CookiesHQ pride ourselves on being an accommodating team. We’ve already touched on how our asynchronous standups allow everyone to be pretty flexible with their working hours. But from the start, we’ve always been passionate about our willingness to let everyone work from wherever they feel productive, and more importantly, happy.

Remote by default… with an office

The term ‘remote team’ probably conjures up images of numerous employees working across the globe, all within different timezones. Although this is true for 1/6 of our team, we don’t force the office environment upon those located in Bristol either. It’s there if they need it, but it’s certainly not required. Because of this, all of the team like to indulge in some form of remote working from time to time.

We have a huge amount of passion and enthusiasm for what we do, and we put in the hard work too. Having an environment that encourages this and keeps us motivated and productive is essential. Sometimes, this could be the office. On other days, a coffee shop, or a library.

Taking location out of the equation when hiring people also means we can get the absolute best person for the job – not just one who is willing to live in Bristol. This is why, when Rob told us he’d be moving halfway across the UK, there was no mad panic, but joy and congratulations.

Before Cookies, remote working was a bit of a foreign concept to me. Although the idea was far-fetched at the time (“So you’re saying I don’t even have to get dressed..?”), I was willing to give it a shot. Here are some thoughts and experiences and why it works so well for us.

The Good

Change of scenery

Possibly the best part of remote working, is not having to be at the same desk, looking at the same screen, surrounded by the same people, every single day. The monontony and repitious nature of an office environment is detrimental for morale and always leaves me feeling a bit down.

Office environment

Having the freedom to choose a new place to work from each day keeps the excitement alive. With a new location comes new thoughts, ideas and solutions. As long as there’s a decent internet connection and a comfy seat, there are endless possibilities of places that could be my new desk for the day.

Once I was past the initial ‘oh-my-god-everyone’s-looking-at-me’ feeling I had when working from a cafe for the first time, it’s really quite enjoyable. I’ve even become friends with the local Watershed barista who already has my usual morning order memorised. Large ~~white wine~~ black coffee, please!

Eliminating the dreaded commute

Thanks to a very tactical flat relocation, it only takes me a 10 minute walk to get to the office every morning. That’s not to say that I haven’t endured years of long commuting hell in the past. I have, and it was absolutely my biggest source of stress at the time, not to mention the time wasted.

Although the fresh air and exercise was an added bonus, the commute took over an hour each way. That’s a total of 10 hours a week, 480 per year, which I could have put to better use – like catching up with friends, or learning a new skill / language (or perhaps, more realistically, sourcing my next Netflix binge).

Commuting is hell

Having the choice of working closer to home if needed is fantastic. The commute time can be cut down substantially (to nothing if working from bed). Plus, there’s also the added benefit of doing a bit for the Earth and reducing your carbon footprint, if the car is your usual source of transport.

The Not So Good

No more office luxuries

The office fruit bowl, biscuit tin, fridge and cupboard isn’t around for me to indulge in, if I’m working away from the office.

The plus side is that I can’t gorge on treats all day, but I’ve certainly found myself spending more money on the perks that are usually up for grabs in the office.

Endless coffee

While working from home, this is not necessarily an issue. However, if you’re partial to working from that really nice place by the water that serves that champagne breakfast you really can’t get enough of, it can certainly cost you a pretty penny. Champagne aside, as someone who needs a cup of coffee (or five) to get through the day, I try to restrict my caffeine habits as the costs can quickly add up.

The work / life balance

“The remote worker’s greatest challenge might be herself/himself.”- Janet Choi, Customer.io.

Working remotely can easily become either your best friend or your worst enemy. You’ll have to quickly establish a fair amount of willpower to create good and healthy habits for when you don’t have the constraints of an office space around you. Otherwise, it could quickly turn into a downward spiral where you find yourself unable to disconnect from work while at home.

When working from my flat, it’s a tough balancing act between work and life. I’ve often found myself staying later than usual, just to finish off that ‘one last thing’, and it takes a lot of self discipline to prevent these lines from being blurred. However, as long as you’re proactive about setting and sticking to these boundaries, your home will remain a place for socialising, relaxation and fun.

Isolation

As someone who enjoys being around people, I love communication and talking about anything and everything. So when working from home with only the neighbour’s cat for company, there are times when it has become a bit lonesome.

Lonely Milhouse

It’s a fact; human interaction is essential for a sane, normal life. This is why it’s important to mix it up a little to prevent being isolated for days at a time. I’ve struck a nice balance by spending my morning in a coffee shop, and the afternoon at home for some self-reflection and quiet time.

How we do remote working & why it works for us

Having Julio almost 1,000 miles away in Seville, and with Rob now living up North, it’s essential we have a process in place that works for everyone; whether they choose to work from the office, can’t, or just don’t want to.

In order to prevent total anarchy, there are a few core principles we ask everyone to respect when working outside of our Bristol office.

Communication

Yes, it’s cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Communication is key and when it comes to working within a remote team, it’s vital.

Everyone’s idea of communication can vary wildly, which is why we ensure the team is on the same page from the very beginning, whether they’re working remotely or not. We have a number of tools to encourage this communication.

Hipchat is great for the day-to-day “hello’s”, instant messaging and cat gif sending. In a sense, this real-time chat is much more interactive and it feels like you’re actually having a real, human conversation with someone. It’s also useful for providing regular team updates and asking quick questions.

We also use appear.in for weekly video calls so we don’t forget each other’s faces. This and Skype is also useful for conferencing and client meeting if we are all in separate locations for the day.

A team that can’t communicate effectively will never work remotely. It’s that simple. Thankfully, everyone at Cookies has pretty awesome communication skills.

Coordination

At times, coordinating remote workers can feel like spinning plates while blindfolded. The ideal scenario has everyone working in perfect harmony, but the reality can be far from that. Without coordination, people often become lost and unaware what everyone else in the team is doing.

Juggling fail

To alleviate this issue, we make sure to all meet virtually on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons for a planning and retrospective session. We also employ asynchronous standups whereby each person plans his / her day and lets the rest of the team know what their day looks like. Once we had this process in place, remote working became a breeze.

Culture

The tools we use do well in helping us stay in touch with each other, but it’s important to really make an extra effort with full-time remote workers. Both Julio and Rob are the two who are most at risk of feeling left out and disconnected from the company as they can’t make their way into the office as easily as the Bristol team.

This is why we aim to get the whole team together as much as possible. Cheesy as it sounds, team-building in person as a remote team encourages us to build strong relationships, improve company morale and prove we’re human (cue ‘online nobody knows you’re a dog’ meme).

Closing thoughts

We do remote working because it’s all about setting the team free to be the best they can be, wherever that is.

Although I was sceptical at first, it’s really not as scary as it may sound.

We’ve shown that embracing remote work doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have an office, it’s just that one isn’t required. You also don’t have to immerse yourself in the digital nomad world completely, but taking a break from your familiar surroundings can make a nice change from time to time. And who knows, you may find yourself working better and feeling happier for embracing the remote working lifestyle occassionally.

Image credit to Lius Llerena on StockSnap.io