Start Making Something

Illustration by Mike Rohde

New year, new you! If you started 2018 with an idea for a product, business, or creative pursuit, now is the time to start making something. In this episode: A tabletop game designer finds that sometimes, all you need to get going is a pack of index cards and a pencil; a skincare blogger tries her hand at DIY and ends up with a cult hit; and a travel backpack company’s first attempt at making something goes comically awry.

What living and working from a hotel for 3 weeks has taught me

Coworking has it’s perks! Cats!

For the last month I’ve been a nomad — working a remote job, for a remote based company, in a very remote way. Living out of a suitcase, sleeping in hotels and working from coworking spaces. Flying between Berlin, Germany — Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon — working to train two new teammates who have joined us on the support team at Basecamp. Since we are a dispersed company, we do our training a bit differently and fly our teams out to the same location to work together when someone is initially hired.

I can’t complain. I love that I get the opportunity to help onboard new employees and I jumped at the chance to be involved. I’m a traveler at heart and it’s something I’ve always loved, but while I know that to be true, this has been different than traveling for myself or traveling for vacation — this has been purely work related and is a different experience entirely.

I’ve learned a few things:

1) How to embrace differences and become a bit more flexible

Learning how to adapt and how to be flexible in new situations has been something I’ve dealt with a lot over the last few weeks and years. Living abroad in Germany for the last 6 years has prepared me to be a bit more flexible when it comes to how I process differences in culture, how I deal with the ways things are done in a new place and how I interact with the overall feeling of groundlessness that change can foster.

Instead of fighting against those feelings of otherness (being an outsider in a new place), feeling uneasy about not knowing everything about a place and an overall feeling of clashing with the differences that are around me — I embrace them. Embracing otherness and being an outsider is not easy or natural for me — I’d love to fit in easily and feel a sense of belonging — I think a lot of people can relate to that. But, I’ve learned that’s it’s okay not to know everything or all the answers. It’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to learn from others.

This leads me to the second thing I’ve learned –

2) How to listen and ask questions to learn

Learning how to really listen and to ask questions has helped me a lot when it comes to adapting to a new environment. Listening to learn and to understand the people I’m interacting with in a new place has helped open my mind up to new perspectives. Instead of fighting those differences, being judgmental and, assuming I know everything I need to know about a person or a place without interacting with them — once I start to understand something a bit more by learning from the source directly, I soften to the differences around me.

3) Letting go of control

Working from a hotel room and traveling for work purposes has allowed me to practice letting go of control. Something I struggle with is my need to control situations and I am a chronic worrier. I worry about things I can’t control and how they will affect me and my comfort. Working from home allows me to control my work environment: what I wear, when I work, when I eat lunch, when I talk out loud, what music I listen to or don’t, the noise level around me and so on. It’s pretty ideal for me and I know I work best in an isolated, quiet environment. But when you are working at a coworking space or from a hotel with other humans, all that control goes out the window! I’ve had to adapt and think about others needs and wants and let go of that control I usually have working from my own comfort zone.

4) Recognizing the importance of knowing what I need

I’ve also recognized that it’s important for me to be aware of what I need and that knowing myself is crucial in order to navigate through different environmental changes. The first week I lived and worked nomadically with others, I was miserable. I was tired, dehydrated, burned out and exhausted. I was doing my job excellently, but I was entirely outwardly focused! I thought I was there for our new employees who I was helping to train — giving them my attention and focus, but I was not showing up for myself and it was debilitating.

In order to take care of others without resentment, guilt, exhaustion and all those other things that come along with helping others, I realized that I need to take care of myself first. I wrote a list of everything that I need in order to show up for myself. For me that includes: working out, drinking a lot of water, eating good food, getting some alone time and getting adequate sleep. In the second week of training, I focused on all those things — making sure to show up for myself. When I needed time alone, I was communicative about that to the people I was working with and used those small moments to their fullest — recharging. It made a dramatic difference in regards to how I handled working remotely with others and the quality of my work improved. I still was not in control of the situation (because working with others includes “others” who have agency over themselves), but I was in control of my behavior in a situation.

4) Recognizing the impermanence of the situation

I think the most important thing I learned is that things are not always the same — they change. This has been incredibly helpful in times when I would take a look at the 3 weeks of my unnatural hotel dwelling, coworking life and feel uneasy about my decision to go so far outside my comfort zone. I recognized that this way of life is impermanent — it has a beginning and an end. Knowing this has helped me to enjoy the moments I’ve had with my wonderful teammates while in the same place (something that does not happen often), without feeling stuck to the idea that this is not my ideal way to live.

I’m not perfect at this — there have been hard times. There have been many moments where I’ve just wanted to be on my couch in Berlin, cuddling my dog. Recognizing the impermanence of the situation does not shield me from those difficult moments or the loneliness that can come from being far from home. Instead, it allows me space to acknowledge the difficult parts of a situation and let them go — not getting too closely stuck to them, because I know things will change. This has also helped me cultivate a bit more resilience and learn how to deal and process through moments of isolation. I like the mantra of “it’s not okay, but it will be” — which involves acknowledging hard things, but knowing they are not forever.

