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Healthy benefits for the long run

David
David wrote this on 35 comments

Employee benefits for technology companies are often focused around making people stay at office longer: Foosball tables, game rooms, on-site training rooms, gourmet chefs, hell, some even offer laundry services. We don’t do any of that (although we do have a ping-pong table in a back room that gets wheeled out for our bi-yearly meetups).

Instead we focus on benefits that get people out of the office as much as possible. 37signals is in it for the long term, and we designed our benefits system to reflect that. One of the absolute keys to going the distance, and not burning out in the process, is going at a sustainable pace.

Here are the list of benefits we offer to get people away from the computer:

  • Vacations: For the last three years in a row, we’ve worked with a professional travel agent to prepare a buffet of travel packages that employees could pick from as a holiday gift. Everything paid for and included. Having it be specific, pre-arranged trips — whether for a family to go to Disneyland or a couple to tour Spain — has helped make sure people actually take their vacations.
  • 4-day Summer Weeks: From May through October, everyone who’s been with the company for more than a year gets to work just four days out of the week. This started out as “Friday’s off”, but roles like customer support and operations need to cover all hours, so now it’s just a 4-day Summer Week.
  • Sabbaticals: Every three years someone has been with the company, we offer the option of a 1-month sabbatical. This in particular has been very helpful at preventing or dealing with burnout. There’s nothing like a good, long, solid, continuous break away from work to refocus and rekindle.

To come up with the best ideas, you need a fresh mind. These travel and time-off benefits help everyone stay sharp. But it goes beyond that. Even the weeks when people are working full-on, we offer benefits focused around keeping everyone healthy in other ways too:

  • CSA stipend: We offer a stipend for people to get weekly fresh, local vegetables from community-supported agriculture. Eating well is good, cooking at home is good, doing both is great.
  • Exercise stipend: Whether people want to take yoga classes or spend money on their mountain bike, the company chips in. Eating healthy goes hand-in-hand with getting good exercise. And we sit down for too much of the day as it is, so helping people be active is important.

These benefits form the core of our long-term outlook: Frequent time to refresh, constant encouragement to eat and live healthy. Pair that with the flexibility that remote working offers, and I think we have a pretty good package.

It’s always a real pleasure and a proud moment when our internal Campfire lights up with an anniversary announcement. Like Jeff celebrating 6 years this month, Sam celebrating 8 years and Ann 3 years last month.

We ultimately want 37signals to have the potential of being the last job our people ever need. When you think about what it’ll take to keep someone happy and fulfilled for 10, 20, 30 years into the future, you adopt a very different vantage point from our industry norm.

Remote Works: It Collective

Emily Wilder
Emily Wilder wrote this on 1 comment
Name: Chris Hoffman
Title: Co-Founder, Director of Marketing Strategy
Company: It Collective
Based in: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Established: 2012

What does your company do?
We offer film production and content marketing strategy services. On the marketing strategy side, we work with clients to identify key stories and messages that will resonate with and be shared amongst a target audience — then we help them tell those stories through the creation of that content and the execution of a marketing strategy. On the film side, we produce everything from commercial spots to short films, and just recently finished our first feature-length production — a live concert film for Gungor, an incredibly talented band who have recently been nominated for a couple of Grammys.
How many people work for the company, and of those, how many work remotely?
We are 100% remote. Our business model is project-based, so our team changes in size depending on the number and types of projects we have in house. We went the contractor direction instead of hiring full-time employees for a number of reasons. Primarily, it allows the flexibility to resource the ideal skill sets for each project. Secondarily, hiring individuals who prefer working in a contract setting help us filter out the people who require micro-management — in other words, people who are not suited for a remote work system. The people we hire are used to managing their own time and workflow. We have around 10 team members that we work with on a regular basis.

The editing team works during the peace and quiet of a night shift, 10 p.m.-6 a.m.

