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Most people are surprised to find out that my coffee subscription company MistoBox has a totally remote team (a.k.a. a virtual team where no one works in a single office location).

I wanted to open up and give you a peek into what being a remote company means for MistoBox – how we got to this point, how it translates to our team’s lives, and how we operate successfully in this format.

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Our office in Phoenix

Background

When Connor and I started MistoBox in 2012, we honestly had no intention of becoming a remote company. In fact, for the first year and a half, we had an office in Arizona where most of our team worked and fulfilled MistoBoxes.

Then came the series of events that led us to break from the traditional workplace: We outsourced fulfillment to a company in Chicago. Our developer Nick (who was previously just a subscriber that wanted to help) worked from his apartment in New York City. Our Director of Coffee Seth worked from home, so he could spend time with his daughter. I went to LA to take some web development courses. Before we knew it, we were a remote team with no need for an office to run MistoBox. What’s more, we realized we could operate better with a distributed team.

Since that revelation, we let go of our office space and built our team with a focus on the remote workplace. The way we hire, communicate, and operate are all optimized for our distributed team.

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Aside from eliminating the overhead cost of having an office, the biggest benefit to working remotely is how happy it makes our team. Not only are happy employees more productive, it’s a heck of a lot more fun to work with people that love their jobs.

Our location doesn’t dictate our passion, motivation, or ability to achieve company goals which allows us to work from home, a coffee shop, a co-working office, a sprinter van, or anywhere else with an internet connection. Each one of us has a unique situation because we get to structure our lives based on what’s important to us as individuals.

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My Current Workspace in Thessaloniki, Greece

How It Works

You might be wondering how we can actually pull all of this off and still run a successful company. It all comes down to three main areas of focus: processes, tools, and the team.

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Processes

Weekly Hangouts: Every week, the entire team meets via Google Hangout. We each take turns discussing what we accomplished the previous week and what we’re working on next week. We also answer the infamous Question of the Week where we learned that Melissa once worked as a mermaid swimming in a tank at a bar, Seth would rather actually die than have to choose between only drinking coffee or cocktails for the rest of his life, and Connor’s celebrity crush is Rachel McAdams (from Wedding Crashers only). Our Hangouts are a great way to keep everyone accountable, motivated, and in sync, and more importantly, they’re really important to building our bonds as a team.

Company retreats: Once a year, we fly the whole team to one location to work and hang out together. Our last retreat was in Santa Cruz where we spent time at Verve’s roastery, played drinking games, cooked amazing meals, filmed our Shark Tank update, and got a little work done too. Working remotely is great, but nothing can replace the relationship building that takes place during face to face interactions.

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Tools

Slack: We use a messaging app called Slack to communicate. We can fire off direct messages to anyone on the team or chat in channels, which are basically chat rooms around specific topics. Our channel topics range from very practical like #customer-service where we discuss customer issues to the less practical but arguably more important like #the-bachelor (yep, even our developer Nick watches The Bachelor). 

Google Docs: Google docs allows us to work collaboratively on documents and to sync all of our files in one place.

Zapier: Zapier allows us to automate many of our processes. They’re also an awesome remote team. They share a lot of really valuable information on operating a remote team and have helped shape the way we run our company.  

Asana: Asana is our task management tool where we can plan all of our projects, distribute the tasks to anyone on the team, and all stay in the loop on progress.

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Team

Hiring the right people is probably the most important factor when building a remote company. Not everyone can be successful in a remote role, so it takes hiring a very specific type of person. They must be motivated, self-directed, and a good communicator in order to thrive. We are so fortunate to have a very special group of people working for MistoBox that each contribute so much to our success as a remote company.

Challenges

Of course, there are challenges to being a distributed team. Communication also has to be very deliberate, we can’t just call a meeting or stop by someone’s desk to ask a question. We miss a lot of the interactions that you get in an office. We’re all friends of course, but we can’t grab happy hour drinks after work or invite each other over for dinner.

Sure there are distractions when you’re working from home. My bed beckons me for a good nap every now and then and an unwatched Game of Thrones episode waits for me, but it’s easy to argue there are actually more distractions when working in an office environment.

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What’s Next

People often ask me if and when we’ll get an office. We are operating efficiently, our team is happy, and business is great; as long as we can maintain those conditions, I see no need to change things. There are larger and more successful remote companies paving the way and proving that we have a lot of room to grow. There might be a point that having an office makes sense for us, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll continue running as an extremely happy remote company.

 

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