UP THERE, EVERYWHERE, which was established in 2011, is a Swedish cloud based agency with over 200 people globally, the vast majority of whom work remotely. The company has always encouraged its people not to come to the office but to work where they feel they work best.
The founder and CEO Julian Stubbs is British, but lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Here he offers some advice for those considering remote working now the coronavirus has hit.
All of us have in some way have already been affected by the coronavirus. It's a global event, making us re-think the way we live and work.
It's a big wake up call. The world really needs to reconsider how it works – how it goes to work everyday. It’s one of the reasons we created UP THERE, EVERYWHERE.
At UP we don’t have traditional offices. We have what we call Creative Spaces, shared co-working facilities that we take a number of studios or desks within. We brand the space and use it primarily when we have client or internal meetings, or when we really want to hang with colleagues. It all means we don’t have to go to an office. We go when we want or need to.
We now have these Creative Spaces in Stockholm, Uppsala, Hamburg, Amsterdam, London, Guildford, New York and next up will be San Francisco. More than 80% of our work at UP is done with closely linked globally distributed teams, often working remotely and linked with the best and most secure cloud based tools and processes for working collaboratively. We’ve spent the last ten years developing this approach to make it work, and work really well – so we know a thing or two about it. Having worked in a number of traditional agencies, I would argue our productivity is 100% higher than any agency I have ever come across. So the benefits are considerable.
So what advice can we offer on working remotely and managing globally distributed teams?
- Get the right cloud based tech. There are a host of great cloud based tools out there today, so you have to decide what sort of tools you are after, and fit your individual needs. For us this falls into three general categories; communications tools, project management tools, and sharing / storage tools. Some of the platforms we have used are Skype, ZOOM, Go To Meeting, WebEx, Google Hang outs, Facetime, Slack, Basecamp, Asana, Drop Box, BOX, HelloSign, Docusign. We’ve now focused down on to a few of these based on our experience and preferences. You need to find a platform that works for you and fits with whatever IT and security protocols you have in place.
- Stop being paranoid. There is still too much of a stigma around people who work remotely. This is the twenty-first century. We have far more productive ways of working today than we did even ten years ago. Embrace it and measure productivity in other ways - especially if you’re the boss. Don’t measure time spent in an office or at a desk as productivity - it generally isn’t - but measure delivery. Too many people are still geared to measuring people by 19th century standards of clocking into an office and having a boss watching over your shoulder. Welcome to the twenty-first century.
- Make remote meetings much more productive. We hold a weekly Leadership call with twelve people from eight locations and three time zones. We make it a strictly one hour meeting. We have found the trick is to pre-distribute agendas and support notes - on our cloud based project management system -and then nominate a moderator who has great time keeping skills and is firm on moving on when needed. Then distribute notes and actions afterwards.
- Working from home. If you like to work from home find a space in the home which is your workspace. Let people know when you are there you are in work-mode. I’ve actually put our own UP logotype posters on the wall behind me so when I video conference people can see I’m at work plus it’s a strong reminder to me personally when I sit there I know ‘I’m at work.
- Take breaks. The temptation can be to sit there and work for eight to ten hours straight. Grab a coffee, walk the dog etc. For me my natural cycle is I get bored after 45 minutes of doing anything, so a break helps me get back into focused work mode again. I also turn off social media and only check mail at certain points in the day. Otherwise the temptation is to watch the mail box fill up and respond immediately. You don’t need to, it’s a guilt trip, it proves nothing. Set aside a few specific times during the day for dealing with mail (plus use messaging tools like Slack - it has reduced my mail usage by 50%).
- But do get together. It really helps with remote teams to get them together for physical meet ups as we all work better with people we know and have met. Last year we had a global Meet UP in Palma, Mallorca, for over sixty of our team. The prime objective? Just to let people meet. Get to know each other. We discussed a few work topics as well, but simply by meeting we’d achieved the biggest objective. You will need to invest in these sorts of things to run successful remotely distributed teams.
- Allow people the freedom to work when they work best - provided they deliver. You have to find your own working pattern when working remotely. My own working day is built around my life. I’m an early bird, and like to be up well before 6am most days. I have a cup of tea, sit down with an old fashioned pad a pen and plan my day out so I know what to prepare for. Then walk the dog (priority) listen to the news as I’m doing that (in my case I listen to the BBC Radio 4 streaming service from the UK), get back, check mails for the first time and catch up on overnight activities outside Sweden then get into my first work session around 9am. When we do go to our Creative Spaces or offices we have very specific reasons. Internal brain storming meeting or to meet clients. Also work from other places than home. If the work is not super sensitive and confidential I enjoy doing my thinking work in a coffee shop or at an exhibition or museum. I typically take a note pad and pen and normally I’m more creative in such environments.
- Computer vs Tablet. This is an interesting one and something that’s only just come up. I have a good friend, Johan, who sees work being when he uses his laptop and leisure time as being when he switches to his tablet. I like the distinction between these two modes mentally, it’s a good idea to create these mental boundaries.
- Ditch the jim jams. Do not sit there in your jim jams (pyjamas) all day. Mentally, and as importantly socially, it’s not a good idea. Some people go to the extent of wearing specific clothes when they are in work mode and working from home. Again, it’s a way of making a mental distinction between work mode and off duty mode. I personally don’t do that but the important thing about working remotely is do the things that help you to succeed at it.
- It's about time. Make a decision about when the working day starts and ends. This can be critical as working remotely with all the right tools, you can just be drawn into the trap of working around the clock. Again, set distinct boundaries around your work day and know when it’s time to switch off. You also don’t have to work in one block of nine to five. I work in several smaller blocks during the day with the last block finishing around eight PM and then I check mails around ten PM. I tend to do all the cooking for my family as well, as I enjoy it, as it also allows me to switch off mentally when I’m cooking. It gives me a break. Then I go back to work for a short while and have a final mail check for catching up with the US.
The big benefit of remote working? We have found our productivity rate is far higher than any other agency we have ever met. That’s the big bonus. The other great thing is you can create your own best work conditions. Take music. I love listening to music all day when I’m working. Again it’s a personal choice thing, so when I’m in heavy work mode I listen to some classical piano or jazz, and when I’m in creative mode rock and pop. Just been playing bit of Debussy, Clair de Lune - lovely! That wouldn’t normally be allowed in a traditional office.
So, when events such as the coronavirus hit, the remote working model we use really comes into its own.
Many companies will now be scrambling to figure out how their people can work remotely, to try and help contain the spread of the virus. For most it will be a temporary thing.
At UP it’s the way we work best and we’ve been doing it for years. Helping to change the way the world works. Good luck.