Did you start out as a remote company?
We did, and I’d love to say that we had some great strategy behind that decision. In reality, it was made because we didn’t have the startup capital to pay for an office space. We strongly believe in the concept of bootstrapping, and have gotten off the ground without taking on any debt or external capital investment.
We’ve found that we have a great love for hosting face-to-face meetings in coffee shop or home office settings, and that our clients often love meeting in those settings as well. We recently conducted a major client review meeting on a film project in the living room of Andy Catarisano — our Co-Founder and Director of Film Production. We picked apart the final edits over homemade popcorn and cookies. I think our clients loved the experience as much as the final product. It was significantly more effective than presenting in a polished boardroom.
When we need a larger space we rent the tricked-out conference room of a local co-working establishment. Obviously there are occasions when the home office and local Starbucks won’t work, and we don’t pretend that our system will work for everyone. We’ve found a way that works for us to do business without a set physical space, and we aren’t in a hurry to change that.
What challenges did you face in setting up as a remote company?
One major challenge (for those of us that came from a traditional corporate environment) was overcoming the mentality of a 9-5 workday that had been engrained more deeply than we realized. For me personally, it has taken a very intentional effort to ask myself the right questions about my daily activities. I’ve had to learn to look at the day through the lens of, “What is the most high-impact use of my time?” As opposed to, “It’s 3 p.m. — I should be at my desk.”
U.S. work culture has conditioned employees to feel like they are fulfilling their duty to the company they work for by being in their seats for 8 hours in a day. In reality, those employees may or may not be producing anything of value. The amount of time spent at a desk is completely irrelevant to the value and quality of work, and that has been a tough lesson to learn.
What do you see as the major benefits of being a remote company?
The first major benefit is the effect it has on morale, and in turn, the increase in quality of work and dedication to the company. Here is one very practical example of this benefit: Commute time.

I’d love for someone to give me a reason that justifies not giving one of your staff 200 hours of their lives back each year in exchange for zero productivity loss.

Think about how ridiculous it is to demand that an employee sit in rush hour for an hour or more each morning and evening, just to be in by 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. How simple of a switch would it be to allow that team member to work from home until 10 a.m., then arrive at the office in 30 minutes or less with no traffic? That switch translates to well over 200 hours of time given back to that person every year to do as he or she pleases — to spend extra time with family, invest in a personal project, or just take some additional space for decompression.
I’d love for someone to give me a reason that justifies not giving one of your staff 200 hours of their lives back each year in exchange for zero productivity loss. An unwillingness to discuss these types of changes to a work schedule that provide such tangible benefits is just plain arrogance on the part of a management team.
A second huge benefit is the expansion of the talent pool that it provides for us. Instead of being limited to the labor pool within 100 miles of our location, we literally have worldwide talent at our fingertips. We regularly work with a film colorist that lives in Sydney, Australia. The quality of work that we received was vastly superior than anything within our immediate geographic area.
One really interesting thing about working with international teams is that you have almost 24 straight hours of productivity at your disposal. We’d do work in the U.S. on the project, meet briefly at the end of the day with our team member in Sydney before signing off, and then turn it over to him to continue the work. It’s an amazing experience to go to bed, get a great night’s sleep and wake up to a project that is further along than when you left it.
The other really major benefit for us is providing the freedom to tailor the work environment to the type of work being performed. An example of this that really stands out to me is on one of our recent projects, which was a feature-length film. Editing a 90-minute film together is one of the most incredibly detailed processes I’ve ever seen, and it requires a huge amount of focus and precision. We worked an amazing team of editors for this project — the kicker was that they preferred to do their editing nocturnally, from about 10 p.m. to 8 or 9 a.m. The world is quiet then — there are zero interruptions and that was their period of ultimate creativity and effectiveness. A remote work environment allowed us to say yes to that request, and the results were outstanding.
Any advice for other companies who are considering going remote?
The thing about remote work is that it magnifies existing dysfunction in the workplace. An organization with a highly functional team and a deep understanding of role clarity and how to work together in an effective manner is going to have a much easier time transitioning to a remote work structure. A dysfunctional team is going to have a much more difficult time making that leap, because the freedom of working remotely magnifies those inefficiencies.
A physical office space has long been used as a safety net for managers to push the the messes of their team dynamics under the rug as opposed to addressing them. Being able to walk down the hallway every 15 minutes to micromanage employees can (sometimes) cover up poor hiring decisions. It can compensate for a failure to plan. It can also provide a false sense of security for a manager who needs to micromanage to feel effective in their position. Working remotely immediately removes those safety nets and exposes the true functionality of a team. If you’re thinking about making the leap to a remote work environment, it’s important to ask these questions about your team and be very honest in your answers.
Visit It Collective.

