Moving the Rare Earth Workforce
"Into The Cloud"

Posted on Friday, August 20, 2010 by Craig C. Chapman

Virtual Workplace In the CloudAs you know, Rare Earth Interactive has called the 6th Floor at 170 Franklin Street in downtown Buffalo home, since 2006. But that's about to change on September 1!

Now, this is more than just a move to a new location. This is the final step in a months-long experiment in the virtual workplace, and we thought you'd be interested in the whole story.

With the evolving nature of our business and the Internet industry, we're constantly innovating and evolving our approach to deliver the best possible solutions for our customers. At the same time, we're likewise observing our peers and market leaders, and considering if some of the things they're doing are appropriate for us to adopt into Rare Earth's business model. Some are, and many more aren't.

Since 1998, this is the approach that has enabled us to not merely survive, but thrive through two recessions, the dot-com bust, various doom-and-gloom predictions, and an increasingly-crowded marketplace.

It's the work, more than the location.

Now one market leader that we watch with particular interest is 37Signals (creators of Basecamp, Highrise, and Ruby on Rails), chiefly because both our customers and our staff members use Basecamp every single day.

As a leader and a businessowner, I also feel a particular kinship with 37Signals founder Jason Fried, and many of the approaches to running and managing a business, which he espouses in his recent book, Rework. Though this isn't one of Jason's particular philosophies, I suspect he'd agree with one of my own maxims that Rare Earth's employees have long been familiar with:

"We don't care what time of day or when during the week our work gets done, as long as we can deliver what our customers expect, when they expect it to be done."

So as a matter of course, a lot of work gets done outside "normal" business hours. And, "normal" for us might be early in the morning before sunrise, or late in the evening around midnight. The point being, we love our flexible work mode, and our customers love the results.

Now when it comes to the 37Signals model, they've built a wildly successful business that earns millions each year, with employees who are rarely in the same geographic location.

This was intriguing to me, because we already did a lot of our work outside "the office." In fact for most of August, 2009, I was working successfully from my family's country house near Gowanda, NY, while overseeing repairs to the damage from that month's torrential downpours and washouts.

This got me thinking: if we could unload the overhead of an all-encompassing office location, it would give us a lot more flexibility as a firm, and to each person who works for Rare Earth it would translate into a great deal more personal freedom.

So about six months ago, as a group we decided to begin conducting our own experiment in the virtual workplace. We didn't make a general announcement at the time, because we wanted to see in as unfiltered a manner as possible, if this could be done in a way that was completely transparent to anybody outside of Rare Earth.

Did you notice the switch?

Here's the question I'm posing: if you happened to be interacting with us at any time over the past several months, did you notice when we changed our work mode?

Considering the almost complete absence of any comment from anyone at all, I'm betting you didn't.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, a couple of our customers did notice something had changed at certain times...we've since made adjustments to plug those holes on our management system.

So it will probably come as a surprise to most of our customers that since May, a substantial amount of our staffer's time on any given business day is actually spent outside of our main office, yet still doing the work that keeps us and our customer's websites running and growing.

We've added new customers, developed new products, and invented new ways of doing things, all while staying connected and engaged by using technologies from Broadview Networks, WebEx, Google Talk, Google Apps, ZumoDrive, Notable, Campfire and of course, Basecamp, to develop and augment our SNAP and Active Management Suite solutions.

In fact for the past month, there have been only four days where there were more than two people physically inside our 2,000 square-foot office space at one time. (Did you notice when those days were?)

The new workplace reality.

Now, this obviously flies in the face of conventional wisdom that in order for a workforce to be productive, hordes of people must descend on a central geographic location at the same time, Monday through Friday. That may be the reality for many organizations. But when it comes to companies like ours, who exchange information and knowledge, and whose products are delivered from one computer screen to another, it's clearly not.

So a few weeks ago, we decided to go all-in, and become an almost-entirely-virtual workforce. We'll still have a commercial office location for those occasions when we need a physical space and a conference room (e.g. for client meetings, internal face time, plus postal service). And for my own part: I need an office outside my home (after running the business out of my house from 1998 through 2006, I truly have no interest in returning to that reality).

If you come visit us, you're going to love our new conference room, which is absolutely state-of-the art!

So what changes?

From our customer's point of view, only two things will change.

The first is our mailing address, effective September 1, 2010:

Rare Earth Interactive Design, Inc.
534 Delaware Avenue
Suite 201
Buffalo, NY 14202

The second is the sweet voice of our our new receptionist Jennifer, who will be happy to assist you in directing your calls to their proper destination during normal business hours.

Apart from that, everything else will be exactly the same. Same extensions, same email addresses, same service, same support, and the same work quality you've come to expect from us these past 12 years. Because as you now know...we've been working in this mode for awhile already, it's led to some of our most productive times as a team.

The best is yet to come!

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