“If you’re a good developer but you can’t read and comment on a ticket, than we can’t work with you,” declares Brian Alvey, former cofounder of Weblogs, Inc. and the current head of Crowd Fusion, which makes content managements systems for a range of deep-pocketed clients.
As he sits perched on the edge of his chair in the bedroom of the only “office” that Crowd Fusion has—an apartment near Times Square that feels more like a hotel room than a place of business—Alvey explains how he built a company that is almost entirely virtual. He’s got coders and support staff in a half dozen time zones, and except for occasional get-togethers in which everyone is flown in to get some face time, all of them work at home.
Employees who never see the inside of an office must possess skills that aren’t necessarily resident in many workers: A high degree of self motivation, and the ability to communicate almost entirely through e-mail and chat clients.
Crowd Fusion has one group Campfire chat for each customer, plus one for the entire company and for each piece of infrastructure the company maintains.
“They’ve just got to live in those [group chats],” says Alvey. “If they can’t work that way, they’re not going to last.”
The unusual work culture of Crowd Fusion occasionally clashes with its clients’ expectations. In one instance, a sizable client asked how many cubicles Alvey’s team would need during a period of intense collaboration. He had to tell them that one of the key developers was in New Zealand and they’d never even see his face.
Alvey describes his distributed workforce as a “human cloud,” and thinks of it just as he would the provisioning of cloud resources for computational tasks.
“If I could just badge everybody with their skills and hand them work according to their abilities, you could just run it like a cloud,” says Alvey. “Like: ‘I need three more people with design skills this week.’ “
One result of this flexible platform for collaboration is that Crowd Fusion can draw from anywhere in the world when seeking talent. On the other hand, some smart coders are disqualified—namely, those that aren’t comfortable outside a traditional work environment.