Picked up a great lesson from the book Turn The Ship Around. David Marquet, the author and nuclear sub captain, says you can’t empower people by decree. While you might be able to ask someone to make a decision for themselves, that’s not true empowerment (or true leadership). Why? Because you’re still making the decision to ask them to make the decision. That means they can’t move, or think, or act without you. The way to empower people is by creating an environment where they naturally start making decisions for themselves. That’s true empowerment. Leaving space, creating trust, and having the full faith that someone else will rise to the challenge themselves.

Jason Fried on Dec 24 2013 4 comments

Big: Know Your Company grows up and moves out.

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 22 comments

Back in June we launched Know Your Company, a tool for helping company founders, owners, and CEOs get to know their companies again.

A few hundred one-on-one demos later, we’re about to hit our 100th paid customer.

Because of Know Your Company, thousands of employees have a louder voice, and a hundred company owners have bigger ears. Employees are sharing things they’ve never been asked about before, and owners are hearing things they’ve never heard before. New insights come weekly, and more feedback is flowing in both directions. Things are changing for the better at Know Your Company companies.

Back of the napkin financials

From the business side, in just six months, Know Your Company has booked $390,000 in revenue (and is profitable). The pricing model is $100 per-employee one-time (once you pay for someone you never pay for them again). The smallest customer has 16 employees, the largest has 105. As existing customers grow or replace employees, about 20 new employees are added to the system every week. Customer retention is holding strong at 99% (unfortunately we’ve had one cancellation).

Referrals are healthy too – we get a fair number of emails from CEOs who’ve heard of Know Your Company from existing Know Your Company customers. Even more promising, we’ve been hearing from CEOs who heard about Know Your Company from their employees!

Growing up

What started as a hunch, then launched as an internal experiment, before ultimately becoming commercial product, has blossomed into a thriving business.

In the spirit of continued experimentation, we’re about to take it up a notch and try something we’ve never done before: We’re spinning off Know Your Company into its own business.

In January 2014, Know Your Company the product will become Know Your Company the company, separate from 37signals.

Meet Claire Lew, the new CEO of Know Your Company

The new company will be co-owned by 37signals and Claire Lew. Claire will be the CEO and run all day-to-day operations. We’ll be on the sidelines purely as advisors, ready to help if called upon. If all goes well, Claire will ultimately own more of the company than 37signals will.

So who’s Claire? Claire’s someone we’ve had our eye on for a while. They don’t come much sharper (and nicer!) than Claire. In fact, we originally contemplated hiring Claire to run Know Your Company from the start, but things just didn’t come together.

Claire went off to start ClarityBox, a consulting practice aimed at helping owners understand what their employees really thought. You can watch her talk about it here:

ClarityBox’s mission was similar to Know Your Company. We obviously saw the same kinds problems out there and wanted to help solve them in similar ways.

So once it was clear that Know Your Company had legs, and that we wanted to spin it off into its own company, Claire was the natural match to run it.

I pitched her the idea and she was into it. We hammered out a deal and related details in a couple of weeks and signed the formal agreement yesterday. We’ll be transitioning the company and product over to Claire this month, and she’ll run it completely starting in January. I’ve heard some of her initial ideas so I’m excited to see where she takes it.

Know Your Company

So if you’re a founder, owner, or CEO of a company between 25 and 75 people, and you feel like you don’t know as much about your company as you used to, it’s time to get to Know Your Company again. Claire will show you how.

