Attend Office Optional from Anywhere in the World

We know a few things about livestreaming conferences. Indeed, Office Optional is brought to you by the team that hosts The Lean Startup Conference, an annual in-person event that also draws thousands of viewers via livestream. Over the years, based on attendee feedback, we’ve fine-tuned the livestream experience, improving the way we shoot the video, the software we use, the tech-support we provide viewers, the onscreen chat we moderate during the event, the Q&A participation we offer and more.

Now we’re applying those lessons to Office Optional, our new conference, and offering livestream tickets. We’re also stepping up our game and, for the first time, including in the ticket package a bundle of all the Office Optional videos, shared with you shortly after the live event.

We started selling livestream tickets about two weeks ago, and we’ve been surprised by the results: Twice as many people have registered for the livestream at this point as we’d expected. Now, obviously, remote viewing and the focus of Office Optional–remote work–are a good fit. But we’re still pleased to see so many attendees working with us to push out the boundaries of in-person events and participate from around the world.

By “participate,” we mean that you get to:

1) Engage in all of our Q&As. The speakers run consecutively, so you can see all of them, and every block of speakers is followed by a joint Q&A. We field questions via an online form–even for attendees in the room–so you have a full opportunity to ask questions.
2) Hang out with other livestream attendees in our special moderated chat. Michele Kimble, our stellar social-media coordinator, spends the day in a dedicated chat session with all of the livestreamers. You not only meet other remote attendees, but you also have Michele on hand to answer questions, make sure you have all the key info and troubleshoot any problems.
3) Connect with other attendees via our conference social network. We have a dedicated social networking app for the event, which livestreamers and in-person attendees alike can use to connect with any conference participant.
4) Share the Twitter love. We’re big on Twitter, and we’ll look to retweet and reply to attendees there.

We hope you’ll join us as we continually improve our livestream experience and look to attendees for even more ideas about how we can make it better. Register today!

PS. An open secret: We’ve set up the livestream ticket so that you pay per screen, not per seat. If you have a group of people watching together, you pay for just one registration. If you’re cash-strapped, consider gathering a small crew and splitting the cost.

What You’ll Learn at Office Optional

The program for Office Optional is 95% set–and it’s amazing. Indeed, on the conference team, we’ve lately found ourselves grappling with questions like which video platform to use and saying to each other, “Can’t wait to learn more about that at Office Optional!” The conference is less than three weeks away–April 22 in San Francisco–and to give you a sense of why we’re so excited, I wanted to share some details about the event.

First of all, you should expect to take away not only 20 or 30 very useful pieces of advice you can implement the minute you get home, but also several Big Ideas about distributed work. For example, urban designer Laura Crescimano will look at how the trend toward remote work is surprisingly similar to the trend among big companies like Yahoo in recalling employees to the office–and what all of this means for the places where we live and work. Lukas Biewald, CEO of Crowdflower, will talk about the vast potential for matching microtasks with a massively distributed global workforce (as in millions of people).

Then, when it comes to providing answers for your pressing questions about the human side of virtual teams, we’re going wide and deep. Just a few of our many talks include Steelcase’s Teryn Rikert helping you recognize key collaboration behaviors and how understanding them can help you have better remote meetings. Usertesting’s Paul Hepworth will show you how to make remote workers feel like they’re in same room. Yammer’s Christina Lucey will reveal a series of experiments her teams ran in three offices, eight time zones apart, to feel like they were radically closer. Lullabot’s Jeff Robbins will share time-zone secrets he’s learned to make working globally much, much smoother.

A number of speakers will talk about specific processes–most very easy but not so obvious–for building trust when you’re physically far apart. And several people will explore the best uses of and setups for in-person meetings when you have them infrequently.

Automattic, the company behind WordPress and one of the world’s biggest fully distributed firms, is sending Lori McLeese and Davide Casali to talk about what Automattic has learned in hiring hundreds of remote workers and how they’re thinking about long-term growth. We’ve also got Articulate’s Frazier Miller doing a deep dive into how you can most effectively onboard remote employees, and we’ll look at important HR questions for distributed companies to consider. And because so many of us work from home, we have a panel that’s logged thousands of collective work-from-the-living-room hours debating how to do it productively.

Of course, we’re going to examine the best tools for remote teams. For instance, Editorially co-founder David Yee will talk about getting the most out of group chat, which is a common setup among engineering teams and can be used to great effect by civilians, too. Intridea’s Patti Chan will review the third-party collaboration tools you can buy and those you might want to build. A series of speakers will show us how their teams make great use of apps for remote brainstorming, project management, daily communication and more. And video: We’ll look at all aspects of video, from hardware, to software, to best practices for video calls with your coworkers.

