Book: No Office » Intro - Modern work is changing » Chapter 2 - I have a team |

Chapter 2 - I have a team

Can you build a - No Office - team?

As I mentioned in the previous chapter - I built Nozbe because I started being disorganized. I read the book by David Allen “Getting Things Done - the art of stress-free productivity” which inspired me to build an app that would help me work better.

I built an early prototype when I was still living in Bruxelles, Belgium and then kept improving it only to launch it in February 2007 when I already moved with my wife to Warsaw, Poland. I initially didn’t know if anyone would want it.

However, after just announcing it to a group of productivity-aficionados I met on the Internet, Nozbe user base exploded to 5,000 users after just 3 months. It was still my side project, but after a year it started brining in more revenue than my “day job” of an Internet Marketing consultant. And it brought me significantly more joy. So I took it full time and started slowly getting out of consulting gigs.

At Nozbe I was a one-man-shop. I did the coding, the marketing and answering customer support emails. And while I loved each part of it, I quickly realized that I needed a better programmer than myself if I wanted to really take Nozbe to a whole new level.

Meet Tom… or how I hired my first programmer 200km away…

As I was living in Warsaw at the time, I thought of hiring someone local to help me with programming. I started looking for candidates and found quite a few that felt like a good fit - but the best one - Tom - wasn’t from Warsaw. He was finishing his college degree in Toruń, which is 200 km away. And his home town is near Poznan, which is 300 km away from Warsaw. And he didn’t want to move to Warsaw.

Initially I was skeptical about all this. Can I really build a truly “virtual” team? Especially at such an early stage of my startup? Will I be able to hand in my entire code base to a person so far away? Will it ever work?

We met in Warsaw for the final interview. Later we met again for a whole-day work session. We clicked. I wanted him on board. We decided to give it a try.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but what happened here was me experiencing the first major benefit of a “No Office” company. It’s that you don’t hire the best person you can find around you…

You hire the best person for the job, period.

It really doesn’t matter where they are as long as they are the best.

Why do I need an office then?

After a year of working together with Tom, I needed a person to help me with customer support. I turned to a person who was already helping me when I was working as a marketing consultant. She accepted the job and even though she lived at the time pretty close to me - just on the other side of Warsaw, she explicitly said she didn’t want to have to go to an office if I ever wanted to have one.

Two full-time employees. Zero office. So far so good.

In the next few years my team grew to more than 10 people. None of them was from the same city. We were all “virtually together” as Nozbe grew in popularity not only in the USA, but also in Japan and in Poland.

Again, Nozbe users didn’t care where my office was. They didn’t know I was working from a two-bedroom apartment.

They only knew one Nozbe’s address:

More people joined… because we didn’t have an office!

I remember hiring Hubert - our lead designer - who lives in a small town on the south border of Poland. Headhunters were trying to get him to move to Warsaw, but he wouldn’t budge. He didn’t want to move. Yet he wanted a change, because in his small town the job prospects weren’t really ideal, especially with his talents. He wanted to earn more, have a more exciting job… but still live where he’s used to living. Is that even possible?

This is when I discovered another advantage of “No Office” way of doing things - you can not only hire the best talent but you can also provide them with great work opportunities and a better salary… without making them move from the place they call home.

This was why Hubert started working with us… and why he’s still enjoying working with us after so many years.

Some people really took advantage of our lack of office…

I hired Magda as my assistant after she came recommended from a close friend. Initially Magda was very skeptical about this “no office” situation. She was from Warsaw and she was used to the whole “wake up, put make up and go to a big glass office” kind of thing. But she kept an open mind and decided to give it a try.

After a few months she asked me: “Michael, can I move to France? It has forever been my dream to live in France and since we don’t have an office anyway, this wouldn’t really affect my work, right?”

I asked her back: “Do they have Internet in France?”

We both laughed and that was it.

She moved to France for two years and then she came back to Warsaw. Dream came true. Work was done. She’s still with the company and I can’t imagine working without her.

This is where I discovered another benefit of a “No Office” company - you can keep the talented people even when they want to change their lifestyle dramatically. What happens when a team member wants to move? Typically, they’d have to quit. Magda changed a country of residence to France and back after two years. And she stayed with the same company.

This way you can offer your people a much better lifestyle - they can now freely choose where they want to live. Very often when people settled in their position at our company for a few months, they’d start thinking about moving - some to their home towns, others to their dream locations…

And they get to do all that - because work for them is not a place to go - it’s a thing they do.

Sometimes the only thing that’s constant… is the job!

Another of our team members is Luke, one of our customer support reps, who works only part time for Nozbe. Luke thrives on change. He’s been living in 30 apartments by now. He’s moved to different countries, he’s been living in Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands. He hates boredom. He loves to shake things up.

Yet the only thing that’s constant in his life is his job at Nozbe. This job that goes with him and that he can perform (and he does it really well!) on his laptop from anywhere in the world. This one constant job that enables him his crazy almost catch-me-if-you-can kind of lifestyle. Recently on one of our one-on-one conversations he admitted to me: “Michael, everything changes in my life… except for my work at Nozbe”.

Can I grow the team like this forever?

Now that I have more than 20 people on my team (and we’ve had a team of this size for a number of years now), I can with full confidence say, that yes - you can grow a team without a central office. And there are much bigger teams than mine. There are companies twice or three times bigger than Nozbe with an all-remote workforce. There are even 1000+ people companies that don’t have an office. We’ll talk about them in more detail in the next chapters of this book.

Back to Tom - my first hire is still with me. But he’s not in college anymore. He lives back in his home town. With his wife and two boys. And he’s the CTO of Nozbe. Over the 12 years with us he’s life situation changed dramatically yet his job remained the same.

The one thing: Lifestyle can change while work stays the same.

As a “no office” company you can not only hire the best person for a job, but you can do so much more - you can boost your team members’ lifestyle. They get to choose where and how they live. When their situation changes, they graduate, they marry, they have kids, they move to a different location… and their work remains the only constant thing in their lives.

Next: Chapter 3 - I have a future?

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