At BigBinary, we work a bit differently. We optimize for different things. We care about uninterrupted time and stuff like that. What works for us might or might not work for you. We have written here what has worked for us for the last 12+ years.
BigBinary has been a 100% remote first company since it started in 2011. In its early days, we used to use Skype and Hipchat. Later, we switched to Slack. From day one, we have been using Basecamp for internal long-form communications.
We believe that the critical thing that makes "remote work" a success is "asynchronous communication".
See, when you are in the office with your co-workers, you can chat about anything anytime. That's much more challenging to pull off in a remote environment. We can't ask co-workers to jump on a Zoom call for every small thing.
So, how do we get answers to our questions? Asynchronous communication is the answer.
Let's say I have a small question about a billing feature I'm working on. It's not a pressing matter. If I get an answer to this question 4 hours late, then it's okay. In that case, I won't ping my co-worker to hop on a Zoom call. I'll make a video recording of my question and post it to my co-worker.
My co-worker will look at the message at his/her convenient time and will reply accordingly. The co-worker can respond by posting a message or making a video and posting that video for me.
We believe this change in behavior alone will go a long way towards making "remote work" a success.
At BigBinary, we use Slack. Lots of people don't like it, but we like it. However, we use it a bit differently. One of the common problems people run into with Slack is that there are too many notifications.
If someone is using @channel , @everyone or sending DM messages then these notifications will appear on your laptop and on your mobile. We call these types of notifications iping. Here "i" stands for "interruption".
We call them iping because, without any regard for what you are doing, these messages will pop up. In other words, these messages scream "I don't care what you are doing; pay attention to this message". In other companies, people get so many ipings that they need to put their notifications on snooze. Not at BigBinary. Here, folks are allowed to use iping but only for genuine cases which require someone's immediate attention. The bar is high for sending an iping.
It also means that if and when someone gets an iping they are more likely to respond to the message immediately.
Maximize uninterrupted time
Being constantly interrupted is bad for getting high-quality work done. We are not digging ditches here that anytime we can stop the work and then we can resume. When we are doing creative work then setting up the mind in the proper work zone and then understanding the context of the problem itself takes quite some time. Whether you are writing code, writing blog, performing QA or doing UI/UX work we can do quality work if and only if we have uninterrupted time for a long stretch of time.
For example, one can spend 60 minutes in one of the two ways. No disturbance for 60 minutes. 6 interruptions in 60 minutes. If a person is interrupted 6 times in a 60 minutes by asking that person to look at something on slack then on a average that person has only 10 minutes to uninterrupted time. That's too little to get any quality work done.
Nothing really gets done when we are constantly interrupted. The Worst part is that these interruptions are disguised as work itself. A ping on Slack, an email notification and a ping from GitHub seem like work. However, if not properly managed these interruptions do not let us do "deep work". To really get work done, we need to have a long stretch of uninterrupted time for ourselves.
The most difficult part is that these interruptions come disguised as work itself. In order to get work done we need to do all those things. We need to take the zoom call, we need to answer items on Slack, we need to reply to emails and ,of course, we need to tend to GitHub.
So how do we reconcile these two needs. A need to have "a long stretch of uninterrupted time" and then there is a need to "answer the questions others are asking".
We believe that asynchronous work along with long stretches of uninterrupted time strikes the right balance.
We focus on getting work done , and then after an hour or so we need a break. For some it could be a few hours before they need the break.
When we are out of our "no interruption time zone" then that's a good time to check slack, email etc.
Main point is that it is up to us to decide if we want to check slack or if we want to do work. When someone interrupts us by sending a direct message on slack then they are taking that right away from me. I have no choice at that time and that's not good for getting work done.
At BigBinary, people are free to work when they are most productive. Some folks start work early in the day, and some start late at night. Some constraints do apply. You can't work at a time, which would make it difficult to have a call with you. We provide 3/4 hours of overlap with our clients, so your flexible timing needs to take that into account.
Work life balance
We believe that life is bigger than work. We work so that we can have a good life. We all are much more than what we bring to work. We are all part of our society, culture and surroundings and want you to be engaged with your community. Work should NOT be all life-consuming.
Work 40 hours in a week
At BigBinary, our goal is to provide you with an environment so that you can work at a time that is convenient to you, and you can work from a place convenient to you. All we ask for is concentrated deep work of 40 hours. We believe that innovative companies are innovative because of their thinking and not because of working long hours. In fact working long hours and not getting enough rest is not good for creative work.
BigBinary is not a family
These days, companies are falling over each other to claim they are part of your family. Not at BigBinary. We are very clear about who we are. If we work together, then we are colleagues. Some of your colleagues will participate in your family function, and some won’t. And that’s OK. BigBinary is not a family. We are supporters of the family.
At BigBinary, we don’t have any managers. Here, no one’s job is just to manage people. We don’t believe in that. We believe that upon being given a responsibility, most folks rise up to the challenge and do the right thing.
No monitoring software
BigBinary doesn't use any monitoring software, and we don't work with any client that forces us to use monitoring software.
When we work in a team, then conflicts are bound to happen. In a way, conflicts are desirable. If there is no conflict ever and everyone agrees with everyone on everything then that means people are not being sincere and not forthcoming with their ideas.
We don't need to optimize to avoid conflict. The key here is to ensure that the conflict related to work, design, and engineering does not cross over and become a personal conflict. Don't do a personal attack on the other person just because that person pointed out design flaws. We need to handle conflicts professionally and never let them cause any disharmony at a personal level.
The goal should be that at the end of the meeting, even if you disagree with someone, you are impressed by how cogently, thoughtfully and respectfully the other party presented their point of view.