Jumping off the Docks

Even with any amount of planning, often it’s better to just jump right in.

In the last post I introduced the idea of our “away month” and how it grew from a simple conversation over drinks to relocating much of our team to Brazil for a month. Here I’m going to talk more about what we’ve done to plan and execute a successful away month.

(It should be noted that it’s currently only week three out of five, so take everything here with a grain of salt. If this idea crashes and burns somehow, I’ll be sure to write a retrospective about what went wrong and why we should have known this was a terrible idea from the start.)

Here were some of the guiding principles we followed while planning the away month.

Delegation of Trust and Responsibility

In his book “The Four Hour Work Week”, author Tim Ferriss talks a lot about working from home. One of the points he makes again and again is that when trying to justify to your boss/team that you should be allowed to work from home you should be so obviously over-productive that it would be impossible for them to complain. In a way, this whole experiment is like one big period of “working from home” for the six of us currently here. Everyone knows that we’ve been given a lot of trust and a special opportunity to prove that we can be productive despite being geographically separated and in an environment where it would be easy to slack off. The handing over of trust creates an intrinsic motivation among us here to prove that we deserved it, and because of this, our productivity has remained high thus far – possibly even above average. It also helps that the evaluation of the month and possibility of continuing the tradition next year hinges on us getting some awesome work done.

Along with trust comes the delegation of responsibility to the right people. The people who were most vocal about leading the away month were also tasked with making sure it works out. This puts the incentive to make sure things are successful in the hands of those people most able to make it happen (even if they’re not necessarily “in charge”).

Taking Advantage of Local Context

Biyen's Poolside Brown Bag

Poolside brown bag talks are one of the best ways to take advantage of our local context.

Being an organization that does a lot of international work, we’re using being in São Paulo as an excuse to reach out to Brazilian organizations that we may be able to collaborate with and as a jumping off point to do more work in Latin America. It’s possible that nothing will come out of it, but if anything does it will be great to remember how our new projects came out of this trip.

This principle also manifests itself in more fun ways. Many of the team is using the trip as an excuse to learn rudimentary Portuguese. Weekend beach trips, poolside brown-bag lunch talks, and eating insane amounts of grilled meats are also a plus.

Experimentation

Despite the fact that most of us already work out of the same office every day, being in Brazil makes the work day seem different, somehow. We’ve taken advantage of this by trying out new things that we wouldn’t do in Boston. Probably the best example of this was a “field day” last Friday, where everyone on the team was only allowed to work on bugfixes or features specifically requested by our field staff (no client deliverables allowed). The result was a great day of productivity and camaraderie where many long-standing requests from the field got done and everyone felt that they were really productive. It went so well that we plan on making it a regular tradition moving forward.

These things are pretty simple, and came about organically as we brainstormed what the month would be like. Thus far it’s been a great way for members of the team to continue to do their jobs, but flipped to a new perspective. Moving to Brazil and expecting nothing to change would have been totally unrealistic. That said, allowing things to change for the better – and in a way that fit the feel of the trip – turned out to be a much better plan.

You can track Dimagi’s away month on our posterous. We’ll be continuing to blog in short and long form throughout the month.