iwantmyname culture: The “work-from-anywhere experiment”

In my last post I talked about the one salary experiment and got a lot of feedback. One point that kept coming up was that we may run into the problem of a limited talent pool as we have no real way of attracting anyone with a higher salary than we currently pay. While this may be a limiting factor, the salary is only one aspect of working at iwantmyname. Today, I’ll talk about a second aspect, one that also addresses our talent pool size.

We are a company built on the idea that we want to be able to work from anywhere, and because we’re an Internet-based business, we have no need for a fixed location. We work on a global network, and as long as we have access to it, we can be productive. And we’re not alone in this—quite a few startups have shifted to working either entirely as a distributed team or with remote workers who contribute. But we, as with many things, try to push this envelope.

I love camping, and here in New Zealand it’s not hard to take your work outside. The wireless coverage you can get across large parts of the country enables me to camp out on remote beaches for days and work from there. This, for me, is the ultimate work/life balance. But not all of us like camping, and even I don’t live in a camper all the time, so we regularly have people working from home, co-working spaces or the office in Wellington. We have no policy on where you have to work.

For half of this year I’ll be living in Berlin, working out of a co-working space and connecting with the startup community in Europe. Many of us love traveling, and the company setup we have enables everyone to do that. We have team members that travel for half the year and are back in Wellington for the rest, we have people that work from Canada and the US most of the time, while others are mainly in Wellington. The freedom of choice and the opportunity to set your schedule as you please brings us very close to “work whenever you want from wherever you want” dream. The only really fixed thing at iwantmyname is our weekly meeting. Once a week we all meet either in person in the office or via video link for everyone who is remote and talk about what we’re working on, what we plan to do next, where we are and how we feel. This weekly chat where everyone sees each other is the only time where everyone makes an effort to be at a place where the internet is good enough for video chat.

Obviously there are limits to this. There has to be at least one developer on call with internet access 24/7 in case things go wrong. There also needs to be at least one supporter that looks after our customers’ needs at any time, and so on. But, with everyone working pretty closely with everyone else, we know when someone needs a break, is working from a country where internet coverage is bad, or if part of the team is at Burning Man and has no internet at all. It all comes down to communication with the team and respectful planning. So the above “work whenever you want from wherever you want” has, in reality, a qualifier of “as long as you respect the team and our customers”.

With all the remote work opportunities, why then do we have an office at all? Turns out, having an office is awesome. You can hang out together if you want. Chat, have fun. An office is a very social place, and even though I’m often most productive when I work from home, time in the office is important when we collaborate to develop new features. It’s also a good place for Friday drinks when we have other startups over or host user groups.

Having fun is an integral part of what we do at iwantmyname. Having fun makes sure our product is built by a team that likes doing what they do. In my opinion, working only for the sake of making money makes work a sad place. If financial incentives are the only reason you work where you work, then the products that come out are artifacts of people trying to drop the keyboard at 5pm to do fun things. I can’t see those being products that will be fun for people to use. And this puts a much different perspective on the talent pool we draw from.

Continue reading

This is part two of an ongoing series about the culture of iwantmyname.

  1. The “one salary experiment”
  2. The “work-from-anywhere experiment”
  3. On hiring and heirarchy