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It seems like every company, every article, and every startup CEO today proclaims that the workforce is changing, and the need to be in the same physical space no longer exists. Sure, we’d all like to think it is. Heck, I spent years building software and finding tools to help me work remotely, saying, “We don’t need an office space.” I was wrong.
When starting a company, you just can’t replace what happens when people are in the same room. Creating a company is all about vision and pushing that vision forward, day in and day out. These things don’t translate as well over email, chat clients, or even phone calls. While it’s easy to “work remotely,” it’s much more difficult to keep everyone on the same page and believing in the same vision. These elements are critical in the early stages of a startup, when things are constantly in flux and companies just can’t afford to wait.
The remote workforce may work at later stages of operation. But after being part of three startups, it’s more clear to me than ever that the office, and the collaboration and the establishment of company culture that goes with it, defines how the vision manifests.
Here are seven reasons why early-stage companies should start up in the same physical office space:
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1. Decisions happen on the fly. In the early days, many company decisions are based on intuition and made at the last minute. The time it takes to set up a meeting, receive an email response, or even convey the correct message is insurmountable when in a hurry. These decisions require the right people in the right conversations, and that’s much easier when they are sitting right next to you.
2. Hallway conversations are priceless. You can’t create true serendipity over instant message. It’s crazy to think that one discussion can make, break or change the path of a company, but sometimes, those “accidental conversations” do turn into some magical idea, approach or direction. The early collaborations can determine what the company becomes, and the more interactions that can be had within your company, the better. It also makes everyone feel like they’re part of the process and the company altogether.
3. Passion in person is contagious. I’d argue that it’s almost impossible to convey passion accurately to someone at a remote location. If you think back to times when you’ve been convinced to do something, it usually results from face-to-face interaction. It’s harder to influence and create change through the digital highway. Also, in-person passion helps to create a social pressure that makes people work better. If the person next to you is working late, it’s much easier to ignore if you can’t physically see staying in the office longer.
4. Keeping people in the loop becomes extra “work.” The squeaky wheel is harder to hear over the telephone. The person who is out of the office may have an amazing perspective, but it is difficult to get that voice transmitted via phone or IM. On top of that, it’s hard to keep the people who aren’t at the nexus feeling like they make an impact. Ultimately, the feelings of control and empowerment can easily be lost.
5. Company culture is key. Culture binds a company early on, so maintaining that culture in multiple locations requires extra effort and even a separate “culture team” — members of management who ensure that the culture is universal across the company. Everyone talks about how important it is to set it, embrace it and make sure every single employee believes in it, but it’s hard to live and breathe something if you aren’t actually breathing the same air.
6. “Whiteboards” work in real time and space. Company whiteboards are where the brainstorming magic happens. I haven’t once seen a collaboration session for a critical decision happen successfully from sending files back and forth. The time wasted, the communication breakdowns, and the lost creativity can all be rectified by meeting in one room with one whiteboard.
7. Miscommunication causes too many problems. Miscommunication causes product problems, PR nightmares, culture issues and, ultimately, is the reason many problems aren’t discovered until it’s too late. Clear communication is more difficult with remote workforces over in-person teams due to the response lag time and unavailable immediacy. And no video chat software can capture the unspoken messages of body language.
When considering remote operations for your company, it comes down to where you are in development. If you are truly looking to create a great company, attract the best talent, and in the end build something that will change the world, I’d suggest getting everyone together and getting things done in the same space. Amazing companies are built by amazing teams, composed of amazing people.
People in the same room, that is. Get an office.
Shane Mac is the Director of Product at Zaarly. He’s the founder of Hello There and previously spearheaded marketing for Seattle-based Gist, which sold to BlackBerry. Shane is also an author, a professional musician voted best wedding band in 2009 and is obsessed with creating technology that can connect people and change the world for the better.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.
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