The true essence of a business isn’t found in bricks and mortar, so why should you keep your staff confined in such? Here are six businesses that treat location as secondary to the spirit of their ventures.
The Executive Escapees
Company Mister Zimi
Nomadic style Spends half the year in Melbourne, the other half in Bali
For clothing brand Mister Zimi, it’s no coincidence that the models in their campaigns look as though they’ve stepped out of a tropical paradise. The label’s creators, Zoe and Jimi Paul, split their time between the meteorologically-indecisive city of Melbourne and the blissfully warm Indonesian island of Bali, and their label is all the better for it.
With a staff of over 45 based in Bali and two stores across Melbourne, the couple is firmly tied to both places. The solution? An extended two- or three-month stint to Bali twice a year, complete with family in tow.
“Every day we are learning, and being in another country you basically need to find everything out for yourself,” Zoe has said of their split-based venture. “There are no White Pages or Google for production needs in Bali, it’s all about getting on your motorbike and exploring [and] asking millions of questions to locals, so they can give you advice of where to go for everything.”
The benefits of building a brand in Bali are numerous. For one, Jimi has previously admitted, no one in Bali judges you for lacking experience or training. Also, the laidback lifestyle makes the perfect backdrop for their holidaywear-inspired collections.
The Tag Team
Company Craig & Karl
Nomadic style Two people working in different time zones
Much-lauded design agency Craig & Karl has a unique working situation, to say the least. Craig Redman is based in New York, while the agency’s other creative half, Karl Maier, lives in London. There’s a discernible physical distance, but that never hinders their preference for collaborative work. So, how does a creative partnership thrive with an ocean between them?
“With the modern wonder of Skype!” Karl once told Design Boom. “A lot of the time, we are each managing different projects and checking in, discussing ideas, getting feedback and moral support as we go along. Other times we are both heavily involved each step of the way, it just depends on the particular project.”
This relaxed, constantly collaborative approach is presumably a direct result of the deep shared history of this team of Australian natives, who have worked together in one form or another since meeting at art school over 15 years ago.
Although the pair originally took to illustration because their clients were too broke to produce photography, their practice has since evolved into graphics, installation projects, furniture, sculpture and pattern designs, among other things. Their wildly colourful work has been championed by cult Parisian store Colette, with whom they’ve collaborated on several projects, while their bold graphics have graced the cover of New York Magazine and been adopted by LVMH, Apple and British Vogue. Key to these achievements has been trust in one another’s decisions.
“We’re really not precious between each other,” Craig told Business of Fashion. “If Karl says it needs a dot there, it needs a dot there. If I say delete that, it’s gone. I guess there’s an intrinsic understanding.”
The Scattered Staff
Nomadic style A fully mobile workforce
Don’t let the company name lead your assumptions astray – Basecamp may exude the feel of a traditional one-office company, but where the staff lay their laptops tells a different story. Basecamp, the web-based project management tool that shares the company name, is designed to facilitate a labour force with the capacity to work remotely, but still collaboratively. While the company itself has an office in Chicago, every member of the Basecamp team has the option to work from home, from wherever they are. The result? A workforce that calls 32 cities around the world home.
Considering Basecamp co-founders Jason Fried (CEO) and David Heinemeier Hansson (CTO) literally wrote the book on building a successful mobile workforce; Remote: Office Not Required, it comes as no surprise that their innovative model works.
“Say you spend 30 minutes driving in rush-hour every morning and another 15 getting to your car and into the office. That’s 1.5 hours a day, 7.5 hours per week, or somewhere between 300 and 400 hours per year, give or take holidays and vacation,” they write. “Four hundred hours is exactly the amount of programmer time we spent building Basecamp, our most popular product. Imagine what you could do with 400 extra hours a year.”
Not only that, but the work that you do isn’t the best work you could be doing, say the company founders.
“Meaningful work, creative work, thoughtful work, important work – this type of effort takes stretches of uninterrupted time to get into the zone. But in modern offices such long stretches just can’t be found. Instead, it’s just one interruption after another.”
The Constant Wanderers
Company Boat magazine
Nomadic style Travels to, and works from, a new city every six months
Any traveller understands that to really know a place, you have to live there.
For the staff at Boat Magazine, this is a concept they take literally. The twice-yearly, independently published travel publication chooses a city to profile each issue and, in lieu of taking a city break and rounding up the ‘best’ bits for readers, each issue is created by a core team that have lived (and worked) together in the city they’re covering.
“The magazine started as a project for our design studio and friends to work on together,” says Erin Spens, co-founder and editor. “None of us knew anything about Sarajevo, so we all went and explored the city for a month, working on stories and getting to know the locals. But it did pretty well and the indie magazine world in [hometown] London was growing so we kept going.”
