The Away Month

Winter in Boston

It was, like many good ideas, hatched out of the minds of a small group of people over a few rounds of drinks.

It was in Boston, sometime in January or February of 2011, during a particularly bad winter. We stared out the windows of the pub looking through the falling sleet, and someone lightheartedly said something extremely simple:

“Winters in Boston are terrible – why don’t we just move the whole company somewhere warm and awesome for a month next year?”

Everyone laughed. We discussed the places we’d each choose to go and enjoyed the rest of the night together. At the end of the night everyone went home, thinking no more than it was a fun night out with coworkers.

But the thought lingered. Why didn’t we move the company for a month? The idea seems so ludicrous to even warrant consideration, which was why it was quickly dismissed by everyone. But actually justifying why it was such a bad idea was much more difficult. There wasn’t a good reason not to move the company.

Of course, Dimagi is a unique work environment. Here are some of the things we had going for us:

  • We’re a software shop. This means that for most of us all our work requires is a laptop and an internet connection. Face to face collaboration helps a lot, but if we’re together we’re efficient, wherever that may be.
  • The majority of our work is already international. This means that people are used to traveling and used to collaborating with people who are on the road. It also means we tend to attract the type of people who are open to picking up and moving their lives for a month.
  • Related to that, we’re pretty young. Most of the company isn’t married and none of the devs have children yet. Doing this with a couple rug rats running around would probably be pretty tough.
  • We thrive on a culture of trust and responsibility. We trust everyone to work hard without intensive oversight or clocking in.
  • Finally, we like each other. This one is probably the most important. When you’re considering spending the majority of your time with people you work with you better be sure that you’re going to get along.

Even given all this, there were plenty of things for management (including myself) to be concerned about with this plan. Would the output of the team drop in the face of the temptation of fun in a foreign land? Would the separation between those that left and those that stayed make working together more difficult? Would spending too much time together cause us to all want to tear each other’s heads off? These were just some of the problems to worry about.

Christian on the Dimagi Brazil deck

As we thought through these concerns and planned mitigation strategies around them, we realized that the upside of what we were calling the “away month” was just too big to ignore. The impact this could have on our culture and our sense of team was tremendous. As one of our devs put it: “I just want Dimagi to continue a place where every time I tell anyone about my job they get insanely jealous”.

So it is with great pleasure and excitement that I type these words from a third-floor apartment overlooking the Sao Paolo skyline, a place now affectionately known as Dimagi Brazil. We are just over a week into our 5 and a half week stay here and so far things are going great. We’ve started a Posterous blog that we’re using to share photos and experiences with the rest of the team and world. We’ll also try to continue blogging about our experiences, and the success (or possible total failure) of our “away month” experiment. In one of the next posts I’ll outline some of the guidelines and goals we setup to help make the month as successful as possible.

If everything goes well we’ll continue to do this every year until people no longer want to go.



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