Freedom to Work, Remote.

Ben Jenkins

Founder & Creative Drover

5 years after making the choice to run OFB in a "virtual office" fashion, i.e. no central physical office, I thought it would be fun to revisit a post I made in 2009 about giving employees the freedom to work remotely.  At the time we were just getting into it. Did it turn out like we expected? I wanted to see how my thoughts on this may have evolved over time.  

 

I was thinking about FREEDOM today as I made my way around town visiting some old friends at their current "places of work." And when I say places, I mean office locations where their company insist they spend their work time.  Considering it is 2013 this is starting to baffle me more and more. Because after 5 years of operating as a virtual company I can only think of one reason that I miss having an "office." I kinda miss not working so hard! I kinda miss not getting so much done ;)
So the questions is.....Considering where we are with technology, are we still better off making the drive into the "office" everyday? Are we more productive? Are we more professional? Are we somehow better at our work? Are we more efficient?  The answers, I believe would be No, uuuuh no, no, no and respectively no.
When it comes to worklife, our motto at OFB is simple. FREEDOM. Not because we are some kind of crusade to kill the office and just despise landlords, not because we really care what you do, and certainly not b/c we are not "big enough" to have an office if we wanted. Hell we had at least 8 office locations over the past 15 years. Been there done that, now outgrown that. We have gone back and studied the history of how the "office" came to be...but I am assuming it went something like this...groups of people working for the same goal had to communicate in order to work together. Before all this technology that we have now existed, well those poor souls had to be in the same place to make communication happen in a timely manner. So, hey lets all gather in the same location EVERY DAY.  So look, we have all this incredibly great techonoly that lets us communicate. I won't insult you by naming the tools. But for god sakes, as long as people can communicate, they can work together. And that is what matters. 
At this point it is so clear. We (OFB) are just too serious about our work AND our lives to mess around with having an office at OFB.  I think too, its just that we have this obsessive need to not just work, but LIVE. We want to feel alive while making a living. Simple as that. We love our worklives now. We kinda consider ourselves just incredibly fortunate to do what we do, how we do it.  We are all the above....more productive, more efficient, more focused, more healthy, more HAPPY. And oh btw the quality of our work improved. And really for all those reasons....there is just less crap to deal with, less distraction. The culture of our company is simple....its about LEARNING by EXPERIENCING & MAKING STUFF. Being remote workers we see more of the real world and that is reflected in the authenticity of our work. The work is now more connected to it's purpose. Period.
So I am here to say if you can, set your employees free from the office. You will not regret it. Trust me on this. 5 years. Tested, proven. 
To be clear this post is NOT specifically advocating that people work from their home, or any place in particular or even working in the same place on a daily basis. I actually don't advocate that. This is about having an individual choice about where to work. About working where you want, and in a manner that is best for you, at any given time. About having the freedom to see the world while you keep making a living. Now we understand of course it profits the commercial real estate industry for us all to believe that old model of "WHERE BUSINESS SHOULD BE DONE" is a good model. And of course for some office space really is needed. For instance, I have a good and talented buddy who owns a wood baseball bat factory ;) There is one good reason they need an office and need to be at the office most of the time. Doing what they do requires a vast amount of equipment, storage of raw product, and place from which product is shipped to customers. Sure man, its a factory!!!!! .Not something you can just throw on a laptop and go. Its a hands-on sport over there. In other words the work they do is in many respects about the space and physical stuff in it. It allows them to produce their product. So for those whose jobs require that they need tools, hard goods, and machinery to make things of course you need a place to house that. You are ultra important, especially in this here USA. So keep doing what you are doing. 
But when those physical restraints don't exist. I mean seriously, why are you at the office? At least why are you there EVERYDAY? We say let those employees execute the tasks that don't require the equipment to be done off-site in the setting they choose. Let them have more time during the day to LIVE. Cut out the unnecessary, and you are left with the essential. 
I think that insisting on making employees be at the office, no matter how "fun" you attempt to make the environment,  at a certain time and leave at a certain time is not inspiring them to stay forever, but freedom might. I'm not suggesting that you employ people to goof off, although we actually end up creating great places to goof off when we make offices.  Trust me on this. Try 20 creatives in a space. See how much work get's done. I'm simply saying give them the freedom to work at their highest capacity, work in a flow with their energy levels, stay fresh, be inspired, have a connected life, and utilize technology as a real gift so that your business benefits.  
