experience with going remote. I’d be curious to hear what struggles or snags, if any, that your company has encountered with managing multiple remote teams.

      If the time is put into implementing the latest tools and creating a culture of openness and trust then I think remote working can be a big win for employers and employees.

      I need to update the tools list as I’ve found a few new ones that I’m really loving. Sqwiggle, which you also listed, is one of the most intriguing and useful remote working tools I’ve yet to encounter. I’m also enjoying Slack and Screenhero.

    • http://www.freemanlafleur.com/ Freeman LaFleur

      Kaleem. Thanks for your suggestion. I will put together an updated list. In the mean time here are some of the tools I’ve been using:

      http://sqwiggle.com – The most interesting remote teams app I’ve come across in a long time. Found out about it because the team over at Buffer use it. It’s a fantastic app that gives remote teams a nearly seamless communication channel. Check it out because it’s too cool to explain in words. I think we’re headed towards impressive telepresence capabilities in the future.

      http://slack.com – I’ve replaced Hipchat with Slack. I love Slack. At first I joined and didn’t think much of it but once I played with it for a while and tested out some of the integrations, I realized how powerful of an intranet app it is.

      http://asana.com – Asana and Trello have replaced Basecamp for my needs.

      http://screenhero.com – Haven’t used it much but it does it’s job well – group screen sharing.

      https://www.uberconference.com/ – Conference calls aren’t sexy but anytime I need to do one I use Uberconference.