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collaboration superpowers


A special thank you to those who helped create the book Florian Hoornaar for having the idea to begin with and supporting me along the way Alfred Boland for the beautiful design of this book ( Betsy Goolsby for being a fun, creative, and reliable Editor Gretchen Wegner for being the most awesome remote collaboration partner ever Jurgen Appelo for all the help, advice, and support along the way Abdul Muhit for listening to all the interviews and transcribing them perfectly Pilar Orti for the cheerful inspiration, collaboration, and for having me on her 21st Century Work-Life Podcast Vasco Duarte for encouraging me to continue Happy Melly network for being a rockin’ community of people making the world a happier place Thank you to everyone whose support inspired me to finish this project: Alexandre Cuva, Andre Gomes, Andrew Kidd, Andy Cleff, Barry Overeem, Bart Van Loon, Brendan Boyd, Chontelle Sundborn, Chris Ridgewell, Cuan Mulligan, Daniel Fritzler, Denis Jallet, Francis Norton, Fredrik Happ, Greg Tutunjian, Helena Evans, Jan Lundberg, Jason Little, Jeffry Hesse, Jeroen van Hertum, Jesse Fewell, John Westworth, Mark Rehberg, Martin Hultman, Maxime Bonnet, Pilar Orti, Richard Sutherland, Robert Galen, Robert Aston, Sergey Erlikh, Stephen Giles, Thomas Link, Thomas Bär, Thomas Francis, Tracey Perkins, Tuan Dang, Yavor Nikolov, Yves Hanoulle

Table Of Contents Preface Chapter 1 What do remote workers look like? Chapter 2 Why are we going remote? Chapter 3 What’s so hard about remote working? Chapter 4 Stories of remote teams doing great things Chapter 5 How do we do great things remotely? Chapter 6 Pro tips for going remote


About ten years ago, I lived in California and belonged to a social community interested in the future, technology, and staying healthy. We met up by going hiking together every Sunday. One person in the group was particularly interesting to me because he was working on a peculiar startup idea: he wanted to eradicate death. To the outside world, he was building an online project management tool, a very “normal” startup idea. But what most people didn’t know was that he was building the tool so longevity scientists from all over the world could collaborate and solve the problem of aging. He found that the best people needed for the job were not living in the same city. So his vision was to build a tool that they could use to work together remotely. It was an “aha experience” for me. If we remove the issue of being geographically dispersed, we can get the best, most enthusiastic people working together to do great things. I was hooked by the concept and started talking to others who were thinking this way too. Down the rabbit hole I went! And this book is one of the results. As you can see, it’s not necessarily “remote working” that I’m so enthusiastic about. It’s the idea that we can get the best people working together regardless of location that I find so exciting. I’ve interviewed almost one hundred companies whose business models depend on successfully bridging distance. From software developers to neuroscientists, I hope to give you a bird’s-eye view of the current landscape of remote working with plenty of zoomed-in detail about how businesses are adapting and continuously improving the art of remote collaboration. This book will probably not help eradicate death. But through these stories, I hope to open your eyes to the possibilities that exist for working remotely right now and to inspire you to do great things. 5

Chapter 1

What do remote workers look like? Remote individuals • • • •

Telecommuter Self employed Business owner Digital nomad

Remote teams • E  veryone works remotely from their own location • Some people work remotely, and some work together in the same location • Companies work with a few teams from different locations • Global organizations with offices all over the world