It is simple to figure out if letting your employees work remotely would work.
1. Their job is about communication, managing logistics, planning, design, creating ideas. In other words, their work is done in the brain man. 
2. They can do the majority of their job with these tools: a laptop, access to internet, mobile phone, and some electricity.  
OFB's 15 Reasons to Let Employees Work Remotely:
1. Happy employees are more productive. Humans like Freedom. Most of your employees are probably Human. 
2. Build trust. When there is trust, there are just less problems and crap to worry about.  You want to lead not babysit right? Most employees would appreciate being trusted. Why not give them a chance to be trusted. Worklife freedom flows to people who are ultra responsible, accountable, hard working, self sufficient, and self- motivated. Really, if you have employees who aren't these things…why do you have them? 
3. It becomes more about quality and productivity rather than filling time and space. If there are no time cards to judge "effort" then all that is left is the results. This allows the employees who are ACTUALLY productive and create value, be recognized and float to the top. Ass kissers, yes men, lazy people, number two leaches and rankmongers have a harder time surviving in this environment. In other words people who are good at filling time and creating the "appearance" of producing results have to actually produce.
4. More talented employees. The freedom to work for you but live geographically where they want is a HUGE benefit to employees. So essentially it makes you a more attractive employer. This is one of the biggest reasons we do not require our staff to live in the same city. We want the BEST creative talent. Not just the best in a specific town. 
5. People have more time in their day when their is no commute. I don't care if it is 2 minutes or 2 hours extra to enjoy…and thats good for you. If people have more time to socialize with friends and family, take a walk, walk the dog, shop for supplies, etc they will be less stressed and more focused when they are working. 
6. Greener. I don't need to go into this in detail but its pretty obvious we would spend less time in the car, use less gas, use less electricity, etc. if more people worked virtually. People can only be in one place at a time. We really double up on electricity when most workers are leaving a dwelling that is powered and working at a second place that is also powered....uhhhh while still powering the place they aint at. 
7. More Personal Energy is good for your bottom line. Give employees the freedom to figure out for themselves what times of the day they are most productive because of their natural energy levels. We all have them. Most people are more productive, inspired, alert and focused during certain times of the day. Breaking the day into 3 or even 4 pieces is healthy and more productive. If you try to work in one long stream much of your day will certainly be unproductive, uninspired, half-assed, and lack polish.
8. Fresh air is good for them, so is sunlight. 
9. Exercise and movement are as well. Encourage them to set aside time for it. 
10. Stagnation = Bad. If your bored, you start to just go thru the motions..is there anything worse you would want from an employee? Let employees change environments to stay stimulated, not just caffeinated. 
11. Better ideas. Ideas are OUT THERE…Let employees go out into the field and find them. Experiences breed innovation, experimentation and problem solving. Being in the same environment all the time just breeds much of the same thinking. Having employees working out in the world gives them a chance to be closer to customers. We see this all the time. The executives at many large companies are very disconnected from the experiences of their customers. We go out into the field where the customers are to learn how they think. We also don't stick them in an observation room and expect them to behave naturally. We spend more time in customer environments where we gain valuable insight.
12. Working remote makes you a better planner. You are forced to create a plan, a process, and delegate well. You also become good at goal setting and tracking progress. And thats where we learn how to do things better, smarter, and faster. You learn to build with simplicity in mind. 
13. Eating Better. We even found that we tend to eat less, eat healthier, and cook more for ourselves working remotely. Why, mostly because we have time to do so. So we feel better.
14. You want a patriotic reason? I think of our grand parents. Lots of Vets died for our freedom and it honors them to live a life of freedom. Work is a BIG part of life. We tend to use work as an excuse to not be free simply because we don't question why we physically need to be in the office to do our job.
15. Save $. I am listing this reason last because it is what people often think of first when considering having less office space or no office space. But I just see it as a side benefit. Not THE reason to move towards virtual working environments. 

