At Tighten, we run a completely distributed shop—we live and work remotely from two countries, six states, and seven different cities. It’s great! But as great as we think it is, the concept of remote working often prompts all sorts of oddball ideas from our friends and family. When folks hear we are remote workers, we get plenty of colorful reactions:
Some people see remote working as an abysmal, productivity-sucking pit: "That’s crazy—I’d never be able to do that. I’d play Xbox all day in my underwear and get fired.”
Other folks seem to think that we just hang out and call it "work": “Do you just do laundry all day? And wear sweatpants to meetings? OMG I want to wear sweatpants to meetings.”
And there’s those who see a fuzzy lack of boundaries just waiting to enslave you to work all the time: “That sucks, you must work all the time. I can’t do that. I need a good work/life balance.”
Now, to be fair, it’s sometimes fun to perpetuate remote working myths (I’m looking at you, @SamanthaGeitz) — particularly when it makes our friends a little jealous.
To us, these perceptions don’t ring true. (Except sweatpants. Sweatpants ftw 👌.)
Sure, you might play Xbox for an hour, or get carried away and play for three. But it doesn't take long to realize that your work suffers because of it (duh), and if you don’t deliver, it shows.
Anyhoo, who has enough laundry to do all day, every day, anyway? 😒
We keep office hours, meet together, chat, laugh, joke, and do great work. We're proud to interact and engage with great clients, and we like collaborating to find great solutions for complicated problems. As we like to say around here, We’re just trying to do a good job.
Working remotely opens up lots of opportunities. At Tighten, it affords each employee more opportunities to live a holistically-good life with those around us.
The work/life balance issue is a fair concern. But our Santa-bosses (Dan and Matt) believe that once you've established healthy boundaries and have set clear expectations, you’re set up to do good work and be good people.
It's true—remote workers risk getting sucked into being always on, always around, and always working, but we also know it might not be the greatest long-term plan for your company or personal well-being.
We think healthy workers require healthy boundaries, and we set those for ourselves. We generally work a forty-hour work week, and try to stick to those hours as much as possible.
So what happens when you combine healthy boundaries with geographic flexibility and a variable schedule?
30-90 minutes of life. Per day. Refunded to you. Straight. Up. There's less “omigod I’m stuck in traffic and am gonna be late for my 9 am meeting”, and more time to do other stuff (like make that long island iced tea 🍹). And that doesn’t even account for the various physical and mental health risks long commutes have been associated with.
We have flexibility to set up in a co-working space, or at home, and tailor our workspace however we like. And since we’re not always physically around a bunch of people, it’s easy for our environment to remain undistracted.
Returning to the whole play-Xbox-all-day-thing—if you’re a mature human being and a dedicated worker, you learn how to set personal guidelines which stop you from doing chores all the time. (Getting behind in a project will help you learn that. 😱 )
There's no problem with hopping in and out for a quick errand (or nap) if we need it. Life’s filled with little things like that, and we're free to take care of things so long as they don’t impede our work. We’ve got some young parents at Tighten, and their spouses are glad to have more flexibility for dealing with the kiddos, too.
Since we’re used to working across time zones, there's more control over when we want to work and when we don’t. As long as you coordinate your schedule with your project teammates, you can roll in a little later if you're not programmed to be a morning person, or you can start early if that suits you.
This kinda seems like a small one, but we like 🍖 🍜 🍢 🍳, and working remotely lets us do this way more easily. Guess what? You should probably take a break during your day anyway. Whether it's throwing something into the slow cooker, or spending 15 minutes prepping dinner, our friends and family are happier for it. 😉
Remote working allows us to explore more of the world. We can visit friends or family in other cities, without burning through vacation time. Or we can take a week-long trip to a new place, and work from there for a few days! The possibilities are only limited by the availability of stable internet access. We have one developer who is more likely to be working from a friend's couch in some new city than he is his own house.
Remote work can be run two ways. Our managers could micro-manage and monitor us all the time. Or, they can choose to give us guidelines, space to ask for help when needed, and let the work speak for itself.
At Tighten we prefer having positive expectations and giving folks resources to do the best they can do, rather than suspecting everyone of trying to get as little work done as possible. In return, we’ve found each employee feels trusted, and enjoys working more.
We're sure there’s more, but those are a few standout perks.
Of course, like everything else, remote working has its downsides. The biggest thing we miss is…
wait for it...
Lack of in-person interaction with coworkers. 😶
Okay, it’s kinda an obvious one. But furreal. This is the biggest cost we’ve felt as a team. Almost everyone who’s worked in a brick-and-mortar office has encountered some loss of physicality when switching to working remotely.
Whether it's being able to wander into a coworker’s space and get some feedback, or collaborating on something you don’t usually work on, or grabbing a beer after work, or even just sitting with a person in the same space–working remotely feels different, and it can be lonely.
We've had to work harder at communicating clearly, too. The absence of body language and facial expressions can leave plenty of space for false assumptions or miscommunications. We think this has forced us to learn to communicate better, but the initial learning curve can be steep.
Working remotely can also make it difficult to build a sense of “team”. Trusting interpersonal relationships don’t build themselves, and they involve more intangibles than just being on a video call or talking to each other when pair-programming.
At Tighten, we’ve sought to address these downsides. We use Slack as our virtual office, host TGIF virtual happy hours, create space and time to collaborate on pet projects, and run an annual (soon to be biannual!), IN-REAL-LIFE company onsite retreat... but it definitely hasn’t been easy at times.
(Stay tuned for a post on what we've learned and gained from said company onsite retreat.)
There’s probably not really a single “best” way to run an office, whether it’s IRL or remote (though there are certainly terrible ways to run an office), and the whole "good work/life boundaries" thing is something an IRL team can still struggle with. But for us, with our distributed workplace, we’ve found a whole host of great things about it, and we’ve all learned something from the challenging aspects of remote work.
We’re better at engaging our clients and embedding ourselves in their teams, because working remotely has helped us foster strong organizational, communication, and “team” cultivation skills. Since our clients are largely remote, too, these skills have been great assets for Tighten.
We love the perks and freedom we’ve gotten from working in a completely-remote company. We’ve gained back time that would otherwise be lost to commuting, learned how to set good boundaries and to maintain focus, found the freedom to blend our “life” into our work, and so much more.
In a world where the standard work week just keeps getting longer–a world where it seems people have less time for “life”–this remote working thing gives us space to rest and enjoy life, so we can also be fully present and productive at work. We daresay we’re happier people for it.
Special thanks to Adam, Benson, Chelsea, Dave, Jamison, Keith, and Sam for contributing. 😄