Geographic definitions • • • •

In the same location Near-located Far-located From space

Cultural definitions • Near-shore • Off-shore

These are exciting times! Advances in technology are enabling us to work together from anywhere. Because it’s getting easier and easier to bridge the distance, we are teaming up in all kinds of new ways that previously weren’t possible. Opportunities for collaboration have taken a giant leap forward, and across the globe, people are doing great things … remotely. It’s easy to throw the terms “remote working” and “virtual teams” around. I consider teams to be “remote” or “virtual” when they are not in the same room together, even if a team works at the same address, just on separate floors or in separate offices. But while this definition is simple, it is also extremely broad. Not all virtual teams are created equal, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all way to work remotely. Individuals who work remotely can be telecommuters, freelancers, business owners or digital nomads. And each person works in his or her own way. For example, someone who works from his home the majority of the time works differently than someone who is traveling the majority of the time. Teams can work entirely remotely or they can have some sort of hybrid model where some employees work together in one location and some work remotely. How geographically far apart people work also factors into the equation. As do cultural differences. It’s important to categorize the different styles because each style will have its own way to optimize working together. This chapter aims to give you a snapshot of what virtual individuals, teams, and businesses look like by introducing a few of the cast of characters that were interviewed for this book. You won’t meet everyone in the first chapter (otherwise we would never get to Chapter 2). I’ll just highlight a few folks to help you visualize the different styles of remote working. We’ll start by talking about different kinds of remote individuals, then move on to different styles of remote teams. We’ll also discuss geographic and cultural terminology. And remember, these definitions will not characterize everyone. They are being used to help you visualize where you fit into the remote working picture and to set the stage and provide a common language throughout the book.


Remote individuals In general, successful remote individuals share a number of personality traits. Self-motivation, discipline, good communication skills, and technical literacy were common characteristics that came up in the interviews. One thing is clear: remote individuals are focused on constantly learning new things and improving themselves to keep up with the changing market. Chris Ridgewell, the Director at Wisework Ltd., puts it very well when he talks about the personality of remote workers. Key personality traits of remote workers include being highly self-motivated and having good project management skills and excellent time management skills. Good communication is key. Working remotely requires more frequent communications at and between all levels of the organisation. It’s also important to be outward looking in order to not feel isolated or cut off. Chris Ridgewell, Director at Wisework and Chairman at UK Telework Association

co Te m le m ut e


The remote individuals in my interviews typically fall into one of four

Business owner

categories which are described on the following pages.

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al it d g Di ma no


Telecommuter A telecommuter is someone who works remotely (usually from home) on a fixed team for one company either part time or full time. According to a new Ipsos/Reuters poll, about one in five workers around the globe telecommute. Emerging markets rank highest in percentage of telecommuters, with 27 percent in the Middle East and Africa, 25 percent in Latin America, 24 percent in Asia-Pacific, and 9 percent in both North America and Europe.[1] According to research firm Global Workplace Analytics, a typical telecommuter in the United States is 49 years old and college educated, and works as a salaried non-union employee in a management or professional role. He—or she, although one study found that three out of four remote workers are men[2]—earns $58,000 a year and probably works for a company with more than 100 employees. For example, allow me to introduce Hassan Osman. He is a Senior Manager at Cisco Systems and the author of Influencing Virtual Teams. He leads large and complex projects with virtual teams around the world, all from his home office. I can lead a project for a customer in India or I can lead a customer engagement in Hawaii, even while I’m right here in my office in Boston. I think having that sort of access to talent and to so many different resources around the world really helps Cisco stay nimble and at the forefront of technology. Hassan Osman, Senior Manager at Cisco Systems [3]

[1] [2] F lex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. It’s 10 a.m. Do You Know Where and How Your Employees Are Working? Shattering Telework Myths and Solving Open Office Struggles. 2014. [3] Views are Hassan’s and not those of Cisco Systems


Self-employed Online freelancers are the self-employed, usually with more than one remote client. They are mainly service-based businesses. With the proliferation of online platforms and co-working spaces, there are more opportunities for freelance work than ever before. In the US, 34 percent of the workforce is working as freelancers.[4] In Europe, freelancing increased by 45 percent between 2004 and 2013.[5] In 2014, freelancer earnings on the popular online work site Elance (now Upwork) totaled over $941 million.[6] Vanessa Shaw is an American living in Spain as a freelancer working with several remote teams. She is a professional trainer and consultant who is helping people and companies respond to digital disruption. An average day for me is working from my co-working space. On days where I need it to be quiet or I need to take calls, I work from home. What I love about how I work is that I can choose which office I want to be in, whether it’s my mom’s kitchen table in California or my co-working space a couple of minutes walk from my home in Barcelona. Vanessa Shaw, Chief Digital Officer, Consultant, and Trainer

[4] [5] [6]


