Insights from an IT company with almost 20 years of going “officeless”!
This is the first post in our two-part Remote Working Series. Through this series, we’ll take a look at remote working through the eyes of a company that has been successfully running an “officeless” company for nearly 20 years.
Remote working has become the business norm. But remote working isn’t a new concept. In fact, some companies practiced remote working pre-COVID, and their experience in tackling some of the challenges of working from home will be valuable to other businesses.
From the very beginning in 2004, Alconost has been an “officeless” company. That means every one of our 73 employees works remotely and has done since the company was founded. We have employees based in nine countries around the world, and over 700 translators. We believe remote work is the most effective way for a company to operate, and the best way to motivate employees and get the most out of your team.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons of working remotely, whether hybrid working might be an option for you, and our 4-step formula for establishing a successful remote working culture.
Why did Alconost decide to be an officeless company?
Like most startups in the beginning, Alconost simply couldn’t afford an office. But as the company started to grow, it felt natural to remain officeless. We work with clients from all over the world, so this allows us to work flexible hours and helps us serve those clients faster in their respective time zones.
For example, we have a Japanese team who are all based in Japan to cater to our Japanese clients. Branching out into this market was an experiment, and working remotely is a perfect way to test out an opportunity like this. If we had set up an office in Japan, it would have been a very expensive experiment.
Another enormous advantage of being officeless is the access you get to a wider talent pool. When you need to hire from a set office or location, you limit your talent pool. But remote working allows you to hire the very best people from around the world.
It’s not just talent that makes being an officeless company worthwhile. Being remote means we’re not bound by the limits of a standard 8-hour workday, and we can count on our teams to respond to emails faster or reply to messages on Slack from translators or co-workers in different time zones. Overall, it means we can speed up our internal processes and response times, ensuring work gets completed faster.
Case in point: half of the orders made via our online translation platform — Nitro — are delivered in less than 2 hours. And anyone who sends us questions or inquiries about Nitro via Nitro’s chat can count on a reply within 10 minutes. These kinds of response and delivery times simply wouldn’t be possible if we were fixed in a single location with fixed office hours.
Our 4-step formula for remote working success
We have a 4-step formula that guarantees a successful officeless workplace: flexible hours, top talent, freedom, and no micro-management. Each is an integral and indispensable element.
The first is a fairly simple proposition: you choose your own schedule. While we want our employees to aim for working eight hours a day, it’s up to you how you choose to schedule those hours throughout the week. If you work better early in the morning and prefer to finish a little earlier so you can pick your kids up from school or get on with some other tasks, then that’s fine. Or maybe you’re a slow starter, so prefer starting work later in the morning, or work more efficiently late at night. Again, how you choose to work is entirely up to you.
Micro-management can destroy team morale, productivity, and damage employee trust. That’s why we stand so strongly against it. We don’t make them install software that tracks their hours so we can keep an eye on whether or not they’re doing work. This is not the way to build trust in your teams.
Our approach is the opposite: we believe that a stopwatch and calendar are productivity killers for our workers and the company both. When you give employees freedom, they will repay that trust and freedom with visible, quantifiable results in the form of successful projects and satisfied clients and coworkers. And so, it’s just as noticeable when someone is giving less than their best.
For us, the result is the real value, and more important than the process that produced it. Our objective is business development and not supervising or over-controlling.
Of course, no formula would work without the key variable — our people. What kind of employees do we look for? Someone who thinks the point of work is to sit and keep busy for 8 hours — that’s probably not the sort of person we’re looking to work with. Someone just looking to make money — also, no.
The right type of person will be excited and passionate about the role and the prospect of working for the company. We want to work with people who can get stuck in and offer their own solutions to problems instead of relying on other team members or line managers to solve their problems.
Mistakes are unavoidable, of course. Sometimes a person loses motivation and their work slips. But we fight for each employee: we strive to help motivate people if their performance slips and to understand why it’s happening (something we’ll take a look at in part 2 of this series). If we lose that fight, we will always part ways on good terms.
Pro-active team members
At Alconost, it’s important to be as proactive and independent as possible. Constantly waiting for your decision to be approved by managers or colleagues isn’t seen as a positive thing. We don’t micromanage, so it’s up to team members at Alconost to step up and make as many decisions for themselves as possible (though of course, you can always ask questions or invite others for a discussion if you want to get their opinion on something).
In short, it’s important to take responsibility for what you are doing. It’s OK to make wrong decisions sometimes. But it’s not OK to be dependent on others. We want employees who are independent, full-stack units as much as they can be.
The benefits of remote working
According to a recent survey, 90% of people felt their productivity maintained or improved while working remotely. This is a pretty significant number, and can’t be ignored. Higher productivity can have a huge impact on the success of your business.
Working from home usually leads to fewer interruptions, less office politics, less noise, and more efficient meetings. Add to this the fact that people don’t have to commute when working from home, it means they have more energy — which in turn leads to higher productivity.
Better work-life balance
We don’t tie people to a 9–5 working schedule. They don’t need to be sitting at their desk for 8 hours, it’s not how we work, and it’s not how we get the best out of our teams at Alconost. Most of our employees have flexible hours and can work whenever they want. The most important thing is getting results, and we give them the freedom to produce those results at times that best suits them.
Take Uladzimir Kupratsevich, our COO:
“I don’t separate work and life, I don’t see it as life after finishing work. For me, work and life are weaved together. It’s normal for me to work a few hours, run some personal errands, work some more, then go to my music band’s rehearsal, and finally work a few more hours late at night.”
Working from abroad
Another really cool benefit of remote working is the fact that you can travel while still working. Sure, you’d love to be free from work when visiting other countries, but our top management and employees have found that working from other countries actually gives you a boost of energy and you become more productive than usual.
One of our colleagues, Nikita from the video department, takes full advantage of this aspect of remote working. He loves travelling and visiting new countries, but manages to get A LOT done at the same time:
“My preferred style of working is staying at a new place for a month or more and combining work and free-time activities. It’s inspiring to me, but also helps me understand that I have no time to waste. I try to get my work done quickly and efficiently so that I have some time left to enjoy the new country or city. This is my secret ingredient for boosting my performance!”
Significant cost savings
The average commuter spends between $2,000 and $5,000 per year on getting to and from work every year. On top of that, there’s car maintenance, parking fees, professional clothes, lunches bought out, and more. Working from home will save you a lot of money.
And it’s not just for employees. For example, in the U.S. during COVID-19, companies have been saving over $30 billion every day by allowing employees to work from home. It’s a huge economic benefit when you don’t have to provide an office. And it’s one of the main reasons we decided to go officeless from the beginning.
A happier, healthier work-life balance
According to a study, flexible work not only improves productivity but employee happiness too. This is in part because working from home lowers stress, allows more time to spend on your interests or with family, among many other benefits.
It means you have more time to get to the gym, eat healthier, and create a comfortable working environment that exactly suits your working style. All of these small benefits add up to a happy work life for employees — and it’s why it has a positive effect on employee retention.
The road ahead for remote working
Remote working will continue to increase in importance over the coming years as more and more businesses adopt hybrid work models that mix in-office working environments and work from home. At Alconost, we’ve been doing remote work since our very beginning in 2004, so we’ve learned a thing or two over the years about what works and what doesn’t.
In the next post in this series, we’ll take a look at some of the challenges businesses will face as they transition into this new working structure, as well as some of the most effective solutions we found that helped resolve these challenges.