Moving is never fun. It’s bad enough when it’s your stuff, but ten years of stuff at an office you only spent two years in can be daunting! I’m Navid, and part of my job at Basecamp the last two years has been taking care of our office in Chicago. As folks outside of Basecamp learned of our impending office closure, I began to get some questions. The most common being “what did you do with the stuff? What about mail and important documents?” Of course we had to work out some logistical puzzles to keep things running smoothly. Here’s how we used Basecamp and a new service to bid adieu to our office, to make my job remote, and to become a 100% remote company.
We didn’t close down our office because of COVID-19, though it certainly factored in the decision. Basecamp has always been remote. Remote is Basecamp. We wrote the book on it, literally. Our lease was due to expire, and it just didn’t seem worth it to keep it going at the new price. We’d outgrown it as a space for meetups, and it was always too big for the number of Basecampers that reside in Chicago. On a busy day there’d be six people working from the office.
On the other hand, having an office afforded us the standard ways of handling a lot of day-to-day business items. Mail, packages, meetings, storage. It was simple, easy, and the path that most of the world has taken. Losing the office and going 100% remote would take us further down a path less travelled.
Once we came to terms with leaving the office, I got to work on figuring out what to do to meet this goal. I won’t bore you with the minute details that are common to every move, you want to know what we are doing now. How we got to 100% remote. The biggest hurdles to jump were: 1. Primary business address (as most government agencies require a physical address), 2. How to handle the mail/packages, and 3. How to manage key document storage.
I looked at a few options for our business address and for mail/packages. When the pandemic started, we re-routed our mail to a PO Box near my home. This eliminated the need for me to take public transit or a ride-share to check the mail. The PO Box would’ve been a great long-term solution if it weren’t for two things. 1) We need a new business address, and 2) it still ties me to Chicago.
I also looked at a UPS Store Mailbox. UPS is a great service! You can use it as your business address and they receive your mail and packages, then forward it at your request to anywhere you want. The drag on this is that all the mail will be bundled and shipped, creating further delays in getting the items. So if there is any urgency, you’ll need to get to the mailbox yourself.
In the midst of all of this, someone from Earth Class Mail (ECM) reached out to David via Twitter. ECM, like UPS, offers a business address and they receive your mail and packages. The main, and biggest, difference is that they scan all of your mail for you to review online. If you need any originals, they ship it to you. They also deposit checks for you via overnight shipping to your bank.
Of course, I opted for ECM in the end. They tick all the boxes to make Basecamp 100% remote, and they meet needs we hadn’t considered, like the check deposits. In the first few weeks, I have only tested the mail scanning service, which is working great. I’m looking forward to seeing how mail/package forwarding and check deposits go.
Another question I’ve answered recently is how we handle document retention. I’m definitely not holding onto these items in my home. We use Basecamp! Not long after I started here I began saving digital copies of everything important to Basecamp. I save each document in Basecamp with a name, the amount, and any relevant notes. Keeping only digital copies of invoices, checks, and tax paperwork saves on office space, a luxury we no longer have, and more importantly the documents are secure, searchable, and accessible to anyone who needs them.
When I’m not sure, I check in with our accountants about anything we should keep hard copies of. If there is any chance we would need an original paper copy, we keep it. At the moment we don’t have a permanent solution for these instances (honestly, it isn’t much), so they are locked up in storage. The goal will be to eventually not need a storage space.
That covers how we are remote now! Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave a comment.
Back in the mid-90s, just as Netscape Navigator was giving us our first look at what the visual internet could be, web design came in two flavors.
There was the ultra basic stuff. Text on a page, maybe a masthead graphic of some sort. Nothing sophisticated. It often looked like traditional letterhead, or a printed newsletter, but now on the screen. Interactions were few, if any, but perhaps a couple links tied a nascent site together.
And there was the other extreme. Highly stylized, lots of textures, 3D-style buttons, page curls, aggressive shadows, monolithic graphics cut up with image maps to allow you to click on different parts of a single graphic, etc. This style was aped from interactive CD/DVD interfaces that came before it.
