Ignition72 was founded in 2007 as part of the Baltimore Emerging Technology Center, an incubator program that helps startups get their footing, set up offices, and find advisors. As part of this, all member companies agree to keep their business in the City of Baltimore for at least 5 years, something we happily did.
Twelve years later, we were still in Baltimore when the pandemic hit and, like everyone else, we worked from home and ordered-in our groceries, toilet paper, and alcohol. The evolution that took place over the next year (through today) still shocks our management team a little: If you had suggested in 2019 that we would be where we are now, I would have laughed.
The Road Traveled
Our offices have space for around 15-20 team members, and everyday we had the bustle of people coming and going, in-person meetings, and trips to see clients. All of our employees were local. Today, that is no longer the case: We have more employees currently (or about to be) living in Colorado than Maryland; we have multiple people in Pennsylvania and our newest designer lives in Florida (and has never been to our office or met any of us in person).
In spite of this — no, perhaps because of this — our company is stronger than ever, with the pandemic bringing our teams closer together even as we move farther and farther away. This is not only clear internally, but our clients see it and comment on it.
Some of the things that we have done that may have helped include:
- 909 Meetings: As an east coast company, we open at 9am and close at 5pm. Everyday, we have an all-hands Scrum meeting at exactly 9:09am and, pretty much without fail, everyone is there. This is a daily rallying point, a chance to discuss what we need to accomplish during that day and prepare for future days. Everyone speaks and has a voice. One bonus that our Denver crew seems to appreciate is that they finish work at 3pm MST most days, getting them out into the nature they crave and enjoy sooner.
- Working In Slack: As a service company, everything we do is centered around our clients and their projects. With Slack, we have channels for each client/project, and we often include those clients in the system. We use a lot of Slack video and now Huddles, and anyone in the company can start a call. By integrating Slack with our Jira system, we can not only communicate, but track, assign, and report on work in-progress openly and for all to see.
- Social Time Matters: We no longer go out to lunch together or hang out after work. Now, we set aside specific times to do virtual events: We have acted out a virtual play on a Slack call, created art/photos, celebrated birthdays, and more. Our next adventure involves some cosplay, lol! We have a music Slack channel for sharing tunes, and social and health issue channels as well. Nobody is forced to participate, nothing is mandatory, but everybody seems to enjoy it and wants to take part.
- Helping Make Home a Workspace: While some of our team were setup to work from home long-term, most were not. Because of this, we have been trying to help each person on our team with their specific needs: We recently shipped out a slew of new MacBook Airs, refreshing team member computers. We have purchased standing-desks, chairs, microphones, and, in one case, an air conditioner… all to assist the team in making their workspaces more comfortable and viable.
- Regularly Touching Base: One thing that I personally love about our company is we genuinely care about each other. During quarantine, we all took time to touch base, understand how team members lives were being affected (one team member even had a baby), overtly discussing COVID, the social unrest, and other issues people faced.
As we start to round the corner on Summer 2021, we continue to try and evolve, learn, and improve. This September we will be moving to a smaller office in Downtown Baltimore, recognizing that an office is an asset (many of our clients like to meet in-person, and some of our team want to work away from home), but we do not need one as large as our current one. To date, our team has not lost any members; in fact, we have added multiple new people (yes, at least one in Colorado, to maintain our quota).
We have learned to trust each other more, I would say. Our team has demonstrated that they care about our business and our clients, and the work product did not suffer. We do not know what will be next: the fall is starting to look daunting (as of today COVID infections in the USA are up 173%), but we will continue to trust, collaborate, and learn. It is an approach that has served us and our business well!