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Life@ Elastic | Lessons I've Learned From a Distributed Workplace

I've worked distributed full time for about 1.6 years, but worked partly distributed a few years prior to that.

I recently wrote a blog post on my personal website to share some of the things I like about working distributed. Given the success of that post, I decided to expand some of my thoughts on the benefits of working distributed with Elastic, and some of the ways to make the distributed experience work as smoothly as possible.

First, let’s look at some of the things that I think make working distributed so wonderful.

Number one: I love to travel.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to pack my bags and go.

Naturally, my favorite kind of travel is going to see the people I love. You know how some people put pictures on their desks of their loved ones to inspire them? Well, I don’t need the picture as much because I get to see the real-life version by going and working with them in the same room.

In fact, just this year alone, I spent over 100 hours in a plane or car, and have traveled over 17,500 miles. That might not be impressive to someone who regularly travels around the world for work, but these trips are purely domestic and mostly non-work related. Since I can work distributed, Elastic supports that I take flights in the middle of the day, spend my day in a coffee shop, or (my favorite) work from my best friend's couch in Hoboken, NJ.

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Me (on the right) and my sister in a coffee shop in Louisville.

Number two: Distributed working lets me find when I'm most productive.

When you're with a distributed company, you're working with a lot of time zones, and not all of them fit nicely in the 9-5 where you're based. While some may see this as a problem, I see it as a huge benefit because my work doesn’t have to squeeze into a specific time box. I can simply work when I'm most productive.

You know that afternoon slump we all get from time to time (or every day)? Being distributed, I could sit at my computer and pretend to be productive. Instead, I can take a break when I actually need a break. I can take a walk outside, go grab a coffee to give my mind a break, or even take a nap so I can come back refreshed.

Does flexible time mean I sometimes join meetings at 8pm at night? Yes, occasionally, but I don't mind because with great flexibility also comes great responsibility.


My cat's paw prints can be seen in the newest Kibana build.

Lastly: Distributed work is like getting a raise.

Working from home lets me save money because I don't have to spend money on gas. In fact, I don’t actually need a car because I can work without driving anywhere (a privilege that a lot of people in the world don't have). I don't have to buy lunch during the day or worry about packing leftovers, because my kitchen is about a three-step commute from my desk.

Doesn’t that all sound great? So, we've established why working distributed is amazing for me, but what does it mean for Elastic? Does me working distributed help them as a company? I think so, and here are a few things about working distributed that I believe are beneficial to Elastic ...

Managers get to spend more time making strategic decisions and less time "baby-sitting" employees.

Instead of having to monitor whether I'm sitting at my desk, my manager helps me strategically solve the problems and roadblocks in front of me. There's no expectation of making sure I'm "doing my work", because the results I'm producing, and not just the hours I'm sitting in front of my computer, speaks for itself.

We communicate better at Elastic.

Because we're distributed and often working with teammates in different parts of the world, we have a strong online communication culture. Calls take place on zoom, not around someone's desk. (And those calls are often recorded for anyone who missed it.) We chat constantly on Slack, and everyone is diligent about making sure that stakeholders are all on the same page.

Being distributed is a competitive advantage over other employers.

Elastic hires people at the top of their field, and these people are often getting offers from other, larger companies. Allowing employees to work distributed is a perk that many other employers haven't yet embraced, even though, as you've seen already, it's has so many benefits.

Doing it right is hard work.

Even though distributed work is fantastic for the employee and the employer, it doesn't mean that it's easy (or for everyone). It also doesn't mean that you're a good distributed company just because you let people work from anywhere.

So how do you do it right, exactly? I’ve got some thoughts. First, I think it's critical to create an atmosphere where distributed workers can thrive, which is exactly what we do at Elastic. But I also think that what makes Elastic work so well relies so much on what our Elasticians bring to the table. So, here are some of the pro tips I’ve learned along the way for working well within a distributed culture: 

  1. Know yourself. How do you work best? Experiment a little to understand when you do your best work. For example, I'm better at my more creative tasks in the afternoon, as right now I'm sitting on an airplane typing this post in the middle of the day. Mornings I'm much better at more "manual" tasks that require less brainpower. I'm more analytical in the late afternoon/early evening hours.
  2. Communicate often. Don't work in a silo. Distributed work requires you to be more intentional with communication because it doesn't just happen automatically like when you're in the same room as all your coworkers. Make time to communicate. Understand others’ communication styles and cater to them. And for goodness sake, talk about more than just work. In an office, you never have 100% work focused conversations, so don't expect that online either. Make sure to discuss non-work things with your coworkers. You know, like the most recent Game of Thrones episode, the model plane you just built, or that new book you just read about power stances.
  3. Go see people. One of the things I love about Elastic is that pretty much anywhere I travel to, I can find another Elastician there too. I love getting face time with others in the company, whether it's the people I work with every day, or ones I don’t work with closely but we’re still contributing to the same goal - helping people learn about Elastic and use our products and solutions to solve their problems. Nothing can replace being in person with people, so with the money your company saves by not paying for an office, they should be happy to spend a small portion of that to help you spend time with other coworkers. Teams at Elastic have regular offsites, and we also meet up every year at our Global All Hands.
  4. Don't assume malice. This is part of our Source Code, and one of the biggest pieces to making distributed work ... well ... work! It's easy for meanings and intentions to get lost in digital communication. For example, someone says something on Slack that rubs you the wrong way, or someone jumps up with a question on Zoom during your presentation that feels confrontational. You don't have to assume the world is full of butterflies and everyone is out to make your life better, but it will sure be easier if you decide to not assume malice.
  5. Be respectful. Keep time zones in mind when scheduling calls and do your best to keep meetings within a person's work day. Try to stay out of noisy environments when you know you've got a day full of meetings you'll be talking in. Think about what it's like to be on the other end, and you'll make sure to provide the best experience for everyone.

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Here I am out and about with my fellow Elasticians.

Does distributed work sound like the right fit for you? Why not check out our teams and see if there's a fit for you! You’ll be glad you did.