In a previous blog I teed up a significant problem that, I believe, all companies in the Bay Area will eventually have to deal with. As a fast growing startup in Silicon Valley we must recruit  a diverse set of people and talent. But traffic congestion and radically increased commute times are crushing our ability to attract people from across the Bay Area.

This presents an enormous conflict. We clearly do not want our team members spending 3+ hours every day in busses, trains, and cars; we want our team members to be able to work hard but also have time to recharge. And, I have not seen that working from home full-time provides the level of collaboration and engagement that a growing, thriving startup needs. Bay Area companies must address the fact that horrible and escalating