Get rid of your desks in 3 steps: the story of Four Kitchens

Written by Sarah Spitz, on 29 August 2018

A few years after founding Four Kitchens, Todd faced a significant problem: he couldn't find suitable candidates for recruitment. The right candidates with the necessary technical skills simply weren't available in Austin, and the business was starting to stagnate seriously. What to do?

Ten years after creating Four Kitchens, Todd embarked on one of the biggest challenges a CEO can face in their career: he decided to open his doors to the world by getting rid of the company's offices. In Austin, Texas, he struggled to find Drupal developers, with most professionals working on WordPress or Joomla*. He believed that by becoming an officeless company (also known as distributed), Four Kitchens could recruit talent from around the world. But to achieve that, the company's operations needed a profound transformation.

Going remote is probably the biggest factor in our growth, because we could hire more - Todd Nienkerk, CEO et co-fondateur de Four Kitchens

In 2012, Todd took the plunge: he hired a new recruit in Australia and extended collaboration with an employee who had just moved to the West Coast. This first attempt was a double failure: the first one because the time zone difference was too significant, and the second because he discovered, a bit late, that he couldn't handle remote work. It happens. Back to square one for Todd: he started spinning his wheels again, and the options dangerously narrowed.

But far from giving up (that would be unlike him!), Todd attended conferences and workshops on officeless companies. He took note of everything he heard and absorbed all the advice he could get. He tried the adventure a second time, but this time, he didn't do things by halves. He applied almost all the advice he had received, and his vision was now very clear. Four Kitchens had to become a company without any offices, entirely distributed.

Successful bet! But what are these precious pieces of advice that made it work this time?

Firstly, the advice not to hesitate. Such a transformation must be radical. For a year, Todd made his teams pretend to be an officeless company. They systematically organized video chats instead of traditional meetings, even if everyone was in the same building. And even if it felt strange. No exceptions, no compromises, but a very clear objective: at the end of the year, no more offices. It was a strong commitment: at the end of this transition year, he had to ask the two employees who refused to make this transition to leave...

Then, he systematized communication, whether formal or informal. For example, once a week, all employees (they are 40 today) connect to a video chat and chat about the weather, Batman, their weekend... and that's just one of their many team-building routines! Professional meetings, on the other hand, are recorded, and summaries are accessible to everyone. The functioning of the entire company is synthesized, documented, and posted online. This minimizes the implicit, informal, and opaque aspects, which can be detrimental when working remotely from each other.

Learning from past mistakes, he also revised his recruitment criteria: he is now much more attentive to the candidate's ability to work remotely. Great attention is also given to the onboarding of new recruits and supporting them to integrate into this unusual working context.

Two years later, the company is thriving: they have grown from 25 to 36 employees, and this transition has been a breath of fresh air for the company.

However, financially, contrary to popular belief, getting rid of offices doesn't necessarily significantly reduce expenses. Certainly, there is no longer rent to pay, but new expenses arise. For example, it is customary to organize an annual retreat week for employees to get to know each other, which, with 40 employees, represents a significant budget!

And... no, this model doesn't only work for small companies of 40 people! The case of InVision, where Todd's wife works, is a quite impressive example: they are... 400.

*For any clarification on these IT terms, please do not refer to the author, who doesn't understand much about them.