Goodbye Minneapolis, Hello World.
It’s official – TEN7 is now a fully distributed company! After testing the idea of being an exclusively “work from anywhere” team for almost a year, we visited our office for the last time in March. Here’s the how and why, and a report on the decision.
TEN7 is fully distributed
I previously believed that having humans together, working in the same physical space has intangible benefits that simply can’t be recreated. I’ve been a committed proponent of teams working on the same problems, in the same space, at the same table. An earlier TEN7 blog post describes this concept, and I still think this is valuable, especially if the time is used constructively.
However, having to meet in person by default simply isn’t necessary any more. Tools have gotten better, and access to the internet has become faster. As a result, my opinions have changed, resulting in our announcement today that we have become fully distributed.
Others are doing it
Our friends at Lullabot have been distributed for their entire existence. Four Kitchens experimented with a hybrid setup, and became completely distributed just last year. It wasn’t until I attended Anne Stefanyk’s talk “Live The Dream, Work Remote: Building a Successful Distributed Drupal Shop” at DrupalCon New Orleans last year, that I really started to think that we might be ready as well. Other Drupal agencies in America and Europe are distributed. Should TEN7 do it as well?
Let's test it
At the first Monday staff meeting following my return from DrupalCon, I discussed Anne’s session with my team, as well as the business summit I attended and several conversations with other business owners. I floated the idea that we work from home one day a week. The idea received a somewhat positive, although reserved response. All of us working at home at the same time? For one day a week? We decided that we would try it as a test the following Friday, and then reevaluate at the next staff meeting. It went well, and we added Wednesdays to the TEN7 Remote experiment.
The first month
The first month was not without its share of questions, issues and matters we hadn’t thought of, like making sure we had home access to the database backups that lived on our office server. We quickly figured out that:
- two days a week was a comfortable time away from the office
- Wednesdays and Fridays bad, Tuesdays and Thursdays good: alternating days worked better for our team
- A dedicated workspace at home would be mandatory
- A good chair at home is integral to a dedicated workspace
- Slack is indispensable when we’re not in the same space
- Zoom gets you as close to being in person as possible, but your video must work
We quickly got into a nice groove, and no one felt it necessary to move to three days per week. We still liked coming into the office seeing and working in each other’s presence. There just wasn’t a burning need to add another day, at that time.
Going all in
In early 2017, a TEN7 team member asked if he could work from home full time. His motivation was to improve productivity, considering the commute and the ramp up time required to get working. As he put it, “You have to drive downtown, fight traffic, find parking, walk to the office and start working. Seems totally inefficient.” So, after seeing how well being fully distributed worked for one team member, and with no red flags identified, we decided we’d all try it.
In the following in-person staff meeting, we could not present a single reason to stay physically bound to our office. We also couldn’t remember the last time one of our clients was in the office with us for a meeting that couldn’t have taken place via Zoom, or at the client’s location. We decided then to take our equipment home and presto, TEN7 became a distributed company!
The road ahead
The most important thing we share and support is our company culture. Not seeing each other every day in the office forces us to be creative in how we maintain that culture. Tools such as slack and zoom help, but knowing what our “Why” statement is, and what our core values are have been indispensable. Without the introspective work we did with Employee Strategies a few years ago, being truly distributed and not “just a band of contractors” would simply not be possible.
It wouldn’t be possible to lead a distributed company like ours without the incredible people I get to work with every day. We’re looking forward to the continued flexibility that we enjoy by working from home, or a coffee shop, or a mountain, or a beach. We’re still meeting in person once every two weeks, because we like seeing each other’s faces.
TEN7 turned 10 years old yesterday! I’m excited we have started this new chapter in our evolution and can’t wait to see what the next ten years have in store for TEN7.