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Why we work remotely

Written 19 February, 2018, 4 minutes to read

Thinking of working remotely? Looking to hire remote workers? Or just want a better sense of how it works in practice? This one’s for you. The hybrid office/remote model we built from scratch has just entered its fourth year of smooth sailing, and we want to share exactly how it works, why we do it and how we went about it.

Who are we?

We’re a Norwegian start-up called Timely, and we’ve developed the world’s first AI-powered automatic time tracker. But we couldn’t have got there without our globally-scattered team!

We operate using a hybrid model comprising a central Oslo-based team and a remote globally dispersed team. We have remote workers with loads of different specialisms, including web development, machine learning, content strategy, customer support, QA and design. About 35% of our team works remotely and we’re adding to it all the time.

Why do we use remote work?

We use a remote workforce simply because talent is borderless. The remote model gives us access to a limitless pool of talented specialists. They tend to be a particularly motivated and accountable set of people, great at communicating and in full ownership of their work. The remote model lets them work in way a that enables a lifestyle beyond work, and brings us a cultural pluralism which enriches the whole company.

What’s it like to work remotely?

Timm on what it’s like working remotely from Canada.

Timm

How does remote work compare to office work? I’m so much more focused! Nobody drags me out the zone unless I consciously choose to unmute notifications. And the flexibility is unbeatable. You want to go road tripping for a while? Bring your laptop, ensure you’ve got Wi-Fi or LTE coverage, done deal. I like taking midday hiking breaks with my dog, and start mornings on the slopes on powder days. 🏂

What are the downsides to remote work? When you haven’t seen another person for days on end. You need to actively get yourself out of the house to remind you to put pants on and keep cave(wo)man syndrome at bay. I’ve found co-working spaces really helpful; socializing and having lunch with actual humans is a nice change of pace.

What about the massive time difference with the Oslo office? The limited overlap can be challenging, so written communication is key. Real-time tools like Slack only work when people are actually awake, so they’re not the best for long-running conversations. That’s where Basecamp and GitHub pull requests take over.

How do you recruit remote workers?

Melinda on how she recruited Timely’s remote workforce.

Melinda

How do you recruit remote workers? It’s just like any other interview with a candidate – we interview across different stages, involve practical assignments, and pull in other members of the team. The only difference is we use Zoom to do it. If candidates are located reasonably close, we often arrange a face-to-face here in Oslo. 🇳🇴

What do you look for in remote candidates? We’ve got a whole section of conceptual and experience-based remote work questions. They cover how remote candidates approach task organization and communication, how they go about solving problems remotely, and how they deal with the potential “lonely” side of remote working. We need to be confident they’re intuitive and involved – you can’t build a remote culture without these qualities.

Are there any big red flags when you interview? The biggest relates to how candidates process information. We’ve found that people who need the big picture and fixed schedules often struggle with remote work. They can feel disconnected from what’s going on, especially when projects shift shape and they hear about it second-hand. You need to be able to adapt your style and proactively piece together the whole yourself.

What’s working with remote workers like?

Amy on how she works with a team across multiple time zones

Amy

What’s it like working on a daily basis with remote colleagues? As long as you establish really solid communication, it’s really not that different! Our team works together so well because we have a strong foundation of trust, honesty and openness. We tell things like they are and share thoughts without fear of being shut down. It doesn’t matter where you’re working from 🌎 – if you’re open and honest, we can rely on you as a teammate.

Are remote relationships different to in-office ones? I do have a stronger relationship with people in the office, but that’s because physical presence is important for me. I need to meet my colleagues to fully understand how they work – it’s hard to work out their tone, humour and mood otherwise. Our company-wide meetups are great for enabling that relationship: once I’ve met my remote colleagues face-to-face, we have much deeper working relationships.

Would you recommend Timely’s office/remote hybrid? Definitely. Remote work is a great thing for companies to offer! Not everyone works well in the same environments. Even as an office-based worker, I love that Timely still lets me manage my own work structure flexibly. When I need to just lock focus, I’ll take a day working from home without interruptions. I do still love the sense of community working in an office brings though – I’m a social person, so it’s important for me to be around people.

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