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Distributed Workforce – We can work anywhere!

Distributed Workforce – We can work anywhere!

When speaking with others about working remotely, there are always two questions that get asked:
  1. “How can you possibly get your work done when you’re not in an office?”
  2. “What does your boss think of it?”

We felt the best way to answer this would be to compare both ends of the spectrum: A full-time nomadic employee and DevOps Engineer, TJ Biddle, and the glue holding it all together, oiling the rig and making sure it runs, Erik Jones, CEO.

Erik’s Perspective

Finding talent and maintaining a high bar while balancing the need for resources within the company is always a challenge for hiring teams. Silicon Valley has some of the best talent and also some of the best companies. It’s a challenge for any company, new or seasoned, to attract and retain top talent while competing with the likes of Facebook, Google and many other great companies. How do you sell yourself to a prospective candidate in less than 30 seconds? Because that’s about the most amount of time we’re going to get from someone actively looking through LinkedIn or the job boards when they come across one of our open positions.

Almost every CEO probably thinks that his or her company is the best and think that “everyone should want to work here!” And as I write this, I have flashbacks to my last visit to my Facebook wall where every parent I’m connected to insists they have the most gifted and beautiful child. How my hiring managers and I convince candidates of this is a whole separate discussion. Another way to increase the amount of time someone takes to examine our company culture is to reduce the number of “competitors” we have in the job market.

We decided to build the offices where the best talent lives. Through networking and word-of-mouth, I reached out to some awesome individuals to join Jacobian’s workforce. I have always been comfortable with the idea of working remotely and provided that we have the right tools, I think the company can build an infrastructure and culture that embraces remote workers. Having worked from home, however, I never believed that full-time work-from-home is a good policy as there is a “psychology” to leaving one’s house and going to work—even if it’s a separate building on one’s property, as it is in my case.

We began in March of 2015, opening offices in Santa Cruz, CA and Omaha, NE where we had onboarded some great talent for our engineering and operations teams. As our team began to scale, we opened up other offices in Ormond Beach, FL and Oakland, CA. Although our Ormond Beach office has only one extremely talented QA engineer, she benefits from being able to separate work-life physically and emotionally. She has a desk, phone and internet, all provided by Jacobian. For very little cost, we’re sourcing the best talent in every part of the United States.

Does that mean we’re going to open up offices wherever and whenever? No, of course not. However, when there is a “critical mass” of great talent, it seems to make sense for us. We’ve now scaled our company to over 25 full-time individuals with plans to double in the next 2 quarters. Having the flexibility to source great talent where our Jacobians want to live has been one key facet to unlocking this growth while still maintaining a very high bar for skills and culture-fit.

Speaking of tools… Some of the great tools that have enabled this global workforce to work in harmony have been:

  • Ringcentral – VOIP telephony anywhere there’s Internet
  • Slack – Great chat with code snippet support and soon to include screen sharing
  • Ringcentral meetings – Great screen sharing and video conferencing tool
  • Google docs – Sharing made easy!
  • Confluence – Wiki fun!
  • Sophos SSL VPNs – Keeping things secure wherever we go
  • Lastpass – Keeping things secure
  • Google Authenticator – Ensuring things REALLY stay secure!
  • Onelogin – Single sign on so there’s only one place to sign in to all these tools!
  • Small Improvements – Everyone needs continuous feedback!
  • BambooHR – Keeping all of our employment information and contractor information in one place — No more file folders!
  • Nexonia – Time and expense reporting made easy with Quickbooks integration (billing takes hours not days!)
  • Asana – Manage projects and tasks
  • Bonus.ly – Keep the team spirit up by rewarding each other with micro bonuses
TJ’s Perspective

“Erik – I want to go to Thailand.”

“Okay. We’ll make it happen.”

This was the length of our conversation regarding my future move to Asia in it’s entirety.

Working remotely has always had an appeal to me; even prior to finding my love of travel. Having worked at companies with work from home days, I realized that my productivity was higher when I was out of the office—I had a clearer mind, fewer distractions, and as such was more productive and lead to feeling more accomplished in my work.

How it came to be

When I joined Jacobian Engineering I was starting a 6-month trip through Europe. Erik and I had worked together in the past and we knew it wouldn’t be an issue whether I was next door in San Francisco—or working from a beach in Barcelona. Since this time I’ve been back in California less than a handful of times and have stayed in over 20 countries, just chasing that Internet. There were a few bumps at first, but now things operate smoothly across the board and I am currently working out of Bali, Indonesia.

A clear mind allows for clear work
A clear mind allows for clear work
Our team dynamics

Jacobian has offices in Alameda, Ormond Beach, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Omaha; however a lot of our team is dispersed even further—ranging from Russia, to New York, to Brazil, and growing! I honestly think the most difficult part of this arrangement is the logistics of getting everyone in one place for company get-togethers.
Working together with individuals spread across the globe, and doing so from the start, has enabled us to truly have our process streamlined down to a science—we’ve cut out the B.S., which has lead to fewer distractions, and more productivity per hour for all of us. We don’t have time to waste when working with others in various timezones and it has allowed us to ensure we get the information correct on first contact.

I’ve read a lot of posts that love to jump into the new tool of the day that they’re using, how it’s increased their productivity 10-fold, solved world hunger, and has the both the question and answer to Life, The Universe, And Everything.

I don’t believe this is truly the case though; what’s happening is that these teams have finally come together and made a definitive decision to put in place a certain process—finally cutting out all the various forms electronic subconscious bickering that happens when people go back and forth with whatever it is they’re working on.

This is what we’ve done in every aspect of our work here at Jacobian Engineering, and this is why I believe we’ve had such success in our global office.

Final thoughts by TJ

Office space, work hours, dress code; throw in a dash of cubicles, florescent lighting, coffee—lots of coffee, and you have the recipe for the traditional work place of the century. But times are a’ changing (Except the coffee). More and more businesses are opening up to work from home and remote work policies.
I personally find it to be an exciting time as people push forward with this ideology. The fact of the matter is, you don’t truly need to be in an office for a number of occupations—and in my opinion it’s actually an expense in a lot of cases.

Getting work done in a geographically independent manner is leading to more free time, proper work/life balance, and happier employees—which is in-turn is having the result of more focused and enjoyable work output.

It’s an actual win-win.

I’ve seen everyone from marketers, PR manager, software developers, copywriters, graphic designers, photographers, and more all working alongside me at co-working spaces. Not only are they working more efficiently, but it’s helping to grow their business by networking with others, sharing their skills, and learning more from the variety of interactions possible.

Some trades are not able to truly have a geographically independent work; however I believe everyone can find ways to make their process more efficient, streamlined, and bring out an even more effective and productive you.