MicrosoftsDystopia.jpg

The silhouettes and imagined dystopia of work was bad. Images of real people prioritizing their Merchandise Update over their family on a Skype call is just fucking horrendous.

Customer Spotlight: Aardvark London

Emily Wilder
Emily Wilder wrote this on Discuss
Name: Christopher Johns
Title: Commercial Director
Company: Aardvark London
Established: 1996
Number of employees: 17
Basecamp customer since: 2004


Tell us a little about Aardvark — what kind of work do you do?
We’ve got two sides of the business. One is the digital agency where we design, build and support the digital experiences for clients. (See examples here.) The other sides is our eCRM platform called Nudge. That’s the back end, effectively, for all our client websites. It manages customer inquires, email marketing, customer communications and customer database and behavioral tracking as well.

Christopher Johns, Commercial Director of Aardvark

You’ve been using Basecamp for a long time, more than 9 years. Do you remember how you first found out about it?
There had been quite a lot of buzz … I think Mike Arrington of TechCrunch had written something about Basecamp. At that time, we were growing and looking for ways to manage our client expectations and their projects. It seemed like a no-brainer, an easy way for everyone to track what’s going on and get customer buy-in as well.
What kinds of problems were you having with managing client expectations?
In what we do, there’s a lot of going back and forth with clients, and various people within various positions. So you might be speaking to the digital marketing person, the head of operations, the head of marketing. Historically, you would have done things via email. You would have sent someone a concept or something, and said “What do you think of this concept?” You’d CC three people on that email, and have three people coming back with comments, some of which are conflicting. Then you start replying to those and indenting your comments on their original comments. Pretty soon, you know what it’s like; everything gets lost. The original sort of thrust, the momentum, of the project gets bogged down in trying to manage the communication between you and these disparate parties.
Clients may not be as technically proficient as you want them to be. My son is 12 and my youngest is three. The three-year-old is very, very capable of using my iPhone and my iPad and doing all of that, whereas my mother is not.
So your clients tend to be older or less technologically adept?
Some of them are, some of them aren’t. What they don’t want to do is have to learn a whole new thing just to work with us. Our job is to make their lives easier. If they have to go and learn a whole new thing in order to just communicate, you’re off to a bad start to the relationship.
Basecamp is very simple. They don’t have to go and log into anything; all they do is reply to an email, and post their comments. And being able to track all those comments coming through, from all of those disparate sources … you’ve got a nice clean audit trail so that if anybody questions it at a later date, you can say, “well, have a look at this. This is what you said on this date.”
Does that happen?
Yeah, it does. Not that frequently.
What kinds of projects have you managed with Basecamp?
We’ve just done a project for Transport for London, the authority that runs all the underground for London and the buses, Boris Bikes, and the river buses as well. We’ve just built a digital sign project for them — you’ll see signs all over London now with these maps on them that have real-time bus departure information overlaid, that’s localized to the location of the digital sign.
With digital signs for Transport for London, it’s about thousands of people all in one location, and how they’re all interacting with that information, and how that sign helps guide them to their chosen destination. So for example, you can’t use colors on a digital sign to indicate a particular stop, because people would be looking around them in the bus station looking for yellow, and that yellow doesn’t exist.

A sample of one of the digital bus timetables Aardvark created for Transport for London

In London, there are literally millions of people who use the buses every day. Millions of people need to know where to go, and digital signs are helping them in that process. It’s a very interesting user experience development process to try to communicate to people via digital signs that are in the real-world environment that have to show complex data and make it simple for all these people to find where they’re going.
What’s your work culture like?
We’re a collaborative culture; we’re a small team. Everyone brings something to the party, and it’s about the respect for what each individual brings to the party that gets the most out of every person working on the team. We’re not a personality-led business. People don’t come to us and say “I want to work with Aardvark because Chris is there.” They work with us because they see the output that we have as a team and they want that for themselves.
I understand you just moved into some new offices?
We are moving, but it’s been delayed. It takes between 60 and 90 days to get fiber installed. We’re moving closer to Transport for London and a couple of our other clients.
We’re changing how we work as well. We just instituted an opportunity for the staff, where they can go and work 25 days per annum from wherever they want to. We have one guy who spent two months earlier this year working out of Peru. If you want to work from home for one day, that’s fine. Basecamp is one of the systems we use that will enable that process to be more effective. At the moment I live in the city with my wife and children and dog, and we’re hoping to move out of London a bit to get a little more greenery. So it’s actually going to help me as well.
Why 25 days in particular?
It’s pretty much an experiment to start with; the 25 days is a pretty arbitrary figure at the moment. If everything goes well, if people like it and they’re motivated and they feel good about the whole thing, productivity is shown to be positive, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t do more.
Visit Aardvark.