Business owner The business owner is also self-employed; however, she has a more formal arrangement, typically with remote staff and a focus on building a company. Adriana Vela is the Founder of NanoTecNexus, a company focused on increasing education about nanotechnology in grades K-12 in the United States. Adriana’s company needs people with highly specialized knowledge, which she can’t find in just one place. She has assembled a team across the United States and Canada to help her with her mission. For NanoTecNexus, the right person is what matters first, regardless of where they are. Our team has evolved over the last ten years, but we’ve always been remote with offices in Arizona, California, New Jersey, Washington state, Florida, and Toronto, Canada and Brazil. Meeting face to face is best, but now, video conferencing is the next best thing, and both the technologies and the people have come a long way to embrace it. Adriana Vela, Founder and Provocateur at NanoTecNexus

Digital nomad Digital nomads are those who use the internet and portable technology to maintain a nomadic lifestyle. Piero Toffanin is a software developer and digital nomad traveling the United States in a camper while coding to pay for his expenses. A year after he graduated from college, he was working a “normal nine-to-five job.” He felt like something was missing from his life. After reading about other digital nomads, he convinced his wife to sell their possessions, start their own business, and hit the road.


Right now, my camper is parked in the middle of the Sonoran desert in Arizona, in the southwestern United States. It doesn’t really have the typical look of an office that you would expect from a software developer. I usually take my laptop to a bench or I sit near a rock. And as long as my batteries have energy left and I can find some sort of reliable internet, Wi-Fi signal, or 3G, then I work from there and I enjoy the scenery and it’s great. Piero Toffanin, Software Developer


Remote teams Different from remote individuals, remote teams are groups of people who work together on a project, sometimes for the same company, sometimes as a group of freelancers, and sometimes as a combination of both. They tend to be categorized by location, rather than function.

Som rem e peopl e w wor otely, and ork k to sam gether some e lo cat in the ion

e yon Ever motely e wn ks r wor their o m fro tion loca

Co m p d a f an if e fe w ies re te w n a o t m r lo s k ca fr wi ti om th o n s

ns io ll t a iz es a n ga ffic rld r o o o al ith e w b h w o Gl rk er t o v w o


Everyone works remotely from their own location The team first started working together (remotely) when a client hired them for a software development project. They didn’t know each other before the project started, but over time, the team clicked. At one point, the client unexpectedly ran out of money — but the team members weren’t ready to part ways. They decided to find other clients so they could stay working together. They now operate as a self-organized team of entrepreneurs, specializing in building minimum viable products for software startups. In addition, they offer seed funding for startups whose ideas they believe in.

I’m often up in the middle of the night working online with one of my clients in another time zone. I can do that comfortably because I’m working from my home office. Tiziano Perrucci, Co-founder at StarterSquad and Startup Hacker

We are all responsible and technically really good, so the team figures out for themselves which tools they want to use. Iwein Fuld, Developer and Co-founder at StarterSquad

We communicate with and actively involve somebody from the client’s side on a daily basis. We also strive to have weekly demos to show progress. This is how we build trust. Anna Nachesa, Freelance Software Developer at StarterSquad


Some people work remotely, and some work together in the same location Peter Hilton works on a development team that is mostly based in the company’s main Berlin office. However, he works from home in Rotterdam, and the product’s founder works from home in Belgium. At the moment, one of the developers from the Berlin office is avoiding Europe’s winter and spending a few months in South Africa: he works four days a week, and goes surfing on Fridays. It’s quiet in my home office, which I find superproductive. We use video chat to talk to each other during the day. We also make sure we meet up for a couple of days every few months, which is good for in-person brainstorming sessions and drinking a few beers together. Peter Hilton, Developer, Writer, Speaker, and Trainer


Companies work with a few teams from different locations Ralph van Roosmalen manages three teams in three places: the United States, the Netherlands, and Romania. His company hired remote teams because they needed to grow but couldn’t find the talent they needed locally. Their key to success is making sure each team is treated equally. When we celebrate a party in the Netherlands, we also celebrate in Romania and in the US. We try to treat our teams the same as much as possible. Ralph van Roosmalen, Senior Development Manager

Global organizations work with offices all over the world Ericsson is a multinational communications technology company employing more than 110,000 people in more than 180 countries. They offer services, software, and infrastructure for telecommunication companies and other industries. The company has been working on improving their remote capabilities since the early 1990s when the rapid evolution of new tools was prompting the need for different kinds of collaboration. We wanted to encourage multiple disciplines to collaborate. We also wanted the ability for employees and contractors to be able to look at the same idea at the same time. Gradually, people started to see that keeping ideas to themselves is an old way of thinking. Secret ideas don’t go anywhere. Magnus Karlsson, Director, New Business Development & Innovation at Ericsson


Geographic definitions As it becomes more and more common to work with global teams, different labels have emerged. Geographically speaking, remote teams can be in the same location, near-located, far-located, and from space!



