Being remote is much different from being distributed: being remote is about where you do the work, while being distributed is about how you do the work. You can be distributed without being remote, but you can't be remote without being distributed. Too many organizations conflate these terms and fail, because they don't realize that distributed work is an entirely different medium, with its own rules, pros and cons.
Because we have two studios, Nebulab has been distributed since day 1. For us, distributed work is a way to think more clearly, communicate more transparently, and work more intentionally, not to mention the ability to hire people all over the world. On the downside, we have found that it makes social interactions more difficult, and requires us to work twice as hard to bring people together.
We've always considered co-located work to be a nice benefit on top of our distributed culture: our studios are there if you're close by and need a nice, quiet space away from home, but not in the slightest a requirement for doing your job. At Nebulab, you should be able to open your laptop and get things done with no friction or loss of context, no matter where you are.
Today, the majority of Nebulab works remotely, and we could never consider a different way of working. What follows is a set of principles that have helped us turn this vision into a reality.
Default to public, written communication
This is rule #1. Whatever you do, it should be written and public by default. This allows everyone to access it, and to do so when they actually have time.
This includes communication with colleagues, project briefs, feedback requests and any other piece of information you want to share with or request from another human being, be it a peer, a manager or a partner.
Communication should only be private if it's sensitive in nature, or if it might hurt someone's feelings (such as when you're providing feedback).
Communication should only be synchronous when you need to quickly bounce ideas off the other person, or if you want to make sure no emotional context gets lost in translation. For more about this, see Effective meetings.
Define clear boundaries for work
For families and friends, it can sometimes be hard to understand that remote work is still work. People are always peeking in for a chat or a coffee.
Taking a break every now and then is healthy and encouraged—one of the benefits of working from home is being able to spend more time with the ones we care about—but this shouldn't happen at the expense of productivity.
When you're at work, set clear expectations with your loved ones that you can't be disturbed, and make sure they know when you're up for a break.
If you have the opportunity, it's very helpful to set up a dedicated workspace (e.g., in a separate room). This helps you minimize distractions and really disconnect at the end of the day, rather than bringing work around the house with you. When you join, we'll provide a lot of the hardware you will need for this.
Make room for the small things
When working in a distributed setting, it's easier to "get in the zone" and forget about everything else. While this is great for productivity, it's not ideal for your social life. The largest benefit of co-located work are the hallway conversations and casual chats that you have with colleagues.
We have some company-wide rituals to bring people together, but you should still make space for those casual interactions that happen every now and then, like in the dead times before or after a meeting. Don't be afraid to bring your whole self to work—we're a friendly bunch and you won't regret it!
After all, if we're not having fun, why are we even doing all of this?!