Just when you thought Yahoo! (YHOO) Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer’s recent edict to force everyone to actually show up to their offices might alter your own pajama-clad work-from-home life, I recently found a great example of a very successful distributed team that proves it can be done and may help you convince your own company that you don’t have to be at your desk every day to get stuff done. Like many other companies this team uses online tools like Dropbox to share files, Google (GOOG) Docs to collaborate, and social media to distribute their products and communicate with their fans.
It’s not a Web or software company that has it figured out, it’s a progressive noise-metal band called Dillinger Escape Plan. That’s right, metalheads from New Jersey have figured out how to manage a distributed team in a highly effective manner—writing songs, practicing for shows, and booking tours from different locations all over the country. Some 15 years into the band’s existence, founding member and pseudo-CEO Ben Weinman has stumbled upon a formula that allows the band members to write and collaborate on songs just like a software development team develops and ships code in the form of product. All while making a good living and, in lead singer Greg Puciato’s case at least, very much maintaining a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
The group works out their specific song components on their own and then builds and ships songs just as you would a finished software product. There are some big differences with a tech company, of course. The group gets together and tours for months at a time; distributed software teams typically have weeklong developer sprints every few months where everyone meets and works together face-to-face before heading back to their holes to write a bunch of code.
Synergies can result from everyone sitting in the same room, but there’s also the potential to waste a lot of time. If you need to buckle down and get certain kinds of work done—such as writing a presentation, or anything requiring sustained, uninterrupted concentration—an office campus may not be the best place to do it.
To have a successful business of any kind, the team must be dedicated and excited about what they’re doing. I really hope Mayer takes a cue from Dillinger, which, unlike Yahoo, has a rabid fan base and a growing audience. And that’s despite the band’s sound, which according to Weinman “barely qualifies as music.”