This month marks 17 years in business for Design Extensions. Over that time, the company has been operated everywhere from my mom’s garage, to my dorm room, to my apartment, then house, and now to a physical office space. The move to a “brick and mortar” setup was not one we took lightly as a team and I wanted to share some insight we’ve learned so far (I’m sure there will be much more to learn as we go).
First is the WHY. Why did we “finally” decide to open a physical office after so long without it. After all, I’ve been a huge fan of companies like Basecamp (formerly 37signals) who preach the power of Remote Work and I’ve tailored my life around it. Not to mention that it seems like more and more businesses are now moving AWAY from a physical office, why would we do the opposite?
For about the past five years, I’ve flirted with the idea. I’ve polled the team, talked to friends, and never felt like it was the right move for our team to move into a space. Things changed a little over a year ago. For the first time, the general office consensus was that it “might be nice” to have an office space to collaborate in and meet with clients.
We started to venture more and more into both strategy work and more complex projects, which required more hands on deck. We found ourselves driving all over the place and invading places like DOS Coffee (our favorite meet up place) in order to try and find a place to meet. This worked, but we needed more. We wanted a space that we could bring prospects in and show them who we are, what we believe, and why we’d be a good fit for them. We wanted a space that we could bring clients in to collaborate, share, think, plan, and get things done. So last year, I started the process of seriously looking for a space that I felt would meet our needs (more on that here).
This was a big change though, remember ‒ I’ve not actually driven to work since I was 16 years old. Many of our team members have large families and lots of outside responsibility in life other than “just work.” Freedom and lifestyle have always been very important to me and the whole team. I didn’t want a space that was a prison, but I did want a space that would be a resource to us and our clients. I’m use to seeing my kids (and they’re use to seeing me) most of the day for snack breaks, bathroom breaks, or just for a quick afternoon pool break. Giving that up (at least while we sort through office scheduling) is a BIG DEAL to me.
The internet is constantly changing though, our industry is always on the move, and I’ve never been afraid of change to make that happen. While I think the actual quality of design and development work is extremely important, I believe the ability to provide personal strategy services along with those expertise will be critical for agencies like ours to be successful in the coming years. The office is a move to protect the foundation we’ve built over 17 years and create a launchpad for future growth and expansion.
One of the concerns I had with the new office was that it would be more distracting to be around the whole team all day, but that hasn’t been much of an issue. Sure, there’s the occasional banter of jokes or discussions that aren’t truly productive, but on the whole, it doesn’t take away from the volume or quality of work that our team is doing. In fact, I’ve found some instances to be a little less distracting and overwhelming than when working at my home office. For example, we use Slack for private messaging and group discussions and there would be times at home where 5-6 people could be asking me questions at the exact same time. That could get pretty overwhelming! At the office, that never happens because when I’m working with one team member, another isn’t going to interrupt. In a virtual environment, they wouldn’t know I was already tied up trying to help someone else (I know, I could change my status indicator, etc. but rarely did).
There are certainly some negatives with the new office space — cost (much more than planned), drive to work (thankfully not too bad for me), forgetting something at the office or at home, less time with family during the day (the big one), and other random items not important enough to list here. But the positives, so far, have far outweighed the negatives. The collaboration opportunity in person has pushed our quality way up in many areas. Tasks which may have taken much longer to accomplish remotely are resolved much more quickly in person. We’ve had several walk in prospects that would not have joined us before, but the space has given us credibility with larger clients who may not have considered working with a “distributed agency” (right or wrong, it doesn’t matter), and we’ve had more opportunities to bond and grow as a team.
Building an office was a scary step for me — it’s a big cost investment, time investment, and a significant change in lifestyle, but on the whole, I couldn’t be happier with the transition so far. There will be things to work out, schedules to tweak, and issues that pop up, but we’ll deal with them as they come and keep learning along the way.
Have questions? Ideas or suggestions? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
If you’re in town, join us for our grand opening party on June 24th from 5-8PM at 701 Market Street, Unit 101, St. Augustine, Fl 32095. Just RSVP on our Facebook page at https://designextensions.com/go