700 Employees and Multiple Continents: How Alconost Built an Officeless Business Model
We decided to take the «no-fixed-office» route from the very beginning of our company. For a boutique translation agency focused on the IT industry and working remotely with clients, this seemed like a natural fit. 15 years later, Alconost has over 700 employees spread across the globe, including translators, marketing professionals, PPC advertising experts, sales staff, editors, localization managers, and video production whizzes. And, still, we think an office isn’t the most effective way to operate. As one of the company’s co-founders, I can share just how we managed this.
Not having an office makes the most positive impact on business growth
Our clients are located throughout the world, and our managers often have to send emails outside of normal business hours. When you’re dealing with major time differences, problems could easily take days to resolve. But not for us. Our employees aren’t bound by the limits of the standard 8-hour workday, and we can count on them to respond to emails and queries promptly whenever possible. Getting a quick response is key — even if it’s just to hear “I’ll look into this and get back to you tomorrow.” It’s a win-win: the client feels better and we’re happy.
We like the officeless life not because it allows us to take our time. In fact, it’s the opposite, and we can clock our turnaround times in minutes, not hours. Half of the orders made via our online translation platform — Nitro — are delivered in less than 2 hours. And anyone who emails us with questions or inquiries about Nitro can count on a reply within an hour. This kind of response time simply isn’t possible with fixed office hours.
Written by Alconost
Our success formula is simple: Remote Work + People + Freedom — Control
Our formula of success is remote work, top talent, flexible hours, and no micro-management. Each is an integral and indispensable element. The first — remote work — is a fairly simple proposition: you work when you want as long as you get the job done right. The same thing goes for the schedule: we aren’t concerned about what work hours our employees keep. The most important thing is that problems get solved and projects get done quickly and the rest of the team isn’t held back by delays. I personally usually write articles or scenarios for videos at 2 or 3 am, when other day-to-day issues have been squared away, and I can get more done in those two hours than I could the whole preceding week.
We don’t make our employees track their work, or install software on their PCs that would work essentially as a timeclock while covertly snapping screenshots and sending them to us. Our approach is the opposite: we believe that a stopwatch and calendar are productivity killers for our workers and the company both. When someone is dedicated 100%, the visible, quantifiable result is successful projects and satisfied clients and coworkers. And so, it’s just as noticeable when someone is giving less than their best. And for us, ultimately, the result is the real value, and more important than the process that produced it. Our objective is business development and not supervising or over-controlling.
Ultimately, the result is the real value for the business, which is more important than the process that produced it
And of course, no formula would work without the key variable — our people. What kind of employees do we look for? Someone who thinks the point of work is to sit and keep busy for 8 hours — that’s probably not the sort of guy or gal we’re looking to work with. Someone just looking to make money — also, no.
How do I identify good talent? I asked a lot of questions during interviews, sometimes pretty personal questions — even ones that may seem a bit off. And by the end of the interview, I get a pretty clear picture of the interviewee’s personality. When I look back at all the job interviews we’ve had, I see that we could usually say whether someone was the right fit or not after talking with them.
Mistakes are unavoidable, of course. Sometimes a person loses motivation and their work slips. But we fight for each employee: we strive to find the reason for performance issues, to get that person engaged and given them new and perhaps more interesting work. If we lose that fight, we part ways.
Motivation VS Burnout — A Grueling Grudge Match
When we speak of the importance of motivation and incentives in the workplace, it becomes all the more critical for employees of the officeless company, and we’re not just referring to pay. When you’re not working alongside your boss, co-workers, or subordinates, you can lose the sense of being a team. Often after half a year of telecommuting, an employee experiences a certain kind of crisis unfolds: they lose the sense of working in a company and may lose sight of the common mission and the corporate culture. Yes, we also have a corporate culture: valuing our clients, going the extra mile, and placing a premium on anticipating and being ready to answer client questions before they’ve even asked them.
There’s no one accepted approach to tackling this problem. The one that has worked for us is asking employees to write articles for the media or speak at a conference. When you’re working on a speech or article, you remember what you’ve learned and immersed yourself in the topic, getting you back in the swing and flow of things. Sometimes it helps to just have informal get-togethers, to meet up and have a whiskey or two. In either case, managers need to think ahead on how to keep up morale and motivation so that our employees don’t burn out and resign themselves to a big office and Friday after-work parties just so that they feel social connections.
It is vital to maintain contact with every employee and provide them with appropriate feedback
If a job is done well, you need to remember to congratulate them. And if it’s done poorly, you need to have the guts to say it, while judging the work and not the person. The most important thing is to not stay silent. I speak from experience: unfortunately, once myself and company founder Alexander Murauski moved with our families to live for three months in Montenegro (another advantage of working remotely, btw). There were so many issues we had to deal with in our day-to-day lives at that time that we lost contact with employees. Because of that, we lost a few people who we might have retained and better motivated had we at least been more virtually available.
Image provided by Alconost
Nor do you even have to go somewhere to lose contact. Sometimes it happens when you get too deeply buried in something and your coworkers feel left out. And now I know what a real danger this poses!
Trello, Slack and the Cloud
We searched long and hard to find the right tool for assigning and managing work. We tried Megaplan and Bitrix24. Then we tried out Trello — simple and easy to use — and had our solution, although we’re continuously tweaking things here and there. We usually work with translators through the cloud for large localization projects. Everything else we do through email, Slack, Skype, or Google Hangouts to have a huddle through a group conference call.
It’s crucial to automate routines and simple business processes wherever possible
We save all documents and files on Google Drive. We don’t use Microsoft Office or other offline software. Instead, we work with online documents only. The advantages of this sort of approach are that documents can be accessed from any device and texts can be aligned and collaboratively edited in real-time.
We also created our own company “Wikipedia” that collects and systematizes our knowledge, rules, important links and best practices. We keep it all there: from step-by-step instructions on setting up company email inboxes to working methods in Trello. Our Wikipedia, like its namesake, is constantly updated with new information, which makes the training of new employees faster and helps optimize overall workflows.
It’s key to automate routines and simply business processes as much as possible. This helps save time, reduce overhead, and free up resources for more creative work. After all, five minutes a day spent on menial and trivial stuff makes up about a week over the year.
And of course, you need the right toolset to be able to work wherever and whenever: most modern devices and mobile internet to get the job done nicely. For example, I managed to spend an entire day writing out scenarios for video clips, meeting with clients and managing our team while waiting in the customs control line at the border. All I needed was my 5-inch screen mobile phone.
Three points of advice for remote workers
My first piece of advice: come up with your own specific schedule. Wake up at the same time every day, find the most productive time for yourself. People need to get into a rhythm.
Second, there need to be certain conditions for you to work remotely. And if none, you need to create them. You can’t work in a two-bedroom apartment with children running around where household chores are a constant distraction. You need your own enclosed space. For me, that space is my home office. Alconost founder Alexander Murauski uses a small office in a business center (he has two boisterous children at home).
And the third bit of advice: when you have a flexible schedule, your workday can imperceptibly overtake your personal and family life. There is no clear division between working hours and off-hours the way there is in an office. This can be incredibly tiring for some people and is an early sign that that particular schedule isn’t working for you. If you like your work and love doing it, then you can do it in any of the 24 hours in the day. I personally don’t like the word “work.” I’m not working, I’m living and doing something at the same time. And that makes me happy because it’s life lived to the fullest.
Author: Alconost co-founder Kirill Kliushkin
This article was contributed by Alconost, a global provider of product localization services for applications, games, videos, and websites into 70+ languages.
We offer native-speaking translators, linguistic testing, a cloud platform with API, continuous localization, 24/7 project managers, and any format for string resources.
We also make advertising and educational videos and images, teasers, explainers, and trailers for Google Play and the App Store.