Strategy and Innovation

The future office is co-located

Telework is a hot topic these days. Gallup reports that 37% of U.S. workers telecommute, and Basecamp CEO Jason Fried has written an entire book advocating remote work.

With new videoconferencing technologies emerging constantly, companies are beginning to think of reporting to an office every day as a passé vestige of the Industrial Revolution. Offices (it’s said) turn us into robots, sentence us to maddening commutes, subject us to controlling bosses, condemn us to spend our days in meetings, and separate us from our “real lives” at home. Offices served their purpose once. Now, apparently, they’re dead to us.

Or are they?

At WillowTree, we approach work differently. Rather than viewing our offices as outdated relics, we find that they empower us to do our best work. So we thought we’d address some common myths that we hear about co-located teams.

5 Myths About On-Site Work

Myth #1: Companies that colocate still think like factories. Software companies don’t have to assemble a physical product in a shared space. Isn’t reporting to the same building as our co-workers every day just stubborn resistance to change?

In our case, no. We know that we’re not creating a car on an assembly line. But we are assembling ideas—and for that, we need to get our brains in the same place.

Yes, we could work at home. (And occasionally we do, when a child’s illness, a package delivery, or a home repair demands it.) But as a rule, we find that our output from our in-person work far exceeds our at-home output in both quantity and quality. Ultimately, we believe the creative work is a highly social activity, where we seek real-time feedback and collaboration.

Myth #2: Colocated companies want to control their staff. When Marissa Mayer banned remote work at Yahoo!, she became the target of criticism. Some wondered, isn’t she just asking staff to report to an office so she can keep tabs on them?

We can’t speak for Yahoo!, but WillowTree hires only the most motivated, curious, enthusiastic minds in their respective fields. We give them interesting problems to solve for our clients, then get out of their way so that they can do amazing work. We are intrinsically opposed to a command-and-control environment – no TPS reports here! Instead, we believe that collaboration is the key to great design and software development work – and that is done best in-person.

Myth #3: On-site work takes up a person’s entire life. Sure, if you drive to an office in a large city like San Francisco or New York, much of your life will be spent in traffic. We get it—that’s why we set up shop in the beautiful small cities of Charlottesville and Durham. These high-caliber college towns provide us with access to a steady supply of incredible talent, while remaining distinctly livable. When your daily drive to work consists of a quick trip past Monticello with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, your commute turns from a chore into a delight.

Myth #4: Companies that co-locate their teams don’t trust their workers. We can’t speak for other agencies, but this simply isn’t true for us. (And you shouldn’t take our word for it; read what our co-workers say.) We know our team is more than capable to meet any client demand.

Sharing a space enables us to share ideas well, and that, in turn, lets us innovate quickly. Collaborating face-to-face fuels our creativity and efficiency, rather than stifling it. We find our teams best solve issues with quick in-person communications – not a scheduled meeting, not an email, and not a conference call. The opportunity for this type of problem-solving evaporates when teams are spread throughout the world.

Myth #5: Teams do better work when they’re distributed. Most of us can recall dozens of frustrating attempts at cross-site collaboration in our working lives prior to WillowTree. While technology for remote collaboration is constantly improving, frankly, it’s just not good enough yet. We don’t get the same high-quality output from talking to a pixelated video of a co-worker (complete with stilted audio) that we get from a face-to-face conversation. Humans are programmed to pick up on all sorts of subtle communication clues, especially in a high-paced creative environment. These indicators are simply lost in email, phone, or even video communication.

We could cite many examples from collaborations with teams from other agencies that are spread over time zones and geographies – every time, our smaller, co-located teams are able to work at a significantly faster velocity than much larger, distributed teams.

Don’t just take our word for it: Forrester analysts Jeffrey Hammond and Michael Facemire report the same finding - “Every dev shop we spoke with put a high value on collaborative communication, with colocation as the best solution.” (Build Five-Star Mobile Apps, Forrester Research, Inc., January 4, 2017 - Subscription Required)

Colocating Our Teams Removes Obstacles to Great Work

Colocating is essential to fulfilling our mission to deliver the best mobile products to our clients. Our talented strategists, designers, developers, QA analysts, and project managers want to do their best work. We give them a convenient, comfortable space that invites collaboration.

As product expert Marty Cagan says, “The need for… collaboration-driven solutions is the single biggest reason why co-located teams consistently out-perform distributed teams.”

Thoughts about co-located vs remote employees? Drop us a line. And if our approach to co-location appeals to you, check out our current openings!

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