The smartest guys in the same damn room

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on February 6, 2013

From The News Desk

I literally wrote the book on remote working. In The Upgrade I explained how I spent five years living the life of a digital nomad: bouncing from hotel to hammock, working anywhere there was a decent wifi connection.

Mine was an extreme example, perhaps, but most entrepreneurs will nod in passive agreement at the nut of my argument. The future is the distributed workplace. Remote employment. Cyberhubbing. Hotnoding. Thanks to technology like Skype (when it's clear), Yammer (when it's up) and email (when it's not used) there’s simply no reason for an entire team to be in the same location.

Certainly that’s what I told myself when I decided to stop living in hotels and establish NSFWCORP in Vegas. It didn’t matter that convincing award-winning journalists and world-class technologists to relocate full-time to Nevada would be as hard as convincing butter people to live on the sun. Writers can work from anywhere. Editors too. And developers. Even the interns could dial in as required. Fax me a coffee!


In fact, assuming that a media company could – or should – be a virtual organization was the biggest mistake I’ve made since starting NSFWCORP. And, for the avoidance of doubts, I've made a shit-ton of mistakes.

My change of heart began early, when we had cause to bring our entire writing team to Vegas for a writers' retreat. The amount of actual work done over those two days — not bonding or motivation or any other intangible thing, but actual work done — was greater in each hour than in an entire regular week. That isn’t an exaggeration.

Even more mind-changing was when we brought the (now even larger) team back to Vegas for our 24 hour live election coverage. While putting out an entire day and night of written Dispatches, plus about 12 hours of live audio, we learned how to build an editorial workflow that actually worked; we figured out how to produce a live radio show around breaking news (which we now do nightly); we test-drove several potential new hires (three of whom we have subsequently hired); we came up with dozens of feature ideas which could only have come from the sleep-deprived minds of a dozen writers crammed into a suite at the Cosmopolitan hotel.

And while all that was happening – while we wrote and spoke and brainstormed and mapped out the future of NSFWCORP – something else happened. We became a team.

And so, since that sleepless day and night in November, I’ve completely -- and proudly -- reversed NSFWCORP's policy on virtual working. Existing staffers who have families and other localised commitments are given a pass: I’m not a total bastard. But every new hire: from C-level to our new editorial assistant are all being told loud and clear: This is a Vegas-based gig, and if you can’t be in Vegas, this isn’t the right job for you.

To be clear: none of this is coming from our Vegas-based lead investor (Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund). I’d already made clear to them that the bulk of our staff would be remote, and they were fine with that. In fact, I sometimes suspect he’d prefer it if Downtown was a little less, well, NSFWCORP-y.

No, this is coming from me.  I’ll gladly scour the world for the best talent -- put bluntly, not all of the best people in media are currently living in Nevada -- but, once I've found someone, they have to pack up their stuff and get on a damn plane.

Over the past eight weeks or so, our NSFWCORPHQ has started to buckle under the weight of new arrivals. I have become the king of desk assembly, the sultan of swivel chair construction. Setting up new email addresses? None more proficient.

If you’ve been listening to NSFWLIVE, you’ll know that, by having the team in the studio as opposed to on Skype, the energy is far better and the show far more entertaining. For the energy in the editorial office, multiply that by 1,000. Every wall now has a white board, filled with editorial pitches, snippets of code and feature idea after feature idea. The stack of pizza boxes in the hallway is nearing waist height. It's so much fucking fun it makes me want to puke.

I’m currently writing an essay in my head (and soon on screen) about how Arianna Huffington was right about a number of quite important things. This is another one.

When Arianna became Tim Armstrong's boss sold her company to AOL one of her first decisions was to order the construction of a gigantic newsroom at 770 Broadway. (I visited during the second day of construction and already a gigantic Huffington Post mural was being painted on the back wall in a billion point Underwood type, much to the consternation of editorial staffers from AOL’s homegrown properties like Moviefone and... I dunno... Catster?) It wasn’t just a symbolic move: AOL editorial freelancers were given a clear ultimatum: Relocate to the mothership or find another job. Media futurists scoffed: Crazy Arianna doesn’t get the future. Newsrooms are dead! This isn’t "All The President's Men"!

But Arianna was right, and the cyberhubbing mediafuturekids are wrong: The best way to build a media company -- and to foster a loyal, motivated, inspired, creative team -- is to have them all in the same damn room. Everything else is just compromise dressed up as innovation.

[Photo credit: Nasa]