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In the same location Everyone can be working at the same address, but on different offices or floors. Fredrik Wiik is a Senior Consultant for a large global telecom company in Sweden. Even just working on different floors in the same office as someone is a barrier. Many people don’t walk upstairs just to ask a simple question. They are more likely to email the question or save the question to ask with others in a batch. Fredrik Wiik, Senior Consultant

Near-located Near-located generally means that team members are within driving distance of each other. The advantage of this arrangement is that everyone can easily get together in person if needed. Tom’s team started out working together at the same office in London. Over time, and for a variety of reasons, people wanted to move outside the city. Our team started off working together in the same office and then slowly started dispersing until we became 100 percent remote. We still get together every two weeks, mostly for socializing and retrospectives. Tom Howlett, Developer, Agile Coach, Director at Lean Tomato


Far-located Far-located teams have one or more people who are far enough away that getting together in person means arranging some sort of travel plan. Staunch Robots, for example, has a small team in the United States, but most of the team works from Colombia, in South America. Derek Scruggs, CTO, explains how they keep everyone on the same page. We are very conscious of our communication and company culture because there’s no real water cooler to stand around and discuss things. We use chat tools and have daily online stand-up meetings to discuss the day to day things. And we have a retrospective every other week where we get together and talk about what’s going on as a team. Derek Scruggs, CTO at Staunch Robots

From space Ok. Working from space is a bit far out, I admit. But it is happening. There are six people working on the International Space Station right now, and many people on Earth are working to support them remotely. I had the privilege to interview Brian Day from NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). There is no doubt that humanity is heading outward. You’ve got the space agencies of many countries coming together, and you’ve also got private organizations. We have the capability of becoming a spacefaring civilization and it is going to happen. Brian Day, Lead for Planetary Mapping and Modeling, Citizen Science, and Outreach at SSERVI


cultural definitions Even more than just distance, though, there are also cultural characterizations like near-shoring and off-shoring.



Near-shore When people from countries with a similar language and culture work together, it’s called near-shoring. For example, one of Spotify’s iOS teams works from Italy, the United States, and Sweden. They overlap their schedules and work together multiple times a week using Google Hangouts. During our work sessions together, we have a Hangout open where everyone connects via video with the microphones on mute. This is analogous to working in the same room: everyone can see each other, and when someone has a question, they simply unmute themselves and ask the others. This allows the team to talk as if they were in the same office together. Thodoris Tsiridis, Developer at Spotify


Off-shore Off-shoring is when team members are located in countries with a language and culture that are far apart. Bart Van Loon’s company, Zeropoint, helps bring together businesses from Europe with employees in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He finds that more and more companies are going off-shore because they have problems finding the talent they need locally. One of Zeropoint’s secrets to success is offering remote team management training to both the client and to the employees being hired. One thing I tend to tell my customers is that they are sitting as far from you as you are sitting from them. So it’s not only hard for you or strange for you or unusual for you; it’s also hard and strange and unusual for the people sitting off-shore. And it’s quite easy to bridge, but you have to make effort to bridge it. Bart Van Loon, Off-shore Staffing Specialist at Zeropoint


being on the same page matters Of course, there are combinations of these categories. For example, I’m selfemployed and I work on a remote team where everyone works from their own location in Canada, Europe, and Russia. Each style of remote working requires a different focus for management and team building. For example, when everyone works remotely, the team has to focus on being on the same page. When two or more teams work from different locations, the group needs to manage the “us versus them” mentality. With global organizations, management needs to think about encouraging different disciplines to collaborate. There isn’t one solution that will work for everyone. There isn’t one formula to follow. Each person, every company, will need to experiment with what makes them most productive. I hope that this book will inspire ideas for how you and your team can do great things remotely.  


Lisette Sutherland | Stories of remote teams doing great things  

Chapter 1 of the forthcoming book by Lisette Sutherland.More info here:

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