Episode 143: WHEELIE Founder Lisa Slagle on Going Full Send Into Fully Remote Work
This week is a special episode to discuss a big change that's going on at WHEELIE - that's right, we sold our office and we're now fully remote! This decision has been coming for a while now, and Lisa dives into what pushed her over the edge (a hummingbird?) and the 5 main reasons she and the team have made the big switch.
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Lisa: Welcome to Outside by Design. I'm your host, Lisa Slagle, the founder and owner of WHEELIE, which is a creative agency for people who thrive outside. And WHEELIE has been producing this podcast for years now… I think like seven years or something. And I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been there since the beginning, or maybe just picked up this podcast recently. But yeah, we really love our listeners and our outdoor creative community, and we're excited to be able to have this platform for sharing stories and opportunities and talking about life and work and maintaining some semblance of balance. So here we are.
Today is a minisode, with me, because WHEELIE, my agency, has gone through a huge change - which is… we have gone fully remote. And a lot of you may be thinking, hey, I have been working remote since COVID hit. That's the thing, we did too. And then we went back to the office. And now we've gone back to fully remote. But we've had an office for 10 years. So it's a really big change for the crew. It's a really big change for me as the business owner. And it will likely be a change - hopefully a smooth one - for our clients.
So I wanted to share with you a quick backstory of what we've got going on at WHEELIE, but also five reasons why we've gone fully remote. So this episode is awesome if you own a company, if you manage a team, if you manage a creative team, or if you're kind of deciding if you would like to choose to work from home.
But a quick backstory is, I've had an office at WHEELIE since I was 25. I started renting my first office in Whitefish, Montana in 2012. And then eventually I realized what a waste of money rent was and I was able to get a loan for a down payment for a real loan. So I got a double loan, a small business loan, and I bought a little tiny office in downtown Whitefish. And we spent years decking it out. We got custom photo studios built. We built a really cool meeting room and private offices and a big open-concept workspace and chill stations. Like, the place was awesome. I spent a lot of my life agonizing over what our perfect workspace would look like. And I loved that office. And the team loved that office. It was really fun. People would stop in all the time. When we worked with 10 Barrel, there was beer everywhere. Like, things were crazy. Things were fun, things were fast, they were very collaborative. And that was a really fun era of WHEELIE.
The interesting thing about owning a business, though, is as you grow, your business gets to grow with you. Which is a really special place to be in that we can change our businesses based on the world or what feels right. And at this time, getting rid of the office and going fully remote feels right.
And I was contemplating this decision for quite a while because it's a big decision. It impacts people that aren't me, it impacts my team. And I try not to make compulsive decisions, like, ever, but especially when it comes to my team. So I thought about it a lot. And my tipping point was, I was in my cabin in Whitefish, which has… it’s this really tiny little cabin in the woods. And it has these huge skylights. And I had the door open to the balcony. And a hummingbird flew inside the house. And I was like, ‘oh, cool. A hummingbird is in my bedroom.’ And then I was like, ‘uh oh, is it going to shit on my bed?’ And then I just was like, ‘well, I'll let it play out.’ And the hummingbird is kind of freaking out, you know, how hummingbirds are frantic. And it's flying all over and it goes right up to the skylight and it just keeps slamming into the skylight over and over and over again.
And I was like, ‘little buddy. I'll help you.’ So I have this huge, like stick on a - it's like a stick crank thing, you know. And I opened up the skylight. So there was a piece of glass and then a huge like foot and a half gap where all this little bird had to do was like, stop going upward, but just like dive down a little bit and go out the skylight into this huge infinite sky.
But it didn't, right? It was like just slamming itself aggressively against this little tiny square of glass. Not understanding that all it had to do was take a breather, pop down and then go up into an infinite abyss of possibility. And I was staring at this thing and I was like, is it going to have a heart attack? And then I was like, wait, am I the hummingbird? Do I just, like, have such tunnel vision that I'm not seeing the huge, huge world of possibilities? And that's when I realized, like, having a tie to a geographical location of an office building was really limiting us from our potential.
And so, yeah, we- it sucked, I just was up in Whitefish for two weeks and went through 13 years of creative work and furniture and like 13 years worth of business, it was aggressive for sure. I worked probably 16 hours a day for the last two weeks. And if I sound tired, like, that's why.
But I realized, like, we just had to take a minute, get it together, and then open ourselves up to the possibility of everything that's out there. So that's the backstory on how I made the decision. But it's not the only reason, obviously, that was just like some hippie shit metaphor that is unfortunately how I can't stop viewing everything around me.
But back to the more tactical stuff. So five reasons we've gone fully remote.
Reason number one: when everyone had to go home for COVID, we made new systems. And it was hard at first, but then it got really easy and we liked that workflow. It worked. It's not the same workflow we had 10 years ago, but it's a pretty good workflow. And it also, I think, because we are a digital agency, it's more realistic to how people experience the work in its natural habitat, you know, which is that they see things digitally. So it kind of went hand in hand with, like, the end user experience as well as, like, creating it that way. Which was a new dynamic and I kind of liked it. So that's reason number one, is that we already made the new systems.
