This May, Busse Design is celebrating 6 years of being an entirely distributed user experience design agency. We rented a space in San Francisco for a long time to have a meeting space for clients, and since we’ve found that clients typically prefer that we go to their offices, we’ve recently let that go. So, this is a perfect opportunity to let our clients and partners know how this model works with our agency, and discuss the benefits to both our employees and our clients.
Having gone this route in 2009, we feel like pioneers, even “working remotely” is becoming a trend nowadays. Presently, 1 in 5 Americans work from home. However, this metric doesn’t capture the total number of “distributed companies,” which is something that’s very different from having a company who has some remote employees.
How is a distributed company different from a company that allows remote employees?
Jeff Robbins, the co-founder and CEO of Lullabot, wrote a great description of the distributed company:
“Picture a conventional company in a conventional office – cubicles and everything. Everyone is an employee. Everyone has benefits and job security. Everyone knows each other and works together and communicates in a tightly-knit environment. Now get rid of the office. Now spread those people out and allow them to live and work from wherever they’d like. This is a distributed company. Communication and culture need to adapt to accommodate this new modality.”
All of Busse Design’s employees work from a different location in the Bay Area, and while most everything we do is geographically separate, we are creatively in sync.
So why did we go the distributed company route?
To be honest after the last economic downturn, we experienced a lull in client work, without a lull in overhead costs. We survived the bubble burst in 2000 and we knew we were in this for the long haul; so rather than laying people off, we laid our studio off. It was our belief and our mission to provide our clients with the same service they received when we worked together in a studio. To do this, we made sure that everyone had the required technology at home (a computer, a large monitor, and a reliable internet connection), and we began to rely heavily on the cloud with Dropbox, GoToMeeting, and of course iChat, which evolved to Apple Messages (which keeps us even more connected).
A very important aspect about this model is that the distributed worker needs to be self-directed and independent in nature. At Busse Design, we are all seasoned employees (we all have more than 15 years of experience) and most of us have worked together at the same location at one point in time, so we know each other. We’ve always been a small, tight group, all focused on doing what’s best for the client and the business. We are fortunate to not have to deal with employee trust issues (e.g., “If we can’t see each other, how do we know we’re not all just sitting around not doing anything?”).
Another reason we chose the distributed model is that is it environmentally sound. More people are on the road these days than ever and we wanted to keep our employees out of gas-consuming vehicles. It turns out that the consumption rate for office equipment energy is twice that of home office equipment energy consumption. Further, Sun Microsystems found that by allowing 24,000 of its employees to work remotely, they were able to avoid producing 32,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. It’s needless to say that the environment is important to us, and we’re happy to do our part as a business.
Is it possible to collaborate when you’re in different locations?
Collaboration is at the core of everything we do, and we couldn’t have made this model work if we couldn’t collaborate with each other or our clients. Typically, we’ll use GoToMeeting for our internal collaborations so that we can see each other’s work as we’re discussing it. This method also works when we’re collaborating with our clients. For more in-depth or involved collaborations, we will meet up in person. Different from most distributed companies, we’re all local, so we can always meet up.
How does this distributed model work out for clients?
We’re happy to say that working in a distributed fashion over the past 6 years has been going well with our clients. (You can read some of the praise we’ve received on recent projects.) Further, we have found that we are more focused on providing our clients with our best UX designs and ideas when we are working remotely, since we no longer have the “overhead” of a daily commute. (The average American spends 38 hours per year stuck in traffic). Commuting not only takes time, but it can also be emotionally draining; so by removing it, we’re able to use that time and energy toward more productive ends.
In addition, we are able to accommodate clients outside of regular business hours because we’re only a phone call away. This works particularly well for clients who are in Europe, Asia, and even other time zones in the U.S. We’ve had collaborative sessions as early as 6 AM and as late as 11 PM local time. Since we aren’t geographically constrained, we don’t expect our clients to have to necessarily cater to our time zone.
And because we’re not paying high Bay Area office space rents and associated costs, we are able to provide our clients with the services from our seasoned professionals at a competitive rate.
Being a 100% distributed agency has given us the opportunity to enjoy our work and delight our customers. If you have any questions about how we work, or would like to engage us for a project, contact us.