How to grow a startup without bosses, meetings, or an office

…and use Google docs.
…and use Google docs.
Image: AP Photo/Sang Tan
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

I recently wrote about how my startup operates with no bosses, no office, and a four-day workweek. We’ve received a ton of questions that happen to address the most difficult things about building our non-traditional work model. Here’s how we’ve resolved many of those issues:

The key to success is based on defining procedures

When trying to grow a company that works remotely, without personal contact, bosses, or daily meetings, what becomes most fundamental is the implementation of procedures. Procedures are guidelines that define, with an excellent level of detail, how to accomplish a task.

We use Google Drive for this. It is easy to use, can be accessed by everyone, and is simple when the time comes to share/edit together. All of our workers have the power to create a new procedure or to modify an existing one, and these procedures are primarily text—for ease of editing. The person who creates the procedure will be the owner, if there is any disagreement on how a procedure should go, the owner will always have the last word (approved, edit or deny the update).

In our entrepreneurial venture, oMT, we have a procedure (created six years ago, but still undergoing changes and improvements) that defines exactly what a new member of our team should do in her first month of work, since she won’t have direct access to a boss for guidance. It’s a thorough procedure that describes everything step-by-step, from how to create accounts to log into the company’s system, to how to collaborate with existing projects or how to even create new projects.

We also have a defined procedure for the selection of new members—a key point for our growth. This includes advice on how to identify the best engineers, conduct a trial month, calculate future salaries, explain our work ethic, and even how to introduce new members to the rest of the team.

Over time, we have continued to define procedures for each task that we completed—and if the task or job was too long (if it exceeded two pages of text), then we would divide it and create two or more procedures within the same folder. For example: “Folder: Welcome. First month of work,” contains two procedures: “Procedure 1: Create a Username and Account” and “Procedure 2: How to use the tools.”

In fact, we even have a procedure for creating new procedures (and modifying existing ones). I understand that this may seem to complicate things, but the reality shows the contrary—an employee can work successfully and efficiently, and without a boss saying what to do or how to do it. This strategy is not just for us, but for all future employees who will be able to repeat the same concepts the same way.

We have folders of procedures for customer service, sales, marketing, programming, etc. Each one contains all of the information necessary to systematically scale our enterprise, independent of the number of people that work on our project.

How do we align our team under one strategy?

Our procedures indicate how we do things to all employees, even before they join the company. However, they don’t specify where we’re going. For this reason, just once a year, for one week’s time, we all meet.

This is when we analyze where we currently stand as a company—where we were one year ago, what has changed, and what we’ve learned—in order to define where we’re going in the future (not long or mid-term, simply one year out).

During this time, we define a maximum of three objectives in order of priority, with one person or group assigned to each. If a group is responsible, there is no hierarchy—it is done simply based on the level of needs/technical functions. For example, if the objective is “improve the conversions on the website,” then it should be assigned to a programmer, a designer, and an engineer specializing in online marketing.

How do we motivate our team?

Finally, a big concern—and one we’ve been asked about on many occasions—is how we would stay united and truly motivated throughout the years, considering that we don’t work in the same geographic location, and have no bosses, and no meetings.

In reality, these work conditions help us improve our retention of talent throughout time, and are advantageous—but at the end of the day, all of us have our own (personal) economic drives for growth. We share a desire for salaries and raises, but must also share a desire to help build the project that we are dedicating our lives to. If we want someone to commit and feel a part of what we’re building as entrepreneurs, then they should also be owners, which is exactly what we make them.

For this, we have created an internal structure known better in the entrepreneurial world as “vesting.” Thus, eventually each employee will become an owner (through equity) and integral part of the company that they are helping to build, and also will benefit from a division of our profits each year.

There are many options for motivating and unifying a team, but very few seem to work. The rotation of workers on the international level is increasingly great, and the replacement of a key member can result in the failure of an enterprise. Taking the time as founders to resolve this issue is becoming more and more important and is our responsibility. We have already tried different options in the past, but so far we have learned that vesting is the best one and that is why we encourage you to at least try it.