Both of these styles — the masthead with text, and the heavily graphical — were ports. Not adaptations, but ports. Designs ported from one medium to another. No one knew what to make of the web at that time, so we pulled over things we were familiar with and sunk them in place. At that time, Web design wasn’t web design – it was print design, multimedia/interactive design, and graphic design. It took years for native web design to come into its own.
The web became great when designers started designing for the web, not bringing other designs to the web.
Porting things between platforms is common, especially when the new thing is truly brand new (or trying to gain traction). As the Mac gained steam in the late 80s and early 90s, and Windows 3 came out in 1990, a large numbers of Windows/PC developers began to port their software to the Mac. They didn’t write Mac software, they ported Windows software. And you could tell – it was pretty shit. It was nice to have at a time when the Mac wasn’t widely developed, but, it was clearly ported.
When something’s ported, it’s obvious.
Stuff that’s ported lacks the native sensibilities of the receiving platform. It doesn’t celebrate the advantages, it only meets the lowest possible bar. Everyone knows it. Sometimes we’re simply glad to have it because it’s either that or nothing, but there’s rarely a ringing endorsement of something that’s so obviously moved from A to B without consideration for what makes B, B.
What we’re seeing today is history repeat itself. This time we’re not talking about porting software or technology, we’re talking about porting a way to work.
In-person office work is a platform. It has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some things are easier in person (meetings, if you’re into those), and some things are harder (getting a few hours to yourself so you can focus, if you’re into that).
Remote work is another platform. It has its own unique flavor, advantages, and disadvantages. Its own efficiencies, its own quirks, its own interface. Upsides, downsides, insides, and outsides. It’s as different from in-office work as the Mac is from Windows. Yes, they’re both operating systems, and methods of computing, but they’re miles apart where it matters. The same is true for the difference between in-office work and remote work. Yup, it’s all still the same work, but it’s a different way to work.
In-office and remote work are different platforms of work. And right now, what we’re seeing a lot of companies attempt to port local work methods to working remotely. Normally have four meetings a day in person? Then let’s have those same four meetings, with those same participants, over Zoom instead. It’s a way, but it’s the wrong way.
Simulating in-person office work remotely does both approaches a disservice.
This is often what happens when change is abrupt. We bring what we know from one to the other. We apply what we’re familiar with to the unfamiliar. But, in time, we recognize that doesn’t work.
The enlightened companies coming out of this pandemic will be the ones that figured out the right way to work remotely. They’ll have stopped trying to make remote look like local. They’ll have discovered that remote work means more autonomy, more trust, more uninterrupted stretches of time, smaller teams, more independent, concurrent work (and less dependent, sequenced work).
They won’t be the ones that just have their waste-of-time meetings online, they’ll be the ones that lay waste to the meetings. They won’t be the ones that depend on checking in on people constantly throughout the day, they’ll be the ones that give their employees time and space to do their best work. They won’t be the ones that can’t wait to pull everyone back to the office, they’ll be the ones that spot the advantages of optionality, and recognize a wonderful resilience in being able to work from anywhere.
And they’ll be the ones that finally realize that there’s nothing magical about the office. It’s just a space where work can happen, but not where it must happen. Anytime a myth is busted is a good time.
For many, moving from everyone’s-working-from-the-office to everyone’s-working-at-home isn’t so much a transition as it is a scramble. A very how the fuck? moment.
That’s natural. And people need time to figure it out. So if you’re in a leadership position, bake in time. You can’t expect people to hit the ground running when everything’s different. Yes, the scheduled show must go on, but for now it’s live TV and it’s running long. Everything else is bumped out.
This also isn’t a time to try to simulate the office. Working from home is not working from the office. Working remotely is not working locally. Don’t try to make one the other. If you have meetings all day at the office, don’t simply simulate those meetings via video. This is an opportunity not to have those meetings. Write it up instead, disseminate the information that way. Let people absorb it on their own time. Protect their time and attention. Improve the way you communicate.
Ultimately this major upheaval is an opportunity. This is a chance for your company, your teams, and individuals to learn a new skill. Working remotely is a skill. When this is all over, everyone should have a new skill.