Now, the company has a core team of about six who travel from their home bases as far flung as Mexico City, Los Angeles and Bangkok to meet at designated destinations, spending an extended amount of time living there to meet locals and uncover the secrets of the city at length. Then, the team create the issue together, normally from an Airbnb apartment.
“We’re usually crazy when we’re in a city and end up running around doing interviews, exploring and photographing… so we all end up back at the apartment to work,” says Erin.
Although she says the project is “crazy expensive” to produce, Erin admits there’s a worthy sense of liberty in creating something herself, with her own self-gathered team.
“Somehow when there isn’t a tonne of money attached to it, there’s more freedom,” she points out. “We can cover what we want, say what feels true and feature locals who have really stunning stories to tell but wouldn’t be right for ‘mainstream media’.”
Although Erin is careful to keep everything as authentic as possible – she finds locals to help her explore the city and commissions writers in their native language, with the words translated later – she refuses to declare that they can bottle the location’s essence entirely.
“I’m always so careful to not claim to be experts or to even really understand the place – I think only locals can claim that!” says Erin. “We just tell true stories and report on it as we experienced it.”
But working and living with your team has its difficulties – namely, the time Erin took her then-one-year-old daughter to the company’s meet-up in Athens, where her bub proceeded to keep the team awake all night, crying from teething pain.
“The team was very polite and said they didn’t hear her, which was impossible!” says Erin. Luckily, no one held a grudge. “We also had the most incredible team dinner on the balcony one night with the sun setting, cooking fresh fish we’d got at the market that day and the most amazing produce we threw together in a salad. I’ll never forget that meal!”
The Travelling Band
Company Paris Pop-Up
Nomadic style operates from a home base, then travels in and out for jobs when they crop up
The only better pairing than food with wine is that of Canadian sommelier Laura Vidal and her British boyfriend and chef, Harry Cummins (now that’s a couple who you know could put on a good spread). Three years ago, the then-Paris-based couple decided to make a business out of their talents by taking over bistros and hosting their own dinners on days the restaurants were closed. What resulted was Paris Pop-Up, their own ‘moveable’ restaurant, continually serving delicious dishes in unused locations.
So when the couple decided to travel abroad in 2014, their pop-up idea came along for the ride. Among other cities, Laura and Harry’s meals have made appearances on plates in Montréal, Kyoto, Barcelona and Fez.
“We kept wanting to maybe settle down, but the travel and the excitement and thrill of having to re-invent a menu based on local products was a really great way to learn and a fun challenge,” says Laura.
So, they never (completely) settled in one place. The couple now have a base in Paris, travelling out from there to wherever their palates take them. Although they still have a tangible connection to Paris in the company’s name, they’re also operating with rolling residences in spots like Arles, France, and Alba, Italy.
Unsurprisingly, continually setting up shop in different countries brings a number of unique challenges for food-focused folks. “We research prior a lot,” says Laura. “We look at what’s in season, what local wines or beverages are made and we organise meetings for the days we are preparing the menu before the event.”
As for getting diners in, the pair, along with team member Julia Mitton, primarily use social media and word of mouth.
“We plan [also] on contacting local newspapers or bloggers to let them know we are in town and spread the word if they want to. It’s quite natural too because the host restaurant also has a network, so we activate both.”
Laura points out that having little or no understanding of their clientele and unfamiliar cultural customs, plus language barriers, dealing with equipment failures and occasional shortages of good produce make the challenge of creating a culinary win that much harder.
“It’s a humbling and exciting challenge that really gets us thinking on our feet and having to be resourceful and almost in survival mode,” says Laura. “You have to be organised, anticipate any issues, catastrophes or problems that might occur. It’s a great lesson in being open-minded and reactive.”
The Travel Advocates
Nomadic style Allows employees unlimited holiday leave to come and go as they please
If there’s one adjustment to work structure that the average employee wouldn’t have trouble adapting to, it’s unlimited holiday leave. And that’s precisely the policy that marketing communication technology maker Sailthru has adopted.
All employees are granted access to unlimited leave, with the proviso that trips over 10 consecutive days go unpaid – unless you’re getting married, of course.
“We grant exceptions for ‘life events’ like honeymoons and allow people to take longer than 10 days paid,” explains Emma Leeds, manager of the people team.
Sailthru places intrinsic value on productivity rather than hours behind the computer. SVP of people, Rebecca Price, says it’s not about “who’s coming in first and who’s leaving late at night.”
“It’s super empowering,” says Emma. “[Staff] see how they’re appreciated, they’re trusted, and they’re being treated like adults.” The company’s focus on the freedom to move is, aptly, often the reason that staff will stay.
“When faced with an [unlimited] policy, you can feel free to go to Europe and take two weeks. Everything’s on the table.”