Introducing Office Optional: A New Conference for Remote Teams

Headshot series with Sarah Milstein at Sunleaf Studio.A new one-day conference focused on remote workers that will look at the latest trends, tools and techniques for successful distributed teams. Sounds great doesn’t it!!

Sarah Milstein is CEO and co-founder, with Eric Ries, of Lean Startup Productions, a media company that teaches people how to build and scale high-growth startups. She is also co-author, with Tim O’Reilly, of The Twitter Book, and she writes regularly about race, gender and merit-based decision making. She’s going to tell us a little more about Office Optional and her experience of being a remote worker.


I haven’t worked anywhere near my coworkers for 20 years. Sometimes, I worked for companies or with coworkers that were based thousands of miles away. Sometimes, I worked as a consultant 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 several countries. While distributed teams are becoming the norm in more companies, much of our conventional business wisdom assumes that you and your colleagues are sitting next to each other. There simply isn’t enough exploration of relevant tools and techniques for working with people who aren’t in the same building, or the same town, or the same continent.


We’re addressing 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; and find effective tools for both. The event will be held next week, on April 22, in San Francisco. If you can’t make it in person, we’re offering live stream tickets, which we’ve set up, naturally, for an interactive remote experience.

First of all, you should expect to take away not only lots of very useful advice you can implement immediately, but also several Big Ideas. For example, urban designer Laura Crescimano will look at the larger trend toward remote work and its long-term implications, while Lukas Biewald, CEO of Crowdflower, will talk about the vast potential for matching microtasks with a massively distributed global workforce.

Some of our talks covering the human side of virtual teams include Steelcase’s Teryn Rikert helping you recognize key collaboration behaviors and how understanding them will result in better remote meetings. 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 tips to make working globally much, much smoother.

A number of speakers will talk about specific processes for building trust when you’re physically far apart. And several people will explore the best uses of and setups for in-person meetings. 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 they’ve learned in hiring hundreds of remote workers. 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, while Intridea’s Patti Chan will review third-party collaboration tools. A series of speakers will show us how their teams make great use of apps and video for remote brainstorming, project management, daily communication and more.

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 organisations?

The day will be very conversational, with lots of moderated Q&A after every batch of talks, so you can jump in and participate. We’d love to see you at Office Optional –whether that’s in person or via live stream.