Panda Strike. Apart from the unusual name (and the cute mascot), there is something else that’s unusual about it: there is no office.

Even though about half of the team members are based in Los Angeles, we rarely meet face to face. Yet we communicate all the time. Instead of face-to-face interaction, our founder and Chief Panda Dan Yoder champions the credo of remote work, similar to companies like 37 Signals or Buffer.

"> Panda Strike. Apart from the unusual name (and the cute mascot), there is something else that’s unusual about it: there is no office.

Even though about half of the team members are based in Los Angeles, we rarely meet face to face. Yet we communicate all the time. Instead of face-to-face interaction, our founder and Chief Panda Dan Yoder champions the credo of remote work, similar to companies like 37 Signals or Buffer.

"> Panda Strike. Apart from the unusual name (and the cute mascot), there is something else that’s unusual about it: there is no office.

Even though about half of the team members are based in Los Angeles, we rarely meet face to face. Yet we communicate all the time. Instead of face-to-face interaction, our founder and Chief Panda Dan Yoder champions the credo of remote work, similar to companies like 37 Signals or Buffer.

" />
Christoph Wagner

Freelance Software Developer

Remote Work is like JavaScript: Async

09 April 2015

In August 2014, I started working for a company called Panda Strike. Apart from the unusual name (and the cute mascot), there is something else that’s unusual about it: there is no office.

Even though about half of the team members are based in Los Angeles, we rarely meet face to face. Yet we communicate all the time. Instead of face-to-face interaction, our founder and Chief Panda Dan Yoder champions the credo of remote work, similar to companies like 37 Signals or Buffer.

That means our work day does not begin and end with a grueling half hour commute through LA’s gridlocked streets, but more likely with a pleasant walk down to the neighborhood coffee shop. And while the rest of the office drones flock the local food court for lunch, spending an average of 10 Dollars on each meal, we have the luxury to be able to prepare food at home, in our own kitchens.

My co-worker Max jokingly remarked that this is not unlike the social behavior of actual Pandas, when he noticed this quote on the website of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park:

> Adult [giant] pandas are generally solitary, but they do communicate periodically through scent marks, calls, and occasional meetings.

Now, let’s be honest: we don’t communicate via scent marks. But if you replace “scent marks” with “emails”, it’s pretty much spot on.

The Plight of the Modern Wage Slave

But these are not the only advantages of working remotely. As others have recently noted, the office is a terrible place to get work done. Distractions abound, and open floorplans are bad for productivity and your health. Despite these problems, a whopping 70% of American companies insist on having them. And despite ubiquitous internet acccess, and the availability of high quality, FREE and instant audio and video communication, they somehow insist that the only way work gets done is by keeping all their workers cooped up in cubicle farms.

In the kowledge economy, this seems like an anachronism, a leftover from the previous century, where it was quite necessary to stock a factory with workers in order to get anything done. Nowadays, we’ve replaced the heavy industrial machines with portable laptops, wireless internet, and 8 hour battery life, but somehow, we still need to show up at the same place at the same time every day in order to begin the ritualistic enchantments that make these machines produce websites, application code, or sales copy. We’ve been so well trained that this is a necessary aspect of our work lives, we haven’t even noticed that we can literally walk out of the room, down the street to the next coffeeshop, and still be able to work.

Of course, remote work comes with its own set of challenges. For example, it’s easy to get distracted by the numerous viral websites availabe on the internet. It’s easy to get lost in a Buzzfeed rabbit hole for an hour or more, bringing you no closer to getting that code written, that photo edited, or that spreadsheet finished. Especially when there is no risk that the boss might suddenly be standing next to you, peering over your shoulder. If your work is of creative nature, just the thought of starting it might lead to bouts of anxiety and procrastination.

Async to The Rescue

If you were born in the 1980s (or later), you might have noticed that is is actually very similar to the way most of us communicate with our friends. While our parents still prefer having regular phone calls with their friends, our generation uses text or instant messages as the preferred method of communication. And for similar reasons: it minimizes interruptions in our busy lives, because we can process these messages whenever we have a free moment — at the DMV, in line at Starbucks, or the elevator to the office.

We’re connected all the time, yet we seldom have any form of synchronous communication. And if we do, we mostly plan it via asynchronous means (i.e. text messages, Facebook, email). Other than our parents, we only get on the phone when we actually need it — in order to discuss something that requires higher bandwidth than text. For instance, a very personal conversation.

We plan events asynchronously (using Facebook or EventBrite), organize interest groups (like a camp at Burning Man), or tweet about the latest Game of Thrones episode. In fact, I am invited to wedding, which is set to take place in Europe this summer, and it’s being organized using a Facebook group. Of course, once we get there, it’ll be a massively synchronous 3 day affair, but until then, it’s all happening async. The point is, if the free tools we all currenlty have at our disposal are powerful enough to organize a wedding halfway around the world, what’s stopping us from using them for work, too?

Where Do I Start?

Glad you asked. If your company does not allow remote work at the moment, you’re in for an uphill battle. Most likely, some necessary ingredients will be missing, like having all the information necessary for being productive accessible in electronic form, rather than “tribal knowledge” (a euphemism for “we’re too lazy to write this shit down”). Although, with company wikis being the norm rather then the exception, ubiquitious SaaS issue tracking software, and the recent success of platforms like HipChat and Slack, this is becoming less and less of an issue.

In Remote: Office not Required, Jason Fried recommends to start by just dipping a toe into the water — in other words, asking for permission to work remotely for just one day of the week. And if your productivity subsequently rises measurably, you’ll have the leverage to ask for two days. Or three.

Of course, whether or not your productivity will actually rise, depends entirely on you and your abilities to self-manage. That is, do you have the discipline to avoid compulsively checking Facebook every five minutes and stay off the viral websites until you got something done? Note: you don’t have to swear them off completely, just long enough to fix that bug, write that feature, edit that photo or whatever it is you that you do to earn your benjamins. It’s perfectly fine to reward yourself with a cat video afterwards. Or five.

Other resources that I found helpful include the Buffer Blog, which frequently contains very good articles about working remotely. Github’s Ryan Tomako has a great article on how to make your team work like an open source project. The Async Manifesto is an awesome “cheat sheet” to check whether you’re doing things right. And finally, this article by Jeff Atwood, of Coding Horror, Stack Overflow, and Discourse fame is one of the most comprehensive resources on remote work that I’ve read to this date.