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What if you outgrow your office space?

As we’ve mentioned a few times in recent memory, Ento is growing. Rapidly.
With an ever-expanding list of clients, and a number of developments in the works, our team has grown significantly. In fact, we’ve grown by over 200% in the last 12 months.
While it’s an exciting time, the logistics of this kind of growth can be challenging – and one of the biggest challenges we’ve come up against is outgrowing our office space. Ultimately, we’ve had to realise that no matter how many times you change the layout of the office, there’s only room for so many desks.
As a result, we’ve made the decision to split the team over two separate offices for the next 11 months. Our plan is to keep our growth team in our existing office, and move our development team to a second office, around 650 metres away.
With the prospect of the team working out of separate offices for the best part of year, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to maintain a culture of inclusivity and collaboration. As such, we’ve been looking at what’s considered to be best practice when conducting business over multiple locations.
Here’s what we’ve found:

Consistency is key

If you take a look at businesses with loads of locations – such as retail or restaurant chains – you’ll see that one of the key things that makes these businesses work is consistency.
When I worked in retail, I would often help out at other stores that weren’t what we called my ‘home store’. Picking up a shift at a different store was never an issue, because things were always consistent between stores. The same policies, the same procedures, the same equipment, the same systems.
While we’re obviously not a retail store, there’s still something to take from this. And it’s not just about keeping policies and procedures consistent. You also need to keep resources, equipment and all the little things consistent as well. After all, if one office gets fully catered lunches, and the other gets a kettle and a box of Cup a Soup, you’re probably not going to generate a huge amount of goodwill.

Avoid the pitfalls of tribalism

We’ve talked a little about the dangers of cliques and microcultures in the workplace before, and how they can be problematic.
When you’re operating in multiple locations, it’s natural for each location to form their own ‘tribe’. While this might not seem like such a bad thing, an ‘us vs. them’ mentality can develop easily, causing problems down the road.
The key is to avoid framing it as two (or more) separate teams, and instead frame it as distinct parts of a single team. Ultimately, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The best way to make people feel like they’re part of something bigger is to bring the team together as often as is practical. On top of that, encourage cross-location teams or employees, to make the locations feel less disparate.

Make communication frequent and easy

I have, on my phone, at least 10 different apps dedicated to communication. These include, but are not limited to email, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Snapchat, Slack and Google Hangouts.
(It is, admittedly, a lot of apps to have, considering 99% of the time I’m talking to the same 8 people.)
The point is, it’s 2016. There are a countless number of ways to communicate with people, and there’s absolutely no excuse for not opening up communication channels between your multiple locations.
Any communication tools you use need to be quick, easy and intuitive. Something like Slack, for instance, which works on both desktop and mobile, and allows users to create group chats, upload files and send emojis and gifs, makes it easy for teams to connect, no matter where they are.

Make inter-office visits part of the routine

Provided that the geography of the situation allows it, management should, ideally, spend time in all locations.
Let’s, for a moment, assume a situation where a business has two separate locations in the same city. In a situation like this, management should establish a routine wherein they spend time at both locations.
In this situation, the routine of it is important – if staff at Location A know they can expect to see a manager every Monday and Wednesday, they’ll know that those days are opportunities where they can raise any issues or concerns.

Promote social events

The more cynical among us might claim that there is no room for friendships at work, but the research indicates that a positive social life at work makes us happier, and the happier we are, the more productive we are.
Foster positive relationships between your staff by getting the team together socially as often as possible. These social events don’t need to be elaborate – think a weekly lunch, Friday drinks, or a lunchtime soccer game.
Make get-togethers casual and frequent, in order to strengthen personal bonds between team members. The stronger those bonds are, the less the physical distance will matter.

Make sure people know where they fit into the broader strategy

When your business is operating across multiple locations, it can be difficult for staff to get a sense of how the business is doing as a whole, and where exactly they fit in. There will, naturally, be some level of disconnect between teams who don’t work in the same building.
Ideally, you need to find a way to combat this disconnect. This might be through progress reports, regular meetings between offices, or email chains where each department shares what they’ve been achieving recently.
Of course, you can do all the research in the world, and reality can still you throw you a curveball or two. As such, we’re sure that the next 11 months will present us with a host of challenges that we’ve not even considered. However, there is an upside to that – we’ll hopefully learn some valuable lessons, which we can pass onto other businesses in this position.
It’s early days (in fact, as I write this, it’s been less than a week), but we’re excited to see how things play out.

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