The things I’ve learned over the last few weeks — living in a hotel and coworking have been incredibly valuable. My mind has opened up to how I can work when I’m not in control of an environment and how I can when I am. I’ve realized there’s more than one way to work that works for me if I’m willing to stretch my perspective a bit. I hope to keep stretching.

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Behind the scenes: How we organize our twice-a-year full-company meetups

We’re kinda all over the place

We’re a mostly-remote company. We have about 50 people spread out across 30 cities around the world. And while we’re mostly based all over the US, we have also have people in Canada, the UK, Spain, Germany, Hong Kong, and Australia.

This means we don’t see each other very often. So twice a year — once in the spring and once in fall — we fly everyone into our headquarters in Chicago for a full-company meetup. The meetups last a full week, Monday through Friday, but some people begin heading home on Thursday.

The meetups are mostly social in nature, but we tend to talk business on the first day. Some people work in groups, some people just hang out, some people arrange for guest speakers — people can use the week however they want. There are no expectations other than enjoy your time here with everyone.

Two types of coordination

As you can imagine, coordinating 50 people across 30+ cities for a week-long event can be a challenge. There are two kinds of coordination: private and public.

Private coordination is mostly 1:1 like booking flights and hotels for each person. There’s also some behind the scenes coordination with caterers and vendors. Major credit goes to Andrea, our office manager, for taking care of nearly all the private coordination. She helps everyone with travel, hotel booking, meal planning, and coordinates with any outside vendors we need to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Public coordination is more about making sure everyone knows what’s happening during the week. Stuff like scheduling talks/sessions, keeping everyone in the loop if something changes, making announcements during the meetup also socially after hours, sharing slides/notes/insights, general on-going social chatter, and making sure everyone enjoys the week as much as possible.

It’s probably no surprise we use Basecamp 3 to coordinate the meetup. Let’s go behind the scenes and I’ll show you how we do it.

Basecamp 3 in the middle

We set up a new Basecamp for every meetup. It’s our common ground. Everyone in the company has access to it. Before, during, and after the meetup, everything meetup-related lives inside this single Basecamp. All in one place, all in one tool — centralized, organized, and forever archived.

In this example, I’ll be showing you the April 2016 meetup.

The Basecamp for the April 2016 meetup

Inside this Basecamp we’ve enabled five of the six core Basecamp tools: Message Board, Campfire chat, To-dos, Schedule, and Docs & Files. This gives us everything we need rather than having to use five separate products/tools to run the meetup (email for big announcements everyone has to see, Slack/Hipchat/Hangouts for chat, a calendaring tool for scheduling, some sort of to-do/list tool to organize responsibilities and work that needs to get done before/during/after the event, and Dropbox/GDrive/Box for files and artifacts).

How we use each tool inside the “April 2016 Meetup” Basecamp

The Message Board is used for company-wide announcements before, during, and after the meetup. These are things we want to make sure everyone sees/receives. They are complete thoughts, pitches, suggestions, announcements, ideas. Things of substance, things that should stand alone rather than get trampled by other conversations that’ll push it away.

Messages, topics, comments — all organized and threaded to keep relevant conversations together

The Campfire is used for social chatter. People quick-sharing pictures of how long the security lines are at O’Hare, people seeing if anyone else is around to walk together to the office, sharing a silly picture of Jamie doing silly Jamie stuff, etc.

Long waits at Chicago airports

The Schedule is where we pop all the dinners, social events, talks, and sessions. This way everyone knows what’s happening when. If you want to schedule a talk/session, just pop it on the schedule and Basecamp will let everyone know it’s there. Want to discuss how everyone’s getting to drinks after dinner? Comment right on the event and then only those who will be attending will get the notifications and participate in the discussion.

Every session, every meal, every outing is on the schedule for everyone to see and join

Docs & Files holds the artifacts. In this case there weren’t many, but we did link up the Google Spreadsheet that had everyone’s flight information and hotel info so everyone could find out who was coming in when (and how). We also had a preliminary schedule as a text document before we finalized it on the official Schedule (as shown above). We’ll often collect photos that people share and organized them into folders as well. And last, if people want to share slides or notes, they’ll often drop them in here, too.

Not much in here this time around, but slides/notes are often stored in here

If there’s any work that needs doing before, during, or after the meetup, we’d make some To-dos. This time around we made three really short lists — one for stuff that came up during the meetup that had to be scheduled, one for stuff to set up after-hours, and one for food suggestions. In the past we’d have lists for suggesting guest speakers, lining up catering and cleanup, and making sure we had enough t-shirts to go around.

Just a few quick lists to stay organized

One place to go, show, and know

50 people from 30+ cities, all coming together for a week. Organization, order, and clear expectations are critical to pulling it off. Having a single Basecamp set up to manage it all — from communication to scheduling to assigning work to keeping everyone in the loop — makes all the difference.

Got any questions? Curious how we do this or that? Drop a comment below and we’ll try to answer everything we can. Thanks for reading!

Want to know more about how to work remotely? We wrote a book on the topic. Check out REMOTE: Office Not Required. Got an event to run? Want to stay organized and on top of everything? Check out Basecamp 3 — it’s free to try.