Being able to do the same work in a different way is a skill. Being able to take two paths instead of one builds resiliency. Resiliency is a super power. Being more adaptable is valuable.
This is a chance for companies to become more resilient. To build freedom from worry. Freedom from worry that without an office, without those daily meetings, without all that face-to-face that the show can’t go on. Or that it can’t work as well. Get remote right, build this new resiliency, and not only can remote work work, it’ll prove to work better than the way you worked before.
In this livesteam, David and I answer audience questions about how to work remotely. At Basecamp we’ve been working remotely for nearly 20 years, so we have a lot of experience to share. This nearly 2-hour video goes into great detail on a wide variety of topics. Highly recommended if you’re trying to figure out how to work remotely.
People are always curious about work-from-home (WFH), remote working setups. So, I posted a Basecamp message asking our employees to share a photo of their home office, desk, table, whatever. Here’s what came in.
Virtual team building is tough. Here are 7 ways you can build social connections on a remote team, even from afar.
I’ll be shocked if you’re shocked: Building social connections on a remote team is the hardest part of managing a remote team. According to a survey we ran this past fall with 297 remote managers and employees, “fostering a sense of connection without a shared location” was seen as the #1 most difficult part of being a remote manager — and the #1 most difficult part of working remotely, in general.
It’s predictable. When you work in a co-located office, you walk by someone’s desk and give them a friendly hello, catching up about their weekend. You notice a coworker’s body language appears a little “down” so you ask if they want to grab coffee later. You share a joke over lunch with another colleague when you realize you both oddly adore the same brand of obscure New Zealand mints.
Those serendipitous moments of social connection don’t happen with the same frequency or fidelity when you’re working remotely. As a result, the sentiments of “Ah, we’re in this together” or “You’ve got my back” can be absent on a remote team unless you deliberately foster them.
In the latest episode of the Rework podcast, we place a long-distance phone call to Antarctica to chat with Kathrin Mallot, an astrophysicist who works at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole. In this episode, Kathrin talks about preparing for a work assignment in a super remote part of the world; practicing self-care during the punishing Antarctic winter; getting along with coworkers that you also live with in close quarters; frozen nose hairs, snacks, Internet access, and more!
If you’re thinking of going remote, here’s what successful remote leaders do…
Earlier this month, I spoke with a CEO who’s looking to transition her company to become remote in the upcoming year. I could tell she was hesitant — perhaps even nervous about it. She’d never run a remote company before.
She asked me:
“Claire, what do CEOs of remote companies have to do differently?”
“Do I need to shift some of my attitudes or behaviors?” she elaborated. “What do I need to do as a remote leader to make sure we’re as successful as when we were co-located?”
I had to pause and think about her questions for a minute.
Even though I’ve been a CEO of a remote company for the past almost four years, I’d never explicitly thought about the difference between what a remote CEO requires vs. what a co-located CEO requires. But when posed the question, I realized there are certain things I deliberately focus on as a remote leader. And, I’ve noticed other CEOs of remote companies focusing on similar things, too.
This isn’t to say that co-located CEOs are a world apart from remote CEOs — it’s just to say as a remote CEO, you cannot survive without doing certain things. You have to do things a little differently.
Based on what I personally strive to practice and what I’ve observed from other CEOs who lead remote companies, here are 8 things that remote leaders do differently…
Write it, don’t say it.
As a remote CEO, I spend 90% of my day writing. Sure, I’m writing blog posts, notes to prospects and customers etc… But I write a lot to our team. I’ll write up our strategy around business development, how we’re doing financially, or a new experiment we should try with marketing. I’ll riff on a new product concept or critique a customer service approach with a co-worker — all in writing. If we were a co-located company, most of this stuff would happen in the form of meetings or chatting someone up by their desk. Or maybe I’d pick up the phone if the person was on a different floor. But in a remote company? You write it out.
Jason and David, the co-founders of Basecamp, espouse this in their best-selling book, Remote. But being a good writer is not just an essential part of being a good remote worker — it’s required for being a good remote leader as well.