OFB's 13 Reasons You Probably Won't Do this.

Remember, I have been guilty of most of these in the past. Well it was a long time ago now ;)

1. It's mostly about your ego. Walking in and seeing 5, 15, 50, or 500 people in one place is only necessary if its necessary from a physical standpoint. If not, its because you learned this behavior from others or it just makes you feel powerful to have people do what you say, where you say. 
2. Your a control freak. You think if you are not watching over an employees shoulder they are not working hard enough. And somehow you believe this is also HOW they are most productive. That's called being a slave driver. Another way to look at this is...maybe they aren't working every minute of the day. But are you paying for their time? Or are you paying them to complete tasks, handle situations, and create? Focus less on how much they work and more on why you need them.
3. You use having employees butts in seats to make yourself feel better about that office lease you signed. Its not their problem, its yours. Just because you feel guilty not using the office you leased, doesn't mean they should feel guilty.
4. You think it's not "professional" to be virtual or have employees working remotely. Being professional does not mean you have to be in an office. Your no less legit. Being legit is about offering a valuable product or service and making a profit; all about being professional where it counts. Most of the touch points where we intersect with clients and customers these days happens remotely anyway. Think about it. 
5. You are afraid people won't be focused. I totally advocate FOCUSED seclusion during task times. And thats why I really DON'T recommend the typical office environment. Easily one of the first things I think of when I think…"mmmmmhhhh where could I really waste some time today. Ah yes, the office!"
6. We can't collaborate if we are virtual or employees work remotely; we cant interact, we can't innovate together. Seriously? I don't buy it. Not at all. What you really mean is we can't have in-person meetings. Haven't you heard...meetings are so 2008! A topic for another day. At OFB certainly there are times when we need to "sit-down" and hash something out via conversation with internal staff and/or clients. But its not like we need to freaking TOUCH or SMELL each other when we do this!!!! And with simple video or audio chatting and even desktop sharing this all happens perfectly well. And everyone spends more time executing tasks. Less time driving to that meeting. After the first minute of everyone connecting into the online meeting you forget that its video, and it just is irrelevant that it is. 
7. Clients won't think we are legit, real, or serious if we don't have an office. Maybe the old school thinkers will but old ideas will fade away. But young people with new ideas are coming and some of the best businesses around these days are virtual, you just don't know it. It's all about perception witch is mostly begotten online now. Trust me we have changed the perception of our clients businesses by simply designing a better identity and/or website. It's more importantly about customer service, delivery, and execution. All of which are done better by happier employees. 
8. But how can I manage people I cant see? Really!!!!! I love this excuse..its the most common. Isn't management about motivating, leading, inspiring, providing clear instruction, trusting and most of all DELEGATING? If you can't do those things well you shouldn't be managing you should just be a in-school suspension teacher or something. I actually have people tell me that they go to the office because their boss goes. So!!!!! Haha, an why is he going? Because his boss is goes tot he office? And so on. Insanity. That's why this post is directed at the boss. Most of the insane things we do in the corporate world were created by you or your just following the rules of someone pro-motting that insanity. My next door neighbor told me he drives 1.5 hours each day to work. Monday and Wednesdays he visits the factory floor  for much of the day. On the other three days he goes into his private office and proceeds to work from his laptop mobile phone.  The only time he sees people is when they pop in to ask a question that really they usually know the answer to. They are just stopping in because he is their. When I asked him why he goes into work on those days rather than working from home or a co-working office down the street he says well, because everyone else is there. I feel guilty if I don't go. But I also struggle to have time to play with my kids at the end of the day because of the drive. 
9. Without an office we have no company culture? Ha ha. Well you do have a culture, its just different. All that matters about culture is what it produces and peoples happiness. Happiness of customers and happiness of employees. I do admit that people use work to get their social life to some extent…but co-working facilities are great for accommodating this need if people really want it. But really, there are lots of social things that are probably more intersting, more beneficial, more education, more inspirational, more full-filling than the social life at work. Your employees will discover many options…And hey they may even get their work done faster to get to that real life they are creating. And since you are measuring their value on results they will also do GOOD work.
