Today we introduce a new miniseries: “Remote Works,” a collection of short interviews with folks at companies who made the switch from office to remote work. If you’d like to share your story, get in touch.
Name: Abhishek Rai
Company: Shack Co.
Based in: New Delhi, India
Employees: 7 (4 local; 3 remote)
What does Shack do?
We build and maintain community knowledge tools. We just launched Beanbuffs, a community of coffee lovers focussing on coffee, music and food. We also run a knowledge games platform called KnowQout.
Why did you make the transition to remote work?
We didn’t start out as a remote company — in fact, we started based out of New Delhi, in the northern part of the country. Then last year we transitioned from a web services company to a product and content company.
One of the inspirations (to transition to remote work) was Getting Real and Rework. 37signals has been a huge inspiration for us. Another was Bo Burlingham’s Small Giants: Companies That Choose To Be Great Instead of Big. A few of my favorites from the list are Clif Bar & Co., Union Square Hospitality Group, Zingerman’s and Anchor Brewing.
When we first thought of developing a tool for ourselves, we hired a consultant who worked on the tool for nearly a year. What we got in the end was a disjointed software which had all the features in the world, but it was useless. I spent time reading and soul searching and came to the conclusion that it’s only us who can develop a tool for ourselves, not a consultant. This is when remote working as a concept helped me. I managed to get the right people to work with.
Did the transition to remote work coincide with your transition from web services to products and content?
We decided we’ll build our own product, and I started looking for designers and writers for the platform, and we could not find them here. We found someone who was located in western India, and someone who was based in the southern part of the country. We met them; we liked what they were doing. But we were scared because we’d never worked like that before. We just gave it a try, and somehow it worked for us.
Why were you scared?
The kind of work I’ve been doing, I always supervised people. They used to sit in the same place. We used to hold morning scrum meetings where I would assign tasks to everyone, and they would report back to me in the evening with the end of the day report. You had to sit and show that you’re working. I also believed that if you’re not sitting there, staring at your screen, then you’re not working. If I hired someone somewhere else, I don’t know if that guy is texting throughout the day or spending time on Facebook. Most of the bigger companies in India block Facebook; they block Twitter. I’m against that; I’ve never done it, but I did have this fear that if people are not in front of my eyes that they’re not working.
So that was one big reason, because I was used to supervising. But I had to give that up, and I’m very happy that I don’t have to supervise; it just worked. I don’t care if they’re watching movies, if they’re listening to music, if they’re going out — as long as they get my work done I’m very happy.
What do you see as the major benefits of being a remote company, and of letting employees work offsite?
Number one is less supervision — things are set out very clearly. You have to say things so clearly that others understand it and finish the job. Everyone knows what needs to be done when.
Number two is the availability of professionals. Now the world is open to me. There is a very interesting agency in London called Rule of Three, and they write very interesting copy. So I approached them; I would like to work with them. Earlier I was not willing to do that. That’s the flexibility I have now.
Number three: Things get done on time.
Any advice for other companies who are considering going remote?
They must — it’s as simple as that! They should. That’s the way forward, as long as you have connectivity, which is still an issue in smaller cities in India. For a country like us, it will take a lot more time. Nearly 60 percent of our population have mobile phones in their hands, but not even 10 percent have broadband connection in their homes. For something like this, you need broadband connectivity. Phones are very cheap, but connectivity is very costly in India right now and that’s something that needs to change.
Visit Shack Co.
Timon 07 Oct 13
Pretty awesome to see a company outside of the US talking about the issues we all experience.
The web has opened up a determination, in which no matter where you are at, you can learn a skill and find someone who needs it.
Thank you Abhishek Rai for talking about your company and change. I hope you continue to grow and evolve and give us the chance to learn about your success and failures. Hope you continue to be open to geography and people, it’ll serve you in the end.
Chadon 08 Oct 13
I find it interesting how few comments any of these blog posts get on the topic of company spotlight on remote working.
It must not interest anyone. Or at least, it doesn’t to me and frankly 37svn has jumped the shark long ago (as seen by the low engagement on all posts lately).
Garrett Hunkelon 08 Oct 13
GeeIWonderon 08 Oct 13
@Chad They’re soliciting (paying in-kind for, really) anecdotes to help promote their new book, which is fair enough. Not really worth a whole lot of engagement though.
kejalon 08 Oct 13
thanks Emily and Abhishek. I have a similar (or even more challenging) situation for my product – spoorr.me. I’m based in Amsterdam. 2 of my team members are in Ahmedabad, Gujarat (West of India) and one is in New Delhi (North India). We all work when we can and want – the work does get done.
In India, though, connectivity is a definite problem. I’m looking for ideas on how to collaborate more effectively using tools. any ideas?
Olli Mon 08 Oct 13
“We used to hold morning scrum meetings where I would assign tasks to everyone”
If you are assigning tasks to everyone , you are in fact not having a scrum meeting. I big part of scrum is self-organisation, people should pick tasks for themselves and agree among the team on who does what.
Sounds like getting rid of the c & c mindset is a happy side benefit of remote work in this case.
Abhishek Raion 08 Oct 13
@tim thanks a lot for your wishes. I feel I am just starting and it’s my endeavour to do some great work along the journey.
@kejal From what I have learned till now, it is important to find the worthy cause to devote your time and effort. In my case it was the necessity of documenting or cataloging the research and mapping it with the decisions taken on its behalf. Since there was no tool available, we had to build one for ourselves and it made sense to look around for suitable people who could build it for our use after a setback. Issues like connectivity can be overcome in the cities these days.
@olli M you are right about scrum. Also, Remote Working is not a magic pill which will solve all the problems. I learnt my lessons hard way, of picking the right team members, stating out the objectives clearly and honestly solving the problems. The fundamentals of efficient and smart work ethics won’t change irrespective of the medium.
johnpeeteron 09 Oct 13
wonderful to see a company outside of the US talking about the issues we all experience person,web development company
shaEinaon 09 Oct 13
I’d have to agree with you, Abhishek. One huge advantage outsourcing is giving small business is the chance to hire an awesome employee with lower cost. Large companies like Google and Apple can afford to hire great talents in Silicon Valley or can afford to pay the salaries and benefits to attract these kinds of candidates. Most companies can’t compete with these giants, especially if your company is in a competitive location such as Bay area in the US. If you know how to manage your remote team the right way, then I think you’d be able to work with them effectively like Abhishek. If it’s okay, I would also like to share a blog post explaining the benefits of hiring and offering remote work. http://www.staff.com/blog/is-your-company-crazy-not-to-offer-remote-work/ Because it’s important for us to be open-minded and be able to adapt to change. :)
This discussion is closed.