With Content prides itself in being a fully remote team—we collaborate entirely online, and we trust each other to do our best work. But there’s one luxury that we didn’t realize we had: we’re all working within the same time zone (give or take an hour)!
At Buffer, a veteran remote company that’s over 80-people strong, teammates come from all over the world. Seeing as it could take half a day or so to get a reply from a teammate, it made me wonder, how do they do it?
Alfred Lua, a product marketer at Buffer, breaks it down for us.
Hi, Alfred. Tell us about yourself.
Hi, I’m Alfred. I do Product Marketing at Buffer, a social media management platform for small businesses. I’ve been at Buffer for five years—Buffer has been around for about 10 years, and it’s been fully distributed right from the start.
I focus on a few areas: understanding what our customers want while we develop new features, bringing those features to market, and educating customers on how to use Buffer well.
Who is Buffer’s target audience?
People all over the world.
There’s a reason as to why Buffer is a fully remote company. We don’t have regional teams or regional customers. We basically sell to everyone around the world; people just visit our website, sign up, and get going. So we don’t require anyone to be from a specific region or country. Anyone can work anywhere they like.
But we do find that most of our customers are in the US and Europe, just because of how our products are built and how people use social media. We are very focused on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, which are used more in the West.
How did Buffer start off with remote work?
Traveling while working sort of started right from the founders. Around that time, our founders got advice from David Cancel, now CEO of Drift, about remote working: either do a fully remote or a fully in-office setting. Because if you’re doing a mix, remote workers tend to be treated as second-class citizens compared to those who are working in an office. So that’s when our CEO decided to go all-in on remote work, among a few other reasons.
What are the main challenges of a remote team?
The marketing team is made up of about 10 people, and we’re spread across the globe. There are people in the US—East Coast and West Coast—Europe, Asia, and Australia. And there aren’t any big groups; it’s like one person in each area. So you can imagine it’s really hard for all of us to meet at the same time and make decisions.
How we try to get over this is we lean more into asynchronous discussions. That’s what we do as a company in general as well.
Synchronous discussion tends to benefit people online at a certain time only. Otherwise, you’re forced to get people to wake up at a certain time or sleep at a certain time. So as a company, we mostly have asynchronous discussions—for example, we use Threads for long-form discussions. And that means we are ok with taking a longer time to make good decisions, rather than try to force decision-making within a short period.
In Buffer, it’s important for us to over-communicate to make sure we provide adequate information people need to make decisions on their own. That way, we don’t have to keep going back and forth.
Tell us a bit more about your personal experience with remote work—how did you get started with remote work?
So Buffer was actually my first job out of university. But during university, I had small experiences of remote work—I was helping a friend organize a conference in Manchester, which is not where my university was. So I was learning how to communicate via email and all that.
I was also helping a friend in London with a startup, so I had to think about how to communicate with different people through emails and video calls. I have an unorthodox experience as well since I was in a long-distance relationship with my then-girlfriend, now-wife for over three years. So that was a good practice in terms of how to communicate asynchronously and to understand time-zone differences.
Do you ever imagine yourself working at an office job?
I don’t mind going to an office. I wouldn’t say going to an office is bad. One downside of remote work is it can get lonely sometimes. So yeah, I think it really depends on what a company is doing and what the company culture is like.
What are some of the tools you use that help you do your best work?
The first thing is having a fixed routine where I’m telling my mind that “this time to this time” is my work time. That keeps me disciplined and focused.
I’m also quite an old school person in the sense that I use a physical notebook a lot. So I write down all my to-dos, as well as any points of discussion ahead in a physical notebook. In terms of electronics, I have two monitors and a laptop. Personally, I find that having multiple screens is great for efficiency in general.
Then there’s Threads, where we have our long-form discussions. Adopting that tool has helped me communicate my ideas better and allowed me to have constructive discussions with teammates on the other end of the globe.
Do you have a home office set up or are you the type who can work anywhere?
I can pretty much work from anywhere, but I still prefer having an office just to create a separation between work and life.
What’s the biggest challenge you personally face when working remotely?
I mentioned loneliness as one of the big issues with remote work in general. I personally like to be in the same room with other people to brainstorm ideas and campaigns and all that. But that’s not possible in a remote setting. It can be difficult, to be honest, to brainstorm and come up with ideas.
One thing I try to do is to chat with teammates whose time zones overlap with mine, individually. It’s not the same as brainstorming and discussing as a group but it helps. Another thing is making sure there’s one person responsible for the project so that someone is making sure the discussions that need to happen, happen.
What do you enjoy the most about remote work?
The flexibility. Even though I stick to a 9 to 6-ish hour schedule, I get to enjoy my days in different ways. Like, I can take a nap any time of the day I like at home with nobody judging me. And if I need to run out, get some errands done—like go to a bank or get a haircut when it’s due—I can go out anytime. And if I need to, I can work extra in the evenings or over the weekend. It’s just having the flexibility to plan the day as I like rather than having fixed hours.
What’s something about remote work that you would like people who have no experience with to know?
So one thing I would say is that we actually get a lot of work done, probably more than an average office worker.
I think there’s a general impression that remote workers are enjoying themselves at the beach, only getting a few things done. I think that’s a typical but wrong perception of what it’s like.
In an office setting, it’s so easy to be interrupted by people. You know, they want to have a chat, they want to have a drink, and you tend to have to work on other people’s schedules rather than your own schedule. For remote workers, we can plan out the entire day ourselves. We know when things are coming up, and we end up being able to get more work done.