My company’s cornerstone principles is manage yourself. As long as you get stuff done, no-one will mind when you’re in the office. Remote work seemed like a logical next step for self management. We wanted to accommodate each of our 40+ team members’ working styles.

Since my company grew organically, without outside investment, and has less than 10% annual turnover for people who pass probation, I’m pretty sure we got something right.

Remote work wasn’t one of them.

Below are my reflections as a CEO on what we did, why we did it, and what actually happened. As a small development agency, we were able to implemented remote work after a quick discussion — basically an experiment after an implied hypothesis of how we thought people wanted to work. What we underestimated was the effort that the entire company would have to make remote work work.

Remote Work 0.1

Image by NASA via Unsplash

The reason we (Roy, Rick, and myself) set up our first office was for us to come back to the office occasionally and hang out. In the end, everyone came everyday so… it became an actual office.

As fresh graduates at the time, we used going to the office as a motivation to get out of bed. Also, many people in Hong Kong live with family, so there’s lots of distraction at home. Maybe it’s a timing thing, as I’ve read people with families value the time they spend with their kids.

Remote Work 0.2

Image by Francois Hoang via Unsplash

A more recent case came when we brought a Taipei developer, Johnny, on board. At first, Johnny wanted to work remotely as a change from his previous job in a large company. But after three days at coffee shops, your neck starts to hurt. Three days at home and you feel like a loner.

After going between home, cafes and co-working spaces, he really wanted to have a proper office. Having stable internet, adjusted monitors, your own keyboard, and a place to leave work behind became more important.

Because Taiwan is culturally close to Hong Kong and has engineering talents, we took the opportunity to setup our first satellite office in Taipei. Johnny is much happier now with colleagues to go for lunch with like we do in Hong Kong.

So it didn’t quite work out after all — but why?