I'm an office manager in an officeless company, so... what am I supposed to do?
Captain's log, stardate d550.y37/AB
When I tell people that I’m an Office Manager working for an oficeless company – that is, a company without a physical office – they seem hesitant, frowning their eyebrows as if waiting for the impending punchline.
If there's no office… why does a company need an Office Manager? 🤔
Turns out, all-remote companies with distributed teams are more complex than most people think, and do require an Office Manager. Let's see why!
Photo by Slava Keyzman on Unsplash
Those who have been part of a traditional office environment their entire lives find it difficult to think they could work from home. Some may picture themselves in their pajamas, snacking, playing video games all day or getting lost for hours in the depths of Facebook, basically slacking their way into an antisocial behavior ending with an inevitable case of depression. All the more reason if there's no office to start with!
I am, of course, exaggerating.
“I’d need human contact”, some may say, while others claim that “If I don’t interact with people, I can’t even work”.
Even though that may be true in some cases, I’m sure I can convince you that this approach works, by explaining how we do things here at MarsBased.
The office is everywhere
MarsBased is an all-remote development consultancy, with 11 employees and it's been around for four years already! All along this journey, MarsBased has never had an office. At most, we meet once a week in a coworking space in Barcelona, but all the logistics are taken care of by their team.
OK. So if there’s no physical office and we don’t have headquarters, where do we all work from? Easy, we all work from home mostly, but we also work from libraries, hotels, other people's offices and while on the go.
In sum, our office is where we want it to be, and our common space is Slack, but we'll get into detail later on.
In my case, it means that I don’t have to take on as many physical tasks such as filling the coffee machine every morning, making sure we have office supplies in stock, turning on the printers, opening the windows, and… well, you get the idea. These are some of the responsibilities a regular Office Manager often has.
By not having to deal with such tasks, I can use my hours to bring additional value to the company in other areas!
Consequently, my main task as Office Manager is to help everyone to build their own working environment remotely.
MarsBased offers the necessary working tools for an optimal work-from-home experience. Each new member does not only get a brand new laptop, but also has the right to choose an office chair of their liking and additional tools that may be helpful for doing their job i.e. external keyboard, a new desk, mouse, etc.
Instead of imposing an overall style for the office, every team member gets to customise it 100%, according to their personality & other preferences.
Gluing all the pieces together with trust
Although the office is everywhere, that doesn’t mean we are workaholics glued to our screens. Rather, we just want to lead balanced lives in which the personal aspects may juxtapose with the professional, but never interfere.
First of all, MarsBased is a lifestyle business, as we wrote about it recently, and our core values are very ingrained in how we organise ourselves. We really believe that everyone should enjoy a healthy life/work balance.
Secondly, we just hire senior people, ideally with previous experience in remote-working companies or as solo freelancers, so that they're accomplished good communicators and responsible enough to manage themselves.
The only management the MarsBased founders do is the project planning and the general strategy of the company. We use Forecast, a project-planning tool that allows the partners to visually track everyone's dedication to their assignments and their respective holidays schedule.
As long as everyone is delivering quality work in due time, there’s no reason to worry, no need to physically supervise team members.
We could be working from a spa in Bali, or working from our neighborhood coffee shop. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how each of us contributes to the team, and we know that the more comfortable we feel, and the more control we have over our lifestyle, the better we are going to perform.
Now, you may be thinking, "OK, so you get to work from anywhere and at the time that is most convenient for you, but how do you actually get things done? Why aren’t you slacking off?".
Well, with great freedom, comes great responsibility. I personally feel fully committed to my job, mainly because it revolves around trust, but also because it has given me so much that I can’t avoid feeling compelled to give back. The relationship is mutual, transparent and fair on both accounts.
My role here, as an Office Manager, is to make sure that all the processes run smoothly and don't get in the way of productivity. A happy team is a productive team.
I send every Monday the Martian Chronicles, a weekly report including the highlights of the week, who's on holidays, some interesting reads (mostly about productivity), what's going on in our lovely red planet and a few other interesting things to make sure everyone's on the same page.
Example of Martian Chronicles I send every Monday morning
Freedom is not miscommunication - Our tools
For some, this talk about freedom and trust may sound like a recipe for chaos: each one doing their own thing at their own time. We all know long-distance relationships fail. So what do we do to keep things afloat and avoid “the break-up” at MarsBased?
