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 getting disorganized. I read the book by David Allen titled “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,”1 which inspired me to build an app that would help me work better.

When I developed an early prototype, I didn’t know if anyone apart from me would actually find value in my app; however, after announcing it to a group of productivity-aficionados, the Nozbe user base exploded to 5,000 users after just three months.

As the Nozbe project grew, it was a one-man-shop: I managed all of the coding, the marketing and the customer support. And while I loved each part of it, I quickly realized that I needed a better programmer than myself if I really wanted to take Nozbe to a whole new level.

Meet Tom: how I hired my first programmer 200 km 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 Poznań, which is 300 km away from Warsaw. And he didn’t want to move to Warsaw.

Initially, I was skeptical about hiring someone from so far away. Could I really build a truly “virtual” team? Especially at such an early stage of my startup? Would I be able to pass on my entire code base to a person so far away? Could it ever work?

Tom and I met in Warsaw for the final interview, and we later met again for a full-day work session. We clicked. I wanted him on board, so we decided to give it a try.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but what happened was that I experienced the first major benefit of having a “No Office” company: 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 another person to help me with customer support. I turned to a person who had previously helped me when I was working as a Marketing Consultant. She accepted the job, and even though she lived pretty close to me at the time (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. No 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 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 Nozbe’s one 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 ideal, especially with his talents. He wanted to earn more and have a more exciting job… but still live in his town. Was 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 made the most 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 the “No Office” work environment. She was from Warsaw, and she was used to the whole “wake up, put on makeup and go to a big glass office” kind of routine. 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 always 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: “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. Her dream came true and her work was still done. She’s still with the company, and I can’t imagine working without her.

Magda’s experience proved another benefit to a “No Office” company: you can retain 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. At Nozbe, Magda changed her country of residence for two years, and she was still able to stay with the company.

This flexibility allows you to offer your team members a much better lifestyle – they can now freely choose where they want to live. Very often after people have settled into their position at our company for a few months, they start thinking about moving – some to their hometowns and others to their dream locations…

And they get to do this without concern for their position, 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 part-time at Nozbe. Luke thrives on change. He has lived in 30 different apartments and has moved to a few different countries, including Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands. He hates boredom, and he loves to shake things up.

One of the few constants in Luke’s life is his job at Nozbe. This job goes with him wherever he goes, since he can do it (and he does it really well!) on his laptop from anywhere in the world. This one constant job allows him his almost catch-me-if-you-can kind of lifestyle. Recently in 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 my 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 say with full confidence yes – you can grow a team without a central office. And there are much bigger remote teams than mine: there are companies two or three times bigger than Nozbe with an all-remote workforce. There are even 1000+ people companies that don’t have an office. We will talk about them in more detail in the next chapters of this book.

Back to Tom quickly – my first hire is still with me. But he’s not in college anymore. He’s the CTO of Nozbe, and he lives back in his hometown with his wife and two boys. Over the 12 years he’s been at Nozbe, his life has changed dramatically – yet his job remained the same.

The one takeaway: Lifestyles can change while work stays the same.

As a “No Office” company, you can not only improve your company and hire the best person for a job, but you can also enhance your team members’ lifestyles. They get to choose where and how they live. And while their situations may change when they graduate, marry, have kids, move to a different location or so on… their work remains the only constant thing in their lives.

Next: Chapter 3 - I have a future?

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