Sketch is becoming the worldwide standard tool for web designers. The whole Sketch team of this worldwide success works remote. The company never had an office. Pieter Omvlee of Sketch on the pros and cons of remote working.
What is the main reason you are a remote working company?
When we started with our current project in 2012 we were already a remote company; I was in London at the time and teamed up with a designer in Portugal. We never dreamed that the company would grow this big or the product would be this successful. By the time we came to enlist help we could only accept that we were already a remote company and we made the best of it. It has its benefits too and now I’m happy we ended up on this road.
What does remote working mean in your case?
There are currently 22 people working for Sketch, with most people in western Europe. Most people are either in the same timezone as me or an hour ahead or behind, so that keeps things manageable.
Our people enjoy the freedom
What does an average week look like? Do you have fixed meetings?
We try to work as asynchronously as possible; we have very few online meetings and we give people the freedom to work the way they want and plan their work. We give rough expectations every two weeks to keep things somewhat focused, but our people enjoy the freedom this gives them.
What are the indispensable tools you work with?
Slack and Github. The former is a great group chat app that allows us to communicate effectively and the latter is where our code lives and more permanent plans are made.
Are there things a company has to take into account when they choose for remote working?
I think remote working can work great for companies but I think where things get ‘dangerous’ is if there’s a mix of remote and on-site people. In our case everybody is remote which forces all communication to happen over channels that everyone knows. If half our people would be on location we’d discuss things in person and forget to communicate them back to the remote workers, people will start to be left out, or at least feel left out.
Your talent pool is larger when you work remote
How do you make decisions when not everyone is in the same place?
I don’t see this as a problem. You can make decisions by communicating with the right people, whether that communication happens over text, phone or in person is not all that relevant I think.
What are the big pros of remote working?
Your available talent pool is much larger. If you have an office that you need people to work from, they need to already live in the area or be willing to move. In our case someone only needs an internet connection and we can work with them.
What are the cons?
You don’t get to know the people you work with as well. An ‘office culture’ will still develop but I recognise that it’s not the same as when everybody is in the same building. This is one reason we get the company together twice a year in a physical location so we can get to know each other better and discuss things we didn’t get around to.
Everybody must either be in the office or everybody must be remote
What’s your most important advice for companies who want to start with remote working?
I think there can be a tremendous opportunity here, and if I were to start a new company I might make it remote again, but as mentioned earlier, I would be weary of mixing the two; I would have everybody in the office or everybody remote.
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(Picture Guido van Nispen)