Four Kitchens

Breaking out of the office

5 Min. ReadWork life

Four Kitchens is about to take its biggest step in a years-long journey towards changing how we collaborate as a team: We’re letting go of our physical office space. Don’t think of it as “closing our office,” think of it as “becoming office-free.” We are shedding the physical infrastructure that is unnecessary and outmoded to work on the web.

This summer, Four Kitchens is becoming a fully #DistributedTeam.

Work is not a place, it’s a culture

Not having an office is not the same as becoming a distributed company. Distributed working is a kind of workflow, a way of being part of the Web Chefs team, and a fundamental aspect of the culture of Four Kitchens.

Every year at Yonder, a conference hosted by our friends and distributed pioneers Lullabot, we get the chance to talk about the different kinds of distributed companies, and it’s rarely about having or not having an office space — it’s about culture. If you’re a company with one office in Philadelphia and another office in Portland, you’re already partly distributed. If you’re an office where team members work from home, or a company that allows flexible scheduling, you’re already partly distributed. If you’re a company whose clients aren’t always in the same town as your office space, you’re already partly distributed.

While many organizations find themselves in these situations, very few decide to become fully distributed. For example, Four Kitchens has always worked with remote clients — for the past 10 years, our clients have spanned North America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. In this way, we’ve always been partly distributed, so what’s the difference now?

Why did Four Kitchens go fully distributed?

We’ve been moving in this direction since we hired our first distributed team member about three years ago, but the decision to become a fully distributed company came down to four key benefits we think this will bring to the Four Kitchens team: Recruitment, Freedom, Vision, and Presence.

  • Recruitment. Going distributed is the best way to build a world-class team. By removing the shackles of physical space, we no longer have to recruit from a walled-off set of zip codes or beg people to relocate. We can hire the best people, no matter where they are.
  • Freedom. Going distributed empowers team members to control their own destiny. You want to live on a wind farm in Sedona for a year? Go ahead. As long as you have a good internet connection, you can live wherever you want. You need to stay home to care for a sick kid, parent, or dog? Go ahead. Being distributed allows our team freedom of space and time.
  • Vision. Distributed work is the future of work. As urban spaces grow increasingly expensive and as suburban, exurban, and rural lands are reclaimed as the only affordable options, people will not settle for a two-hour commute. And there’s no need to in our line of work. We’re not making circuit boards, lumber, or doorstops — we’re making websites (BIG websites).
  • Presence. When your team members live all over the nation, your presence and visibility at events goes through the roof. Whereas our Web Chefs used to focus on local meetups and a handful of high-profile conferences, we now seem to be everywhere. A small Drupal meetup in Minnesota? A panel at SXSW? At your local grocery store? There’s a Web Chef there, in a green Four Kitchens track jacket, letting everyone know about our amazing team.

Working with a distributed team means communication squared

I won’t sugarcoat it: Not everyone at Four Kitchens is thrilled with this decision. Some people love working at a physical office. They enjoy in-person interactions, going to lunch with coworkers, and the physical separation between home and work. While we believe going distributed ultimately solves more problems than it creates, the home office is simply not a preferable — or even feasible — option for everyone. Not everyone’s home environment is conducive to work; some of us look forward to getting out of the house. There’s also a sense of community — both good and bad — that’s easier to foster in a physical office than over Slack or Zoom.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is communication. Leading a distributed team means communication squared: Whatever level of communication you currently have in your office, you must communicate exponentially more when you become a distributed company. A distributed team is far more likely to feel isolated or “out of the loop.” There is no “popping by” a coworker’s cube, no overhearing hallway talk, no opportunity to be involved in a conversation unless you’re explicitly invited. When your team is distributed, you must deliberately communicate everything, all the time, to everyone.

Going distributed is a sign of success, not failure

We’re not “closing our office” because we’ve failed, as that phrase is commonly understood. We’re not even doing this to save money. (In fact, going distributed will likely be more expensive than maintaining a physical office.) We’re doing this because we believe it’s the only way to hire the best people, in the best positions, to best serve our clients. Four Kitchens is going distributed because we’re doing really well: We’re successful enough to forge a new paradigm of work.

The future of work is distributed, but going distributed can’t happen all at once. You have to start with your company’s values. You have to think about the logistics. You have to find, configure, and train the right tools. You have to establish a distributed culture before you close the doors. This has been a long journey for Four Kitchens, and it required many awkward, painful steps. There are so many things to think about when going distributed, in fact, that we’re launching a whole new blog series called Distributed Focus starting next month, explaining how we did it, every step of the way.

Stay tuned. As always, this is just the beginning.

  • Todd

Thinking about becoming a #DistributedTeam with your own company? Or maybe you’ve already been part of a distributed team with fantastic (or not so fantastic) results? We’d love to hear about it! Share your experiences and stories in the comments section, below. And make sure you subscribe to the Four Kitchens blog so you don’t miss any of the Distributed Focus blog series.