I’ve observed this firsthand in the way that Jason and David both lead Basecamp, as a company. I’m looped into their all-company Basecamp HQ Project, and I remember being floored when I first saw how Jason wrote up a new idea he was introducing. His written message was crystal clear, well thought-out, and succinct. In other companies, I imagine the same message might get communicated at an in-person meeting — more off-the-cuff, haphazardly, a little all over the place. Here, I saw the power of clear writing as a means to get everyone on the same page, articulate a complex thought, and not waste a bunch of people’s time. Great remote leaders understand this, and utilize writing as a tool.
Commit, don’t dip a toe in.
You can’t half-ass running a remote company. I’ve noticed this in watching other CEOs try to transition their company into becoming a remote company… They only let a select few people work remotely, or they don’t make writing things up a priority, or they don’t make what’s going on in the company accessible to their remote team members. That doesn’t cut it. The remote folks get treated like second-class citizens. Over at Help Scout (a Know Your Team customer, no less!), their CEO Nick Francis says exactly this when talking about their remote culture of 60+ employees world-wide:
“A friend and investor in our company, David Cancel, once told me that you have to choose remote culture or office culture and stick to it, because there is no in between… Trying to optimize for both will likely result in remote employees feeling like second-class citizens.” – Nick Francis, CEO of Help Scout
Similarly, Help Scout’s Head of People Ops Becca Van Nederynenshared that, “You can’t dip your toe into remote work, it requires 100% commitment.”
At Know Your Team, there’s no way we’d be successful as a remote company if it was just something we tried out part-of-the-time, or only allowed some employees to partake in. Someone, at some point, would have been left hanging. I’ve found being 100% committed to remote work from the get-go has been an advantageous choice to make as a CEO.
Respect the quiet.
Effective remote CEOs understand how quality work happens: People need quiet, uninterrupted time to get things done. That’s how people get into a state of “flow,” which is crucial to thinking creatively or building something from scratch. Remote CEOs recognize this, respect this, and encourage this. Paul Farnell, Co-Founder of Litmus (also a wonderful Know Your Team customer), embodied this when he wrote:
This sacred “quiet time” that remote work enables is possibly the biggest reason I personally love being at a remote company, myself. I can’t imagine Know Your Team being co-located and getting even half the amount of stuff we get done today. I attribute the uninterrupted periods of “quiet” time as to why we can be so small as a team (just 2 people!) supporting over 15,000 employees in 25 countries. As a remote CEO, you must embrace and respect the quiet.
Communicate well, communicate often.
Communicating as a remote CEO isn’t just about writing — it’s also about how well and how often you’re communicating. While communication is critical for CEOs who have co-located companies, the importance of communicating well is amplified in a remote company. As Jeff Robbins, founder of Lullabot (another fantastic Know Your Team customer), has said:
In other words, if you don’t say or explicitly communicate something as a remote CEO, your team has absolutely no idea what you’re thinking. Unlike co-located CEOs who might rely on small talk or one-off conversations to gage the pulse of an employee or relay an idea to, remote CEOs must be much more intentional about communicating.
Relatedly, communicating your company’s values becomes even more significant in a remote company. As a remote CEO, you can’t rely on your body language, tone of voice, or physical office relics to communicate values. You have to explicitly state them over, and over, and over. Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier has highlighted this, saying: “You really need to set the values of what your company is going to look like. The high-level things that you care about.”
This sometimes means over-communicating. In her research, Mandy Brown, co-founder and CEO of Editorially and an editor of STET, found that, “Perhaps the most persistent bit of advice I gathered — and in some ways the most counterintuitive — is the need for remote teams to over-communicate.”
As a remote CEO, I definitely default to over-communication. If I’m unsure of something, I ask questions about it. If I’m wondering if a team member understands what I mean, I share greater detail and context. This isn’t to belabor the point or to create extra work for myself or others. Rather, communication is the oil of the machine in a remote company. Without it, things simply won’t run.
Know exactly who to hire: Self-directed, highly-empathetic people.
