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How to work remotely: Managing the 15,000-kilometre commute

In this digital day and age it is said that we can work remotely from anywhere in the world. But can you really be effective working remotely 24/7?

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After 11 years of building our US-based company, my Co-Founder/wife and I moved back to Sydney, Australia to get our kids into school Down Under, consider Asian expansion and pursue new product innovation.

Our US team remained in place as we headed home. I researched best practices in terms of how we could stay connected to the mother ship from 15,000 kilometres away. I met with others who had done it with varying degrees of success. Depending on the stage of the business and the role, I learned that a one week in five trip to the US was the only effective way to manage the company. We were keen to look for alternatives to that. The Founders of 37 Signals, the makers of Basecamp wrote a great book, Remote that helped enormously.

We started with the basics — Skype and FaceTime for communication. We looked at hard wired options to guarantee a good connection but the price of those services didn’t make sense. We have a fairly good success rate with these two technologies.

Adding a second time zone to Google calendar to see two regions each day has been very useful. Using the Clocks app has also made scheduling easier. The app sits in the toolbar and through a drop down allows you to see 10+ time zones simultaneously. It allows you to move time forward or backward to see who is awake when.

We then introduced Slack as an internal messaging platform that was less heavy than email and allowed real-time, quick responses. Being able to see who was online and who was out is one of many great features to help aid trans-pacific communication across multiple time zones. Another is the ability to have not just employees but contractors join us on Slack so they too are up to date with the company.

We also experimented with Know Your Company a tool that automatically sends out three questions per week to the team. The Monday question was: “What are your goals for the week?” The Wednesday question was a culture question, for example: “Should we have all-team offsites each quarter instead of annually?” And the Friday question mimicked the water-cooler conversation like: “Seen any good movies lately?” Each question offered great insights into the state of the team week-in week-out. We ended up not continuing with Know Your Company due mostly to technical limitations. I have instead focused on using Slack as the glue that keeps us all together.

18 months in and we are in a rhythm of early morning starts to coincide with west coast US time. We take a quick break to get kids to school and then are back at it for the day. We head over to the US twice a year and even lured our Board down to Australia for our first Australian-based board meeting earlier this year. It is not perfect but technology is certainly helping us bridge the gap.

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