Reason number two. One of my friends a couple of months ago told me that I had created like hard- she called it ‘hardcore office culture.’ She was like, “You guys are like hardcore. There's like a cult following of people who want to work there, like, everyone on the crew wears WHEELIE hats. Like, it's hardcore. You guys are like, hardcore creatives.” And I was like, “hell yeah, we are.” But the interesting thing I found when we were all working from home is that the work at WHEELIE became - well, life at WHEELIE - became more about meaning and finding meaning in the work that we were doing, less about culture.
So less about pulling tarot cards and telling lots of inside jokes and quoting movies and going to McDonald's Monday, which I never got included in. Thanks for nothing, Iris. I guess I'm a vegetarian, but like I could do fries! Anyway. Working from home when you, when you lose McDonald's Monday and you kind of lose and maybe even have to grieve those things that made the workplace like a fun company culture, you get to find more meaning in what you're making and put a little bit more intentionality into, you know, the why and the what and the how.
And I kind of like the creative process when it's mildly more subdued. I think it's, it produces a different type of work. With more depth. And I think that commercial work with depth is absolutely needed in the world right now. So I do like that. And then it is more intentional when we do see each other. We come together for certain reasons and it's fun and we get to see, be like, ‘oh, wow, you look so tan’ or like, you know, whatever, right. Like it's just, there's a really positive buzz of energy that's there when we get to come together in person again.
The third reason that we went remote is the concept of community. So community becomes less about geo-physical location and more about like-mindedness. And it opens up… well, this is reason number four, is it opens opportunities to people who did not want to move to Montana. There was a point in time when we were hiring a lot, growing a lot, and I kept interviewing people and right at the end of the interview, they'd be like, “well, do I have to move to Montana?” And I’d be like, “Dog, say that at the beginning of the interview.” So. Anyway. It happened so much, but now I don't have to have that problem now. It opens opportunities to anyone who lives anywhere in the country. So I think for that reason too, it opens up a diversity of talent pool. Maybe people who don't live in stereotypical mountain towns such as Whitefish. And I think that's good for the work. So I kind of like the shift in the concept of community and opportunity.
As well as, like, building community and the little, the little micro-worlds that we build working from home, like different coffee shops we go to as a team all over the place. Like, we have these little micro-communities and I like that. It feels like an aspen grove instead of one giant oak. More hippie metaphors. I'm sorry.
And then reason number five that we went fully remote that I like the most, is obviously it's a creative agency - and I struggle with how dumb the word agency is. I always have. Because if you come together as a collective, you know, you need to maintain your agency to work at an agency.
And by going remote, it really puts a little bit more emphasis on everyone's personal agency. Like, I don't give a shit if people like - well, don't tell me - but just like go to Costa Rica and go surfing, but just get internet and show up in the right time zone, you know? Like, tell me that you're working from your office in Columbia falls. I don’t care.
So it gives people personal agency to this to decide like how they want to structure their day, when they want to get dressed. I'm a big fan of the mid-morning shower, personally, um, which is just great that I'm actively showering every day. But it gives every single person an opportunity to set up the workflow that works for them, the workstation that feels the best, cozy slippers, lunch breaks, healthy snacks, you know, it's like… you get your own agency, you get to work with a team and have the support of a team and have inside jokes and sending memes. But you have personal agency in basically everything else, which I think is awesome. It does require more communication and better communication, but we can handle that.
So yeah, that's, those are the big reasons that we went fully remote and I'm excited about it. Oh, one time in Whitefish, we moved offices. So we moved like literally a half mile away from the outskirts of downtown to the heart of downtown.
And it was funny because our former office was at a very busy intersection. And so our sign was huge and colorful and then suddenly it wasn't there anymore. And it was because we had purchased a building, not because we went out of business. But still for months, people in Whitefish would come up to me and they'd like, do the thing where they like make eye contact. And then they make that face where they're like, “Aww.” And like put a hand on my shoulder and then they'd say, “How ARE you?” And they'd stare at me because they thought that we went out of business. I was like, “I'm great. We just moved into a building that we bought, like, what's up? How are you doing?” And they'd be like, “oh, I thought you went out of business.”
And so like, that's another reason that I’m posting this minisode is just to reassure everyone. We're not going out of business. We're far from going out of business. We just want to work remote, and we already have team members all over the country. So it just didn't make sense to have an office and have this hybrid model when people were in physical, very different locations anyway. So yeah, not out of business, still kicking ass, still making lots of good things, still want to work with you, but yeah. Just not going to do that out of one little skylight when it's a big world out there, you know? So anyway, think about it.
Feel free to reach out. If you like this podcast in general, maybe not ones where I just ramble, but other ones that are better, feel free to give it a five star review. Those help us get boosted quite a bit in the algorithms. And, yeah, I appreciate you. Thanks for your time and energy and, yeah, I'll see you around.