Jason and David of Basecamp have famously talked about hiring “managers of one.” Other leaders of remote companies advocate for the importance of self-driven folks. Becca of Help Scout has made clear that remote leaders should hire people who are “are mature enough to work well without a ton of structure.” Jeff of Lullabot echoes this in saying, “We need people who capable of thinking about the big picture and self-managing to some extent.”
Here at Know Your Team, we not only seek out self-directed people when we hire — we look for folks with high degree of empathy. People who don’t take things personally, genuinely care about others, and have a deep, intrinsic desire to help. Wade of Zapier describes this necessary empathy well:
“We like folks who have a lot of empathy and are really good, just helpful people because you’re working in Slack and in text all day. You need to be able to empathize when maybe a sentence doesn’t come off quite right, or whatever, you’d be like, oh, I trust that they had good intentions here, this wasn’t meant to be, you know, harsh to me or whatever right. Those are important values that we have that lend themselves well to remote environments.” — Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier
While c0-located companies may value self-direction and empathy in new hires, at remote companies they are an absolute must. As a remote CEO, it’s imperative to discern for these two characteristics while hiring.
Trust your employees… for real.
As a remote CEO, I couldn’t operate day-to-day if I didn’t trust my employees. If someone goes out and runs to the grocery store in the middle of the day… so what? If someone takes the afternoon off to go watch their kid’s school play… so what? In fact, it’s great that they get to do those things, live their life, and get work done too. It doesn’t matter how many hours are being put into the work or when the work is being put in. All that matters are the results — and I trust our employees find a way to make the results happen.
Leon Barnard, a UX Designer and Writer at Balsamiq (another Know Your Team customer we are proud to serve), talked about how their CEO trusts their employees:
“Our founder and CEO, Peldi Guilizzoni, shows a lot of confidence and trust in us. I would guess that we all actually work more effectively than we did in previous jobs where the most important thing was “looking busy” for the boss… Being so distributed, we couldn’t function without valuing trust and autonomy. Peldi doesn’t micromanage. At this point he couldn’t, even if he wanted to.” — Leon Barnard, UX Designer and Writer at Balsamiq
Paul of Litmus put it succinctly: “Trust your team… Work only gets done when you allow people to make mistakes.”
Have a strong, hands-on onboarding process.
Remote CEOs readily acknowledge a key challenge when hiring folks who aren’t all in the same physical place: Getting up to speed as a new employee is key. This means giving new hires the exposure, resources and support they need to be successful. To do this, remote CEOs often focus on having a strong, hands-on onboarding process that’s often partially in-person. Wade of Zapier, explains how they onboard new hires:
“AirBnOnboarding, which when we hire folks within the first month, we actually do like to have them spend a week in person out here in the Bay Area. So we’ll rent an Airbnb, we’ll bring their manager out here, them out here and then spend a week working alongside them.” — Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier
At Help Scout, they give the new hire a buddy — or a new “work best friend” as they like to call it. You can read a wonderful in-depth write up of how they onboard folks here.
Find ways for people to interact who usually don’t interact.
Fostering a sense of connection across the company is a vital part of your role as a CEO — whether you are remote or not. There is literally no one else whose job it is in the company to unite people and ensure they feel they’re heading in the same direction. Doing this in a remote company is admittedly more challenging than in a co-located company where everyone is physically in the same place, bumping into each other, or at the very least, seeing each others’ faces.
Paul of Litmus emphasizes the importance of finding ways to “make time for socialization.” He describes at Litmus how “a few times a year, we have company get-togethers and smaller teams meet in-person more often. Week to week, we get Coworker Coffees, drink beers on Skype, and play video games online. And we invite local employees to the office every Thursday.”
Most remote companies host some sort of yearly or a few-times-a-year meet-up. At Know Your Team, we try to get together at least twice a year in-person. Balsamiq is known for their all-team retreats that focus getting everyone together to have a good time. In addition to in-person meet-ups, Buffer has helped people get to know each other through personality tests, and Help Scout organizes 15–30 minute coffee breaks between randomly assigned team members called Fikas.
Now, there are plenty of CEOs who are not remote that do many of the things above…which is great! However, when you’re a remote CEO, these 8 things become do-or-die. Don’t do them, and it’s likely your company won’t last as a remote one.