10. You need more??? Ok well what about this. "Kids bother my employees when they work from home." Mmmmmhhh, I have three kids under the age of nine. One or all of them come into my home office everyday…when I work from my home studio. Frankly, most of the time they are just eager to show me something. Something they made, something they have question about, something they just think is cool, or maybe they are upset about something. These are great opportunities to interact that I am glad I am around for.  And it really doesn't take that much time. After about one minute they realize "hey, ok now I showed you what I made and I'm glad you like it. But this is really boring in here, like you are just working and that is way less fun than all the other things I could be doing. Ok, love you dad, hug, kiss…bye!" In and out in 1-3 minutes. As far as noise, I have headphones when I really need them, and frankly hearing the kid noise they make helps me realize WHY I am working. SURVIVAL. It's grounding, and keeps me going when I have tough assignment that I need to finish in order to get paid.  Another trick I learned. I built a large art desk in my home studio for my kids. I keep it stocked with every art supply known to mankind. My kids are now great co-workers. They love doing what dad is doing. They know they have an open invitation to "work" anytime at their desk. Art is great for a kids mind and hey they are getting less and less of it in school these days. Maybe another post for another day.
11. They will work less. Awesome! See reason number 2. And, if you really think I am advocating that people should't work hard; your confusing hard work with filling time and seats. Unless you are running a restaurant, or a movie theater stop worrying about filling seats.  
12. You like Office Drama. If you like office drama keep everyone in the same space on a daily basis. That's exactly how reality TV produces much of it's drama. Office drama will exist in every business that has an traditional office environment to some extent. It's just in our nature. I have to say this is but a distant memory for me.  A memory I never wish to revisit again. I don't remember when office drama ever produced a positive solution, idea, or result for our clients. 
13. But our Employees need to share docs, files, and client info. Cloud servers or virtual online shared folders (dropbox.com) and/or online project management systems like those offered by 37 sginals.com make this a none issue. All of your employees and clients can share online in one central location. Simple as that. And if your still creating an actual physical paper trail....really?? Go paperless. 
It may sound like I am like promoting a world where we don't interact with each other in person and become distanced from human experiences. Well, via work I am…because it means you get to interact in person much more with the people and places in your life that really matter to you. You only have so much time in this modern life, save the in-person stuff for the relationships and places that are most important to you. 
The biggest benefit to becoming a virtual company, is really easy for me to identify. Its that we simple participate more in the outside world now. We travel more, we have time to take walks and bike rides around town, we just experience more. And as people who get paid to generate ideas, participation is our fuel. 
All of this said I 100% advocate having ways to get solitude when work needs to get done. But this is a post for another day. So that's it, let me hear from you. Again, I can say this stuff because I used to be that boss. But now I'm rehabilitated. And really enjoying my worklife. 

Ben Jenkins

Founder & Creative Drover

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Through many years of experience, and quite a bit of soul searching, we have found a way to live lives that help us generate our best work. It's why we look so happy in pictures. Our dedication to exploration and being uncomfortable keeps us inspired, constantly expands our world-view, and brings us mindful rest to refuel and rejuvenate our creative thinking. To find the balance between long immersive journeys and having the proper time to craft our work… we limit the number of clients we work with annually to fit within our 9 month work season. We also work hard to work with people who also share a healthy outlook on work and life. Having the right clients (not just big ones) is critical for not just enjoying our work, but generating brands that matter and endure over time. Brand building is mentally draining, in a great way, when you have a healthy working relationship with the people on the other side of the table. We expend all of our energy into making new things for people we work with. It requires trust and aligning what you want out of a partner with who we are. Different firms have different styles, different approaches, different goals, different values, and different definitions of success. We are just plain different on many levels. Finding the right fit can determine a lot about what we can create together. We hope we are a good fit for you. Send us a note and let's find out. We would love to hear about what ideas you need help bringing to life, or reinventing.  

 

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