We’ll cap the day with a conversation between The Lean Startup author Eric Ries and Bob Sutton, whose new book, Scaling Up Excellence, provides great fodder for a question so many of us face in distributed companies: How can remote teams spur, rather than hinder, growth in our organizations?

The day will be very conversational, with lots of moderated Q&A after every batch of talks, so you can jump in. And we have questions for you to discuss with each other at breaks and lunch, so that you’re guaranteed to have great spontaneous meetings, too.

Register today! If you can’t make it in person, join us via livestream, which we’ve set up, naturally, for a very cool remote experience. We look forward to seeing you there–whether that’s in person or virtual.


Making Remote a Reality in Large, Established Organizations

A New Kind of Workplace

I haven’t worked anywhere near my coworkers for 20 years. Sometimes, I worked for companies that were based thousands of miles from where I lived. Sometimes, I worked with coworkers who were in offices on the other side of the world. Sometimes, I worked as a consultant or freelancer and wasn’t onsite often, if ever. These days, I’m running a company with no office at all, and we all work from different locations in at least three different countries. Despite Yahoo’s having recalled all of its remote workers earlier this year, the fact is that distributed teams—those whose members work in different locations—are the norm in many companies.1

And yet, much of our conventional business wisdom assumes that you and your colleagues are sitting next to each other. So you get systems for managing people like MBWA: Management by Walking Around. Want to collaborate with coworkers? The advice trends toward writing on sticky notes, grouping them on conference room walls and looking at them together. When you see discussions of workplace setups, they focus on open spaces vs. cubicles vs. individual offices. Whether you call it distributed teams, remote work or telecommuting, there simply isn’t enough exploration of relevant tools and techniques for working with people who aren’t in the same building, or in the same town, or on the same continent.

We’re fixing that problem with Office Optional, a new conference for people who work on distributed teams. We’re bringing together team leaders and members to discuss better ways you can: manage from a distance; collaborate remotely; find effective tools for both.

How a lot of our video calls feel.

How a lot of our video calls feel.

“Wait,” you say. “An in-person conference about working virtually? How ironic! How 1954!” Giggle away, but we’ve found that certain discussions thrive in a live environment, and we believe this will be one of them. That said, we’ll provide a livestream of the conference talks, and we are considering a few experiments to optimize our time together, shaking up what we offer online before the event and what we focus on in person. In addition, we’ll help you make the conference a place to meet with coworkers you don’t see often. So in addition to individual tickets, we’ll also offer group packages that include meeting space for your team on the day before or after the conference.

Office Optional features speakers whose advice comes from working in distributed environments, along with an exhibit hall where you can try out the latest tools for project management, payroll and expense reporting, feedback and communication, virtual meetings, productivity, task management and more. The event is geared for people looking to share and learn approaches for working with colleagues who are not anywhere near you, specifically:

  • Team leaders who need management approaches that work in a distributed environment and tools for supporting productivity
  • Individual contributors who want better ways to collaborate with remote colleagues and ensure trust with remote supervisors
  • HR leaders seeking best practices and policies for hiring and helping distributed workers

These techniques and tools will be relevant for:

  • Fully distributed teams with no office at all
  • Partially distributed teams with one or more offices and lots of staffers working from home
  • Companies with multiple offices and people who must work closely across sites

In other words, if you think of your workplace as “on Skype” or “in a chat room” or “on conference calls,” this conference is for you.

Make a deposit today as a founding attendee. When we open registration, you’ll be guaranteed a seat, we’ll apply your founding funds directly to your registration fee, and we’ll give you a substantial price break, too (registration will run approximately $300 – $600). Office Optional will be a one-day conference held in San Francisco in the second half of April, after Passover. If you cannot make it after we finalize the date and venue (which expect to do by January), we’ll refund your founding fee. This deal for founding attendees is available only until December 15, so sign up today. If you’re interested in sponsoring, please contact Heather McGough. We’ll open a call for speakers before long; check back here or follow @OfficeOptional for notification.

Office Optional is brought to you by the people who run the popular Lean Startup Conference. I will be the host, and we will use the techniques we’ve developed with our previous conferences to ensure that our speaker-selection process is merit-based and draws terrific speakers you won’t likely hear elsewhere. Sign up today to ensure that we see you—in person—in April.

  1. According to the Families and Work Institute [PDF], distributed work is on the rise: Last year, 63 percent of companies reported giving employees workplace flexibility, up from 34 percent in 2005. And in a recent Gallup survey, 39 percent of employees said they spent some time working remotely. Gallup also found that remote workers put in more hours and are slightly more engaged than their office counterparts.