When you’re a remote CEO, you can’t afford to not be a good writer. You can’t afford to not know exactly who to hire. You can’t afford to not trust your employees.
If anything, being a remote leader tests you as a leader in all the right ways: It forces you to respect the quiet, uninterrupted periods of time, communicate well, and have a strong onboarding process in your company.
If you’re are considering the leap to become a remote company, keep these 8 things in mind as a leader. I know I’ll be sending this post over to the CEO who’s thinking about going remote, myself 😊
Spend a week with my team in sunny Austin, TX (while it’s -2ºF in Chicago).
Run an errand for a friend.
Walk my dogs.
Work with a friend.
Care for a sick child without taking a sick day myself.
After you’ve read all the books and articles about keeping on-task when working from home, setting up the perfect home office, avoiding loneliness, staying connected, sidestepping distractions, and avoiding interruptions I’d suggest one thing: embrace interruptions.
The attack on the US Capitol, and subsequent threats of violence surrounding the inauguration of the new US administration, has moved us to reflect and reacquaint ourselves with the reality that however good the maker’s intentions, technology can amplify the ability to cause great harm.
This includes us and our products at Basecamp. Therefore, we feel an ethical obligation to counter such harm. Both in terms of dealing with instances where Basecamp is used (and abused) to further such harm, and to state unequivocally that Basecamp is not a safe haven for people who wish to commit such harm.
Violence, or threats thereof: If an activity qualifies as violent crime in the United States or where you live, you may not use Basecamp products to plan, perpetrate, incite, or threaten that activity.
Doxing: If you are using Basecamp products to share other peoples’ private personal information for the purposes of harassment, we don’t want anything to do with you.
Child exploitation, sexualization, or abuse: We don’t tolerate any activities that create, disseminate, or otherwise cause child abuse.
Malware or spyware: Code for good, not evil. If you are using our products to make or distribute anything that qualifies as malware or spyware — including remote user surveillance — begone.
Phishing or otherwise attempting fraud: It is not okay to lie about who you are or who you affiliate with to steal from, extort, or otherwise harm others.
Any reports of violations of these highlighted restrictions, or any of the other restrictions present in our terms, will result in an investigation. This investigation will have:
Human oversight: Our internal abuse oversight committee includes our executives, David and Jason, and representatives from multiple departments across the company. On rare occasions for particularly sensitive situations, or if legally required, we may also seek counsel from external experts.
Balanced responsibilities: We have an obligation to protect the privacy and safety of both our customers, and the people reporting issues to us. We do our best to balance those responsibilities throughout the process.
Focus on evidence: We base our decisions on the evidence available to us: what we see and hear account users say and do. We document what we observe, and ask whether that evidence points to a restricted use.
While some violations are flatly obvious, others are subjective, nuanced, and difficult to adjudicate. We give each case adequate time and attention, commensurate with the violation, criticality, and severity of the charge.
If you’re aware of any Basecamp product (Basecamp, HEY, Backpack, Highrise, Ta-da List, Campfire) being used for something that would violate our Use Restrictions Policy, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we will investigate. If you’re not 100% sure, report it anyway.
Someone on our team will respond within one business day to let you know we’ve begun our investigation. We will also let you know the outcome of our investigation (unless you ask us not to, or we’re not allowed to under law).
While our use restrictions are comprehensive, they can’t be exhaustive — it’s possible an offense could defy categorization, present for the first time, or illuminate a moral quandary we hadn’t yet considered. That said, we hope the overarching spirit is clear: Basecamp is not to be harnessed for harm, whether mental, physical, personal or civic. Different points of view — philosophical, religious, and political — are welcome, but ideologies like white nationalism, or hate-fueled movements anchored by oppression, violence, abuse, extermination, or domination of one group over another, will not be accepted here.
If you, or the activity in your account, is ultimately found in violation of these restrictions, your account may be closed. A permanent ban from our services may also result. Further, as a small, privately owned independent business that puts our values and conscience ahead of growth at all costs, we reserve the right to deny service to anyone we ultimately feel uncomfortable doing business with.