The answer is simple: communicate with intention. My role here is to ensure all communication channels run smoothly.
Every tool we use serves a specific purpose. For example, we use Slack for our day-to-day communication.
We set up different channels to help us keep a line of thought according to each topic so we don’t end up with an endless feed of randomness. There's one for every client, and there are also themed ones "#development", "#design" or "#admin" just to name a few.
We also use it for direct messaging with one another, private channels, and calls, which may be the equivalent to holding a “meeting” in a regular office space, optimizing time and talking only about what’s pertinent. There’s little to no small talk: no “so, how was your weekend?”, or “let’s go get coffee first”, we go straight to the point and it ends as soon as we reach a resolution.
However, we don't want to sound too serious or uptight! We do share a lot of fun quirky content on our #random Slack channel as well.
For a more structured approach, Basecamp is a great tool for deeper discussion, announcements, and project organisation, because as with Slack, we do have client-themed basecamps (notice the lower-case b) and those for our teams internally.
On this platform, every Friday, we share our development during the week using Basecamp's check-ins, personal thoughts, challenges to overcome and ideas of self-improvement.
Basecamp is also the space where we congratulate each other publicly and recognize each other’s efforts. There’s no work well done that goes unnoticed and without a round of applause (literally).
We compensate our infrequent real in-person interactions with an extremely human approach to our processes. We are always connected while working, exchanging ideas, not only pertinent to the work itself, but to all aspects of life. We talk about politics, health, entertainment, family and virtually anything.
We do it with respect and with a sense of mutual support. We have built our own community within the digital spheres we inhabit, and we do this by sharing and caring. This is also part of our Martian culture.
As a company, we also need to communicate with providers, contractors, other teams and such, so I'm also in charge of external communications of the company.
In sum, these are our spaces, and as such, I am in charge of maintaining them.
We are our own community
When you find yourself in a place where your job feeds your personal life, you really get a sense of belonging and are truly eager to see your coworkers. We try to help each other grow professionally and personally.
At MarsBased, we host a monthly tech-related event, as part of MarsBased’s initiative to keep in touch with the startup and tech communities, in addition to Startup Grind Barcelona. We offer valuable content that is useful for people who want to get more involved in the industry and be part of the community.
Every couple of months, I help to organize what we call the “Martian Day”. The idea is for the whole team to meet up at Spaces for an entire day to talk about MarsBased’s general status and direction, and bring some innovative ideas and references to the table (new technologies, new apps, new working methods…).
This day is always especially appreciated since we get to see those who live outside of Barcelona.
As an excuse to meet up more often as a group, MarsBased organizes a yearly company retreat, a 3-4 day paid “office vacation”. The team members that are interested suggest different destinations. Then everyone votes and, finally, we visit the selected city.
It’s the time take our minds off of work and relax, interact on a more personal level. This year will mark my first time enjoying said retreat, but I can already begin to feel the relaxing qualities of such a trip.
But the community is also constantly strengthened online. Every week we host an internal music contest on Spotify. Each of us posts a song related to a predetermined topic and on Friday we all vote for the best. (As you can see, we are very democratic) The winner gets to pick next week’s challenge. This is an opportunity to learn more about each other’s cultural backgrounds, musical tastes and artistic curiosities.
Beyond the social aspect, as a group, we have also developed a need to be constantly learning. We use italki for learning or improving languages (in my case, since I am Mexican, I am learning Catalan so I can get further involved in the city I’m living in) and it’s also through MarsBased’s support that we can have any work-related book we want to read or app that will help us do our job faster.
There’s always an open forum for anyone that wants to find support inside the community, either to reach a personal goal, change habits or engage in interesting content.
In a way, the Office Manager is the Community Manager where the community is the company itself! Maybe I should be designated Chief Martian Officer? 🤔
Wow! That was a long post! In short, the Office Manager in an all-remote company has got four main responsibilities: to help everyone to build their own working environment remotely, to make sure that all the processes run smoothly, to communicate with third-parties on behalf of the company, and to manage the community that is the company itself.
If you're curious about other aspects of my daily life, let me know in the comments section below and I'll be happy to elaborate further! Thanks for reading!