October 9, 2018

Being a Remote CEO

Commuting: Highly Overrated

I’ve lived in London and worked in what was described to me as swanky design studios. I spent years in New York commuting into what was called a modern office—whatever that means. I currently live in San Francisco and previously worked out of offices with leading design firms in districts with names that are supposed to carry great weight and prestige. 

Sure, it was cool, but what I have right now feels a whole lot better. 

What I’m a part of now at MetaLab feels current, not like the future everyone keeps merely talking about.
MetaLab's remote CEO, Rich Ward
Me—doing remote CEO things

For decades, I happily endured long commutes across town. You’d find me traversing a city by subway, foot—or whatever—to join my fellow colleagues to tackle the challenges of the day. We’d grab our morning coffee (well, tea for me as I’m still unapologetically British), snag our obligatory free snacks laid out by the company, and spend hours getting into debates about product features, talent, culture, and so much more: such fun! It felt like the only way to work.

Espousing from on High

Rewind to 3 years ago where I was at Davos for the World Economic Forum. Lots of seemingly important people, talking about lots of seemingly important topics, wearing what can only be described as eclectic Eurotrash mountain wear gear. I looked out of place in my usual jeans, trainers and tee. 

Aside from the attire, what struck me most was all the talk about how the digital age will create never-been-experienced-before opportunities to reinvent the workplace; to build a more inclusive work environment; to be more productive; and yes, to finally better balance our work/life priorities. 

These business leaders espoused their ideas before heading back to their corporate headquarters where they ask employees to commute to an office each day to sit at desks at specific times. They described a future that seemed so far off to them but it got me thinking about the here and now.  

When the war for talent is as fierce as ever, why limit yourself to the catchment area of your particular metropolitan area with rules around where and when people work?

When the opportunity was presented to me last year to become the CEO of MetaLab, I saw a team that wasn’t thinking about remote work as a future idea but one already working that way. Here and now. 

Between the incredible team, the amazing work being done, and the way in which people worked, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to join MetaLab. In my first few weeks, the more I learned about how the company operated, the more I saw the benefits for those who joined the team and also the advantages it gave us to hire the best talent without location being a limiting factor.


Our remote team joining in for MetaLab's monthly town hall

Becoming a Remote CEO

We get to ship world-class products thanks to our incredible team of designers, developers, and product owners living and working from everywhere. 

We’ve got a principal designer who wakes up to enjoy surfing in South Africa before designing with his team who are working out of Canada and France. We’ve got an iOS developer who spends time meeting new people in co-working spaces across South America while helping ship great apps. We’ve got teammates in Europe, the USA, and of course Canada where we are officially headquartered. 

Sure, over half of our clients are based in San Francisco but I’m the only employee located here. So how do you run a company when a large chunk of the team work remotely?

Well, we believe that in today’s society people are looking for something more than a studio with free coffee, cookies, and the occasional free massage or dry cleaning. We believe talented people want and deserve more.

After that Davos trip, I read an article from Professor Klaus Schwab who put it well, We need leaders who are emotionally intelligent, and able to model and champion co-operative working. They’ll coach, rather than command; they’ll be driven by empathy, not ego.This spoke to me as I believe being in the office and having a need to see butts in chairs as a means of leadership is a thing of the past. 

I want to hop on a video chat with anyone in the company and hear how the work is, how their experience is, and how I can help. Being a remote CEO is different, but it’s driven by the fact that we’re humans just trying to build great things together. Where we are when those things get done doesn’t matter.

Autonomy: Not Just for Cars

To that end, we work every day to build meaningful connections between each other as individuals and teams by using the tools we’ve designed and built. Eating our own dog food if you will. Wicked products like Slack and Zoom that we love. And products like Bonusly that we didn’t necessarily design but, of course, still love.

How cool would it be to work from your RV for a year, whilst traveling the world? Or work remotely while traveling around Europe with your partner for 3-months as a last hurrah before the birth of your first child? Or work from your mountain cabin to escape the city bullshit to get some real work done. 

At MetaLab, you don’t need to imagine these ideas, they’re real and simply baked into the fabric of how we run our business. It’s about having the right mindset, not being in the right location. Read this piece by the Economist and the current backlash to Silicon Valley (my hometown) which I think captures it pretty well.

The MetaLab team at Remote Summit 2018
Spending time with the entire team in Whistler at MetaSummit 2018

And of course, there’s sometimes no substitute for the good old-fashioned face-to-face. Last week we flew the entire team into Whistler, BC for our annual summit. So yes, these are some thoughts on how remote work can start working right now, but also a reminder that we’re hiring from anywhere in the world! Check out our careers page—I’d love to hear from you.