Remote Teams at ImpulseFlyer

It is often said that an ‘important’ part of startup culture is small teams in smaller rooms working impossible hours. Most often this is to the exclusion of remote workers, I’ve certainly come across both entrepreneurs and investors who want their team to be within shouting distance.

The alternative ‘remote working’ option is something we’ve embraced at ImpulseFlyer since the beginning, where I spent the first six weeks in a coding fugue emerging only to eat and walk the dog.

37signals, a standard-bearer for remote work, is about to blow this trumpet even louder for this working style with the launch of their new book: Remote.

After a year of mixed working (Starbucks, borrowed meeting room, co-working space) we’ve now gone to the extreme. I’m in the UK (awaiting twins), Steven has been doing business development from Bangkok and Desiree is about to embark on a pan-Asian tour of our properties (lucky girl).

Short-story: it works. A mixture of good development process (CI, Tracker, Heroku, Github) has let me work with trusted contractors back in Singapore. Plus the combination of a ‘most days’ 20-minute Skype catchup and an always-on Campfire room means I don’t feel out of the loop even with an 8 hour time difference.

I’m sure it helps that Steven and I have worked together before and we’ve had periods of time in the same physical space, but I don’t notice any slowing of our product development or our service of customers despite the multi-thousand mile difference.

For me the flexibility has been even more useful. I’m encouraged to both step away from the laptop if my brain isn’t cutting it, letting my subconscious do some work whilst I walk the dog.

When my brain is firing on all cylinders it’s easier to get into (and stay in) ‘the zone’ much more easily that if all it takes to interrupt is for someone to look up and say ‘Andy’.

The key elements are great communication and high-quality, engaged people and they feedback into each other. This is true both in the positive and the negative.

I suspect negatives may come at a later stage, as we (hopefully) become a slightly larger company.

Creating a teaching organisation that supports the growth of junior engineers I suspect is much harder and in my experience works much better in an in-office environment, the terrific learning environment at a neo or Pivotal Labs is testament to that, but then growing junior engineers in any circumstance is simply a hard thing to do. We shall see.


2013