Microsoft's dystopian pitch for remote work

David
David wrote this on 34 comments

Microsoft is launching a new marketing campaign for Office 365 that celebrates working during your kid’s recitals, on vacation, and while enjoying the appetizer at a restaurant. All this under the guise of “balance” between work and life. Yes, it’s horrible.

Remote work is still stifled by managers who think that it’ll lead to employees goofing off, but we’re not making any progress if they switch to Microsoft’s pitch for getting to all those TPS reports from the bathroom. In fact, we’ll be worse off. Much worse.

Remote work is not about working more hours in more places. It’s not about invading every crevasse of your life and stuffing it full of work, work, work. Au contraire, mon ami. It’s about spending the hours of work more productively, and then having more time free from its tentacles.

Good ideas are co-opted and perverted all the time. Remote work is not just a good idea, but a great one. For shame on Microsoft for cheerleading its most dystopian corruption. (And no, I don’t fucking want to edit that Excel spreadsheet during happy hour.)

Unapologetically cheap

David
David wrote this on 16 comments

The Nexus 5 is a fascinating phone. In an era where Apple has set the luxury tone, and everyone is trying to follow suit in colors and chamfered edges, Google just said no. No, it won’t be luxury. In fact, it’ll be unapologetically cheap.

That’s a refreshing breath of honesty, and a clever way to sidestep one of Apple’s core strengths. If Google doesn’t have to compete on bringing luxury to the masses, they can compete on other things.

What’s scary for Apple is just how well that strategy appears to work when the main interface of the device is just all glass. Because while the Nexus 5 comes in a cheap plastic wrapping, the screen itself is gorgeous. Big, bright, and appealing. It’s very clear that this is where the bulk of the $349 purchase price went. Well that and the fast processor.

What it comes down to is that Google has made an appliance. A boring, no-thrills appliance. This is not a work of art. But it doesn’t pretend to be a work of art. That’s what has made all the Apple imitations so pathetic for so long. Remember the HP Envy (and can you believe that HP has left that embarrassment of a video online)? If you stand in the shadow of Apple’s luxury and design prowess, you will shiver.

It takes real vision to reject the prevalent frame of the market. Google has done just that with the Nexus 5. An appliance so good for what it is, that you realize that luxury is optional.

Read sample chapters from REMOTE in Inc. Magazine

Emily Wilder
Emily Wilder wrote this on Discuss

In addition to Jason’s regular “Get Real” column in Inc., the magazine reprinted several chapters from REMOTE: Office Not Required. If you haven’t already read it or ordered your copy, they’re a great sneak preview!

Hey, Marissa Mayer, You’ve Got it Wrong: Telecommuting Isn’t A Bad Thing. It’s The Future
If you ask people where they go when they really need to get work done, very few will respond “the office.” If they do say the office, they’ll include a qualifier such as “super-early in the morning before anyone gets in,” or “I stay late at night after everyone’s left,” or “I sneak in on the weekend.”
Why Face-To-Face Meetings Are Overrated
How many breakthrough ideas can a company actually digest? Far fewer than you imagine. Most work is not coming up with The Next Big Thing. Rather, it’s improving the thing you already thought of six months — or six years — ago. It’s the work of work.
Working From Home Boosts The Quality Of The Work
When you can’t see someone all day long, the only thing you have to evaluate is the work. A lot of the petty evaluation stats just melt away. Criteria like “Was she here at 9?” or “Did she take too many breaks today?” or “Man, every time I walk by his desk he’s got Facebook up” aren’t even possible to tally.
How To Work With Clients You’ve Never Met Face To Face
It may be irrational but, if you’re local, the client often feels that, if worse comes to worst, they can knock on your door. They “know where you live.” But when you’re remote, they’re going to be more suspicious when phone calls go unreturned or emails keep getting “lost.”
The True Challenge of Managing Remote Workers: People Who Work Too Hard
A manager’s natural instinct is to worry that her workers aren’t getting enough work done. But the real threat is that they will wind up working too hard. And because the manager isn’t sitting across from her worker anymore, she can’t look in the person’s eyes and see burnout.
The Two Biggest Drags On Productivity: Meetings And Managers (Or, As We Call Them, M&Ms
These two staples of work life — meetings and managers — are actually the greatest causes of work not getting done at the office. In fact, the further away you are from both meetings and managers, the more work gets done. This is one of the key reasons we’re so enthusiastic about remote work.

Remote Works: Lincoln Loop

Emily Wilder
Emily Wilder wrote this on 1 comment
Name: Peter Baumgartner
Title: Founder
Company: Lincoln Loop
Established: 2007
Employees: 12, all remote

Peter Baumgartner

What does Lincoln Loop do?
Primarily web development, design, and consulting using the Django Web Framework. We’re also working on a couple of our own products. Ginger is actually geared towards improving communication for remote teams.
Did you start out as a remote company?
Yes. I started the company in Steamboat Springs, a small mountain town in Colorado. I was a ski bum/freelance developer who happened to stumble upon a good thing (Django). Pretty soon, business was booming and I needed help. The whole operation was bootstrapped so I didn’t have the budget to relocate people. Even if I could, I’m not sure I could entice them to be in the mountains and neck-deep in snow half the year. I wasn’t interested in moving to a “tech hub” and wanted to pull from a bigger talent pool than I had locally. Already being plugged into the open source world, working remote didn’t seem like a strange choice.
What challenges did you face in setting up as a remote company?
Like many others, I was enticed by cheap outsourcing arrangements. That was a nightmare and I quickly learned the value of having people you can trust implicitly on your side. After that, I was much more interested in cultivating a team of “managers of one” than attempting to micromanage a team of cheap outsourcers. Communication was rough at first, but we’ve got it pretty well dialed in now. It’s a combination of chat (IRC), voice/video (usually Hangouts), and asynchronous discussion (our own tool, Ginger).
What do you see as the major benefit of letting employees work offsite?
It puts them in control of their own lives. Autonomy is the number one indicator of happiness, and we can give them a lot of it. Interestingly, commuting has the exact opposite effect (lack of control and persistent source of unhappiness). We don’t lose people because they want to move, even if it’s to a different country.

Which would you rather have, a ping-pong table and a fridge full of sodas or the freedom to live anywhere in the world?

I’m living near the beach in Mexico now. Another one of our developers has lived in the Caribbean, France, and the Netherlands over the last few years. As far as job perks go, it’s huge in attracting new talent.

Part of the Lincoln Loop team at a 2010 company meetup in Portugal (left-right): Marco Louro (Portugal), Yann Malet (France), Nicolas Lara (Sweden), Martin Mahner (Germany)

Which would you rather have, a ping-pong table and a fridge full of sodas or the freedom to live anywhere in the world?
Any advice for other companies who are considering going remote?
Trust and communication are the key components. If you don’t trust your employees, you need to fix that first (and perhaps ask yourself why you are working with people you can’t trust). Communication can be tough for somebody who is used to having lots of verbal communication and meetings in a co-located environment. Sticking to those patterns is setting your remote workers up to fail. They’ll always be out of loop.
Nat Friedman has a great post titled Everyone Dials In, where he describes how even co-located workers in his office called into meetings to ensure everyone was on equal footing. I think that’s the frame of mind you need to be in. Push all your communications to platforms where remote workers have equal opportunity to participate and soak up information.
Visit Lincoln Loop.