The Early Discipline of Remote Startups

In a recent interview, Sid Sijbrandij, the founder of Gitlab observed something about remote teams that I think is absolutely true. I've seen it in many of the remote/distributed companies we work with. He said:

Remote forces you to do the things you should be doing any way earlier and better

As company scale, they need to develop infrastructure to successfully manage and coordinate large numbers of people. But in the early days, by virtue of being close to each other physically, it's easier to delay some of these investments.

A quick hallway meeting of a few key stakeholders might be all it takes to commit to a strategic change. A last-minute all hands roused through word-of-mouth may be the prelude to a fundraising announcement.

For a business that exists somewhere on the distributed-to-remote continuum these options don't exist, or at least they are significantly harder. These kind of communications are just as necessary within remote or distributed teams, but they require more planning, more foresight in order to be successful.

This is often why we see remote and distributed companies invest in human resources functions earlier on. consequently, these businesses articulate their values sooner. They are more deliberate about their internal communication at far younger stages. They typically run meetings in more structured and formal ways.

Each of these disciplines eventually emerge within larger companies as they sprout new offices. But for remote and distributed companies, these investments must be made often in the very earliest days. And this is a really good thing.

It used to be that we would point to the largest companies as the epitome of managerial excellence. You would go to an IBM training program. I went through the Google APM program. At that scale of tens or hundreds of thousands of employees, management discipline and excellence is a prerequisite to operating the business. It's the only way to align large numbers of people.

The difference today is that some very early stage companies are bringing in these disciplines from the outset, because of the demands of remote work. And this is a wonderful thing, because this investment will compound over the life of the business.