The look and feel of the traditional company is evolving along with technology and the workforce. An enterprise that combines onsite, remote, and freelance resources is becoming the new normal.
Other companies are dispensing with “onsite” all together. Our friends at Buffer just announced that they’re eliminating their office space (the company has been largely virtual for years anyway).
Buffer, Automattic, Basecamp, and our own Rainmaker Digital are all essentially “post-geographic.” We hire the best people for the job no matter where they live, rather than battling within a local market for scarce talent.
Listen in as Caroline and I discuss the pros and cons of a “distributed” company. We share some tips that can help you tap into the talent you need, whether project-to-project, or on an ongoing basis.
The Show Notes
- After Growing to 50 People, We’re Ditching the Office Completely: Here’s Why
- Free Profit Pillars course
- Rate Unemployable at iTunes
The Power of the Post-Geographic Company
Brian Clark: So, Caroline, are we actually going to get a recording this time?
Caroline Early: I don't know. I mean, you're the one that sets everything up.
Brian Clark: Excuse me, but I think your title is producer. Why are you letting the talent set things up?
Caroline Early: Are you referring to yourself as the talent?
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Brian Clark: Welcome, Everyone, to Unemployable, the show for people who could get a job, they're just not likely to take one — and that's putting it the nice way.
Caroline, what are we talking about today? I have no idea.
What Made You Choose the Post-Geographic Model in the Early Days of Copyblogger?
Caroline Early: I think you might have an idea. I have been reading all across the news lately that there are a lot of companies that are moving to the model that we have, this remote office model. They're just shutting down their physical buildings and really encouraging people to work from home.
I was just reading specifically about Buffer, who has decided that, “You know what, we've got people all over the globe and we're done paying for an office. We're going to have everybody work from home.”
So it made me think of us. I just wanted to talk about, maybe you could discuss a little bit about how in the early days of Copyblogger, what made you decide that this was the way to go?
Brian Clark: Yeah, as I like to call it, the “post-geographic” office model, a lot of people have been doing it. Buffer’s been a hybrid for a while, Basecamp, Automattic.
We also have an office. It used to just be my office, because I was the only one in Boulder. And then you and Jacob came along and now you stole my office.
Caroline Early: I like the office.
Brian Clark: Yeah, you like the office. But it's a very small office. Tell the people of the time where some lady came in and knocked on the door and it's just you, and she's like, “Wait, is this Copyblogger?”
Caroline Early: Yes, that's exactly what happened. I think she was shocked to see…
Brian Clark: I wish I could have seen that.
Caroline Early: I know, nothing on the walls, just my little desk in the corner.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's very low maintenance, although you do have a great view. You’ve got to give it up to that.
As far as the early days of Copyblogger, I can't say it was a decision to have a distributed workforce. I mean, the early days of Copyblogger were very organic in the way things happened with the partnerships and the separate companies.
Tony and I, Tony Clark, didn't meet for I think over two years and yet we were running a 7-figure business together. Sonia Simone lived in Denver, but I lived in Texas at the time, so we weren't in the same place. Sean Jackson was in Dallas when I was there. Chris Pearson was in Austin.
It was whatever was needed, the people that were needed for each project. That's kind of how it worked until we merged all together in 2010. At that point, you're merging five different companies from all over the place. You've got Canada, you've got all across North America really, and now we've added people from across the globe.
So there was really no choice. It really wasn't ever an alternative for us.
But I'll tell you what, the last thing I would think of doing would be to try to force people and to try to hire people, to find the right talent for the job based on geography. Why would you do that? Especially with an Internet-based company?
It’s All or Nothing
Caroline Early: Yeah, that makes sense. The article actually mentioned sort of an all or nothing model. Like you shouldn't have half your company in one place and then the rest remote. Do you agree with that?
Brian Clark: I think that's a good point. I remember when you caught some flack, because I took you and your boyfriend to the Wilco’s Show at Red Rocks and everyone's like, “Oh, I guess there are benefits to being in Boulder.” Well, yeah, there are. But I just wanted to go to Wilco’s.
Caroline Early: Right, not just work-related.
Brian Clark: But you could imagine that there would be political divisions. When you've got some people in their little core clique or nucleus based on proximity and then other people working remotely, I could see how that might be a problem. It's not something that we've dealt with or have really worried about too much, but I think that would be the downside.
The other issue of course is you have to rely on everyone to do their work, but you're not hovering over their shoulder. You can't see if they're in their cubicle. It really comes down to performance as it should be. And yet, most companies are not managed that way when you're all in one location.
Then it becomes like, “Oh, who left early or who left at five? Or who is still at their desk?” It's all a silly game.
How Do You Overcome the Challenges of This Model?
Caroline Early: Right. That makes sense. So, just going off of that, there are definitely pros and cons. I mean, we all know the pros. You get to be at home, you have the flexible schedule, but what are some of the challenges and how do you advise people to overcome those challenges?
Brian Clark: It's interesting to me, because even in other technology companies, I've spoken with CEOs who had a more traditional mindset. The first thing they asked me is, “How do you monitor and manage those people?” And I'm like, “I don't.” I've said that before. I've hired poorly if I have to monitor and manage.
There have been a few instances, but overall, people do the work. They do it really well and it's great. I've always talked about what happens when you scale up and whatnot. But I think companies like Automattic that are much larger are a good indication that this model works.
Now, there are a lot of people out there listening going, “Wait, I don't have 60 people (or however many Automattic has). Is this relevant to me?” I think it's more doable and more relevant the smaller you are with this whole concept of virtual staffing, finding the right talent to augment your solo business rather than staffing up with employees.
I think as we've discussed before, oh, in that episode that we didn't record.
Caroline Early: Oh yeah, that was a great episode.
Brian Clark: That was a great episode. No one will ever know how great it was. Really. You're going to have to take our word for it.
But we did talk about how the organization in the future is becoming flatter. It's becoming more diverse in the sense that you have core employees. Perhaps in one location you've got freelancers, you've got people who work from wherever, and the traditional firm is going to have to adapt to this and already is starting to do that.
For the people in this audience, it's just the way to do it. If I were starting over today, again, I would take a vow never to have an employee, and try to work that production model that we talked about in the Free Profit Pillars Course.
So, if you guys haven't checked that out, it's a free course called Profit Pillars. It's processes, people and production. It ends with this great case study of how an entrepreneur is putting together this kind of organization based on the needs of what they were trying to do. It's very powerful.
If you're already a registered member of Unemployable, just go log in and you'll get taken directly to the brand spanking new learning management system for that course.
If you're not registered already, head over to unemployable.com, there's even a link where you can read a little bit more about the course before you sign up. And of course, you get the wonderful Unemployable newsletter that's already winning accolades from across the Internet. Right, Carolyn?
Caroline Early: Yes, exactly.
Brian Clark: As far as I know.
Caroline Early: Yeah, the best newsletter there is out there.
Brian Clark: Okay, good.
Does This Model Encourage Employees to Work Harder?
Caroline Early: I want to go back to something you just touched on a minute ago. You said that when you hire the right people, it doesn't really matter if they're remote or not, because you don't have to manage them.
I would almost argue that when you are working from home and you don't see people all the time, you kind of feel a drive to work harder in a way, because you're not trying to impress people in an office. You're just trying to get your work done. You're just trying to be responsible and be available. Do you agree with that to an extent?
Brian Clark: Yeah, I think that may be the case. It depends on individual personalities and whatnot. But I think the most important thing that we've gotten feedback on, as far as work satisfaction and all that, is the freedom to get things done when they need to be gotten done as opposed to this nine-to-five thing.
You’ll hear that millennials think it's stupid that you have to do your work between nine and five. I've always thought that way. So I don't necessarily think it's a generational thing. I just think that younger people realize the inherent flexibility and power of technology and the Internet in getting things done, whether it be in a coffee shop or out on the road or at home. And that's the big difference.
I think that if you've got a sick kid or you want to go see The Force Awakens for the seventh time in the afternoon, like some of our dads are doing right now, I'm sure, as long as they come back and get the work done, I'm good with it.
Will This Model Work for Everyone?
Caroline Early: Okay. I guess the big question, what I'm really wondering is does this model work for everyone? Is it something that could work across all industries or is it just a trend?
Brian Clark: No, going back to what I said, I think there are a lot of companies with traditional office structures and whatnot who would have a very, very hard time with letting go of their command and control and monitoring of employees and whatnot. And maybe some businesses need certain people to be together.
But, as I touched on before, the trend is to more remote workers even if you don't completely embrace the model. Now will that lead to some of those problems and then have the traditionalist say, “Well, this doesn't work because they didn't embrace it wholeheartedly”? I don't know.
I think, again, for the type of people listening to this program, for the type of company that we are and a lot of others like Buffer and Automattic and Basecamp, who hopefully people look up to. I know we look up to and are friends with people in those companies.
More and more, you're going to see people build companies from the beginning that way. It's going to take time, but eventually it will be a major part of the way work is done.
Caroline Early: Yeah, I can see that. I've worked both traditional offices and now this and it works for me. I think it's one of the best situations I’ve found myself in, so I'm really happy to be here.
Brian Clark: Cool. I'm very happy to hear that.
All right, Everyone, that's it for this episode. If you're hearing it, we were successful in recording it. If not, again, this will be another lost episode that we’ll have to somehow sell on eBay.
Caroline Early: I know, we'll see. But we can always…
Brian Clark: Like a Wu-Tang.
Caroline Early: Yeah, exactly. Just one copy available.
Brian Clark: That’s right, just one. Take care, Everyone. Keep going.