When TeamGantt was bootstrapping their first product, a visual project management tool, they didn't have the money to rent an office space. So the two founders worked from their homes in Maryland.
Now, even though the company has grown to more than half a dozen people, they still don't have an office and the founders still work from their homes. In fact, most of their employees live thousands of miles away from them. The decision to hire remotely is one that they directly attribute to their fast growth (they now have thousands of customers including multiple Fortune 500 companies) because, they say, it has allowed them to be more productive.
Here is co-founder Nathan Gilmore on why he thinks that is, and how he keeps his growing business humming along smoothly with employees across the U.S. and on opposite sides of the globe.
What does TeamGantt do and what do you do there?
TeamGantt is a simple project management software that allows people to visually plan out their projects and execute them in a beautiful timeline view. I’m a co-founder and product designer.
How many people are at the company now and how spread out are you?
We are a team of nine people now, with people in Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Georgia, and the Philippines.
Why did you start working remotely?
It was just myself and John [Correlli] for the first few years of the company. We would work from our homes Monday-Thursday and then get together at his house on Fridays to go over any tweaks for upcoming releases. We always joked about how we wouldn’t get anything done if we always worked in the same office since we end up talking a lot on Fridays.
So it was natural for us as we built out the team that we decided to keep things remote as we really enjoy the ability to get long stretches of focus in without interruptions. We’ve been way more productive this way. Another big benefit is attracting talent. It broadens the talent pool big time. We get hundreds of applicants every time we post a job opening.
How do you keep everyone feeling connected?
We use tools like Google Hangouts for meetings which is fantastic. It really feels like you are connecting with people. Some people we would hire and just get to know over Google Hangouts. Then we’d meet in person and we felt like we already knew them. We also do something similar to a daily standup each day and manage it through TeamGantt. This way, everyone knows what we are all working on each day.
We also do a few meetups or company retreats each year. Earlier this year we did a company wide retreat to the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Everyone brought their families, too. It was a great time where we all got to spend time together and get to know each other and our families.
You've written that remote work helps facilitate focus and boost productivity for your team. Can you explain how and why?
Yes, it’s simple. We don’t have the daily interruptions that you get in an office. We don’t have people stopping by our desks to chat or interrupt us while working. Interruptions during the day are a huge productivity cost because of the time to stop and restart a task. We can really stay in the zone for hours at a time.
[Remote work] broadens the talent pool big time. We get hundreds of applicants every time we post a job opening.
When you started, remote working was a necessity. Now that you could presumably afford office space, are you ever tempted to get one? Do you think you're missing anything by not having a space for the team to physically congregate?
We really aren’t tempted at this point at all. Especially now that over 1/2 of the team isn’t in Maryland, it wouldn’t make sense to have an office for just a few of us. Plus, we all enjoy working at home. A lot of us have small kids and we get to see them more often.
What do you think is the most important thing a distributed team can do to ensure successful collaboration?
Communication is key. It’s important to figure out what tools work best for you. We use a mix of TeamGantt, Slack, and Google Hangouts. The in person meetups are also super important. It really helps to connect everyone and remind each other that we are in this together.
We also just adopted John Doerr’s OKR system for helping to align Objectives throughout the company. This way everyone can know what the company is trying to achieve and how each person’s individual objectives alight with the company objectives for the quarter. It’s something we actually just put in place recently! Maybe we can provide an update on how this works for a distributed team down the road.
[Editor's note: we'll do a follow up interview with TeamGantt in the future to see how this system has worked.]
What are some of the benchmarks you use to make sure the team is in a good place, both mentally and operationally?
I try to talk to people individually about this to get feedback on how they feel about their job, the company, and how connected they feel to the company. We’ve been making adjustments based on feedback.
What sort of culture does TeamGantt have? Is it harder to build cohesive culture across geography?
A big part of our culture is work/life balance. We ask for 40 smart, hustling, working hours. Then after that, we encourage everyone to leave and spend time with their families. Everyone is pretty good about sticking to this. A lot of us all have stuff in common too, whether its kids, a love for the outdoors, different hobbies, etc. We also defined our mission statement and core values on our last retreat, which helps to set the tone of our culture.
We don’t have people stopping by our desks to chat or interrupt us while working. Interruptions during the day are a huge productivity cost.
Really though, the culture is defined by the people in the company. We try to hire people that would be a good culture fit, and so far everyone fits in perfect. We all enjoy hanging out together even if it’s not work related.
What do you look for in an ideal remote employee? Are there any qualities that make someone more successful at working remotely?
They need to be self motivated and disciplined.
Describe your personal work environment.
Since I work from home with three small kids, ages one, three, and five, we had to come up with a plan as a family of how to best manage this. The plan is actually very simple. I have a dedicated office space with doors and my wife and kids know to give me my space from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm each work day. However, at 5:01, if I’m still in there, a kid may come in to remind me that it’s time to stop working for the day. I then shut things off and leave the office and my computer for the night. Then it’s family time.
These boundaries have played a huge role in being able to successfully work from home. I’m a big believer in separation of work time and family time.
As far as my actual office space, I have a motorized Ikea standing desk, lots of natural light, plants, and lots of white. That’s the great part of working from home. You can design your office exactly how you want it.
How do you keep distractions to a minimum? How do you personally measure efficiency?
I’ve always been very disciplined with this. Structure is everything with working from home. To me, surfing the web, doing lawn work, or house chores during my 8-5 working hours is cheating. So, I force all of that to be either on my lunch break or after 5:00 pm. know that if I give it my all from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, I can comfortably relax at night knowing that I worked a solid day. Night time is for family and relaxing so that I’m ready to go the next day.
I always have one really big thing that I want to achieve each day. Typically it’s a new feature design that I’m working on. Before working on email or anything else, I start on that one feature that needs to be designed. I’ll work on that for a few hours first thing each day while my mind is fresh. Once I accomplish that, I either continue to iterate on it or tackle more tasks for the rest of the day.
What are some of the tools you couldn't live without as a remote company?
Google Hangouts and TeamGantt.
What do you like to read?
I’m going through Work Rules! by Google's Laszlo Block right now. It’s a great leadership and business book about how Google had so much success. It’s helpful for us as we start to shift from a super small team into a growing team.
I also love to listen to podcasts about startups and learn from the experiences of others growing similar businesses.
What advice would you give to a company heading down the remote working path?
Make sure that your team feels connected and make adjustments if they don’t feel the connection. Listen to what would make them feel more connected. Is it using a different tool to collaborate, doing in person retreats, or have company goals to try and achieve together, etc.?