via Signal vs. Noise

Today we introduce a new weekly miniseries: “Remote Works,” a collection of short interviews with folks at companies who made the switch from office to remote work. If you’d like to share your story, get in touch.

Name: Abhishek Rai
Title: Founder
Company: Shack Co.
Based in: New Delhi, India
Established: 2007
Employees: 7 (4 local; 3 remote)

What does Shack do?

We build and maintain community knowledge tools. We just launched Beanbuffs, a community of coffee lovers focussing on coffee, music and food. We also run a knowledge games platform called KnowQout.

Why did you make the transition to remote work?

We didn’t start out as a remote company — in fact, we started based out of New Delhi, in the northern part of the country. Then last year we transitioned from a web services company to a product and content company.
One of the inspirations (to transition to remote work) was Getting Real and Rework. 37signals has been a huge inspiration for us. Another was Bo Burlingham’s Small Giants: Companies That Choose To Be Great Instead of Big. A few of my favorites from the list are Clif Bar & Co., Union Square Hospitality Group, Zingerman’s and Anchor Brewing. 

When we first thought of developing a tool for ourselves, we hired a consultant who worked on the tool for nearly a year. What we got in the end was a disjointed software which had all the features in the world, but it was useless. I spent time reading and soul searching and came to the conclusion that it’s only us who can develop a tool for ourselves, not a consultant. This is when remote working as a concept helped me. I managed to get the right people to work with. 

Did the transition to remote work coincide with your transition from web services to products and content?

We decided we’ll build our own product, and I started looking for designers and writers for the platform, and we could not find them here. We found someone who was located in western India, and someone who was based in the southern part of the country. We met them; we liked what they were doing. But we were scared because we’d never worked like that before. We just gave it a try, and somehow it worked for us.

Why were you scared?

The kind of work I’ve been doing, I always supervised people. They used to sit in the same place. We used to hold morning scrum meetings where I would assign tasks to everyone, and they would report back to me in the evening with the end of the day report. You had to sit and show that you’re working. I also believed that if you’re not sitting there, staring at your screen, then you’re not working. If I hired someone somewhere else, I don’t know if that guy is texting throughout the day or spending time on Facebook. Most of the bigger companies in India block Facebook; they block Twitter. I’m against that; I’ve never done it, but I did have this fear that if people are not in front of my eyes that they’re not working.

So that was one big reason, because I was used to supervising. But I had to give that up, and I’m very happy that I don’t have to supervise; it just worked. I don’t care if they’re watching movies, if they’re listening to music, if they’re going out — as long as they get my work done I’m very happy.

What do you see as the major benefits of being a remote company, and of letting employees work offsite?

Number one is less supervision — things are set out very clearly. You have to say things so clearly that others understand it and finish the job. Everyone knows what needs to be done when.

Number two is the availability of professionals. Now the world is open to me. There is a very interesting agency in London called Rule of Three, and they write very interesting copy. So I approached them; I would like to work with them. Earlier I was not willing to do that. That’s the flexibility I have now.

Number three: Things get done on time.
Any advice for other companies who are considering going remote?

They must — it’s as simple as that! They should. That’s the way forward, as long as you have connectivity, which is still an issue in smaller cities in India. For a country like us, it will take a lot more time. Nearly 60 percent of our population have mobile phones in their hands, but not even 10 percent have broadband connection in their homes. For something like this, you need broadband connectivity. Phones are very cheap, but connectivity is very costly in India right now and that’s something that needs to change.
Visit Shack Co.