Why we prefer office collaboration over remote working at Popsa

A bit of background

The Popsa founders (that's me and Liam) have worked together since 2008. We created hundreds of apps for premium brands, before launching a mobile-incubator in 2012, where we helped create and grow several exciting startups.

During this period we worked with loads of fantastic engineers, designers, product people and marketeers. We worked with contractors, permanent employees, interns - we even tried off-shoring for one project (that was a disaster).

Our policy used to be "work where you feel most productive" and we'd Skype in to those working remotely. In fact, much of the time we left Skype calls running for hours, so everyone felt connected.

So why do we like office-based working so much?

Fully remote working definitely has its place. It worked really well when we ran a mobile development agency. However when incubating startups the team dynamic was much harder to get right.

It comes down to the type of work that gets done in the early stages of a startup.

You will often need to work on tasks that you might not be comfortable with - you constantly learn new skills to help people out. There aren't entire departments of people, or clear processes you can call upon.

Not everything can be planned and project-managed to the degree it is in larger businesses; sometimes you just have to be there, react to a situation, and get stuff done.

That's the thing you can sometimes lose a little bit of when you're working remotely.

If you don't feel the urgency, you can't respond as efficiently to an evolving situation, and that person under pressure can't ask for your help as easily. It's not impossible, it just sometimes adds a layer of complexity.

Top-5 startup tasks that can benefit from being in-person

  1. Morning Stand-ups
  2. Break-out sessions
  3. Brainstorming (we've worked hard to do it remotely, but we still love a real whiteboard)
  4. Pair Programming
  5. Pixel-perfecting UI (sometimes engineers just need to sit with the designers to get this right)

Let the team environment motivate you

At Popsa, we're constantly brainstorming, researching, designing — and we put this work up on the walls to be inspired and keep focussed; while we've worked to recreate this digitally, this type of thing can be hard to fully absorb when working from home.

When you're small - if there are 5 people in your startup, with two people working remote, you're down 40% "emergency people power" if something breaks - it can add to the stress if you're trying to urgently debug a critical application while keeping everyone update over Slack or Google Meet!

There's also a point about building a culture - it's so important for a startup team to bond and build those relationships.

Working from home makes it hard for impromptu lunches, the team dinners and drinks, games night and movie night (although we've tried our best to recreate them, Zoom quizzes are just not quite the same).

The Future

As Popsa grow's we'll be opening offices all over the world.

Each of these locations will have their own teams, and as a business we'll need ways of keeping all the teams in sync –— that of course requires remote working.

But whilst the team's still relatively small, we want to recognise the benefits of spending key times working together in a close group. That may not always be possible, but we don't want to forget what good things it can bring.