We’ve been “remote” since 2007: as a company, we were born without an office, and after a few ridiculous failures (yep, my idea of opening a training center in Bali was bad), we decided we did not need one. So we thought the 50 people who work for Innate Motion across the world probably had tips to offer to those new to the art of remote work.

This week we opened a Google doc, and collected the tricks that make Innater happy and efficient home workers. Going through the contributions though, I was a bit underwhelmed.

You judge:

Make sure your work space is comfortable and with enough daylight (Annemarie).
Do Skype meetings with image, so it’s human (me).
Set clear time and geographical boundaries between life and work (Arya)
Exercise daily, ideally outdoors (Mark).
Forbid the family/friends to spontaneously pop up or even enter your office, unless someone is bleeding or the house in on fire (Mai).
Proactively plan digital coffee breaks, to share and socialise with your colleagues, like a coffee break in an office (Aurelia)
Etc…
I mean, they are really good suggestions, and they actually help. But I wondered, do they make the difference? That’s when I realized where the magic is. It’s not about our individual habits. It’s about our collective culture.

You see, we work remote ALL THE TIME. So we know each others’ boundaries and messed-up organizations. I know Cilla might return a WhatsApp message at 11pm on a Friday. I know Femke’s kitchen with the sticker-covered fridge and I know Moniek will gladly speak with me after her early Dutch family dinner. I know the sound of the birds in Muriel’s garden, and I know Rachel’s bedroom and her kids popping on the bed that serves as an office: they’re not a stain to their professionalism, they’re a chance to put a smile into a conversation. And everybody knows that I’ll interrupt a call to kiss my wife goodbye when she leaves to work!

For most people, the office is the place where you surrender to your company from 9 to 7pm (on lucky days). Body and soul, as if nothing else existed. In exchange for that, home is your island, off limit to the firm. We’ve never built respect for these boundaries, so we built respect for people instead. In our ways of working, it’s OK to ask a colleague to call later because the homework needs to be done. To schedule work calls around yoga classes. To relocate to Bali for 3 months. To just say you can’t do something because you’re busy. It’s OK because it’s also normal to finish a piece of work at night to ensure a document is ready for the client. To step in for a friend who is sick or needs help. To ask someone for a quick chat at 9pm, as long as the kids are in bed.

The vulnerability that we show others by opening a window into our imperfect lives, we exchange for the extraordinary chance to trust that they all will put everything in place to deliver and help. By opening our homes, we embrace each other, not just as colleagues, but as human beings. We create a closeness that make us perform better, and live happier.

We’ve created a culture that’s not about working “remote”, but genuinely about working “from home”. By accepting that the boundaries between our work and personal lives and time are muddy, we’ve grown able to value each other’s full lives. And that makes us richer.

This is life at Innate Motion of course. But if the virus leaves this legacy in more companies, we’ve gained something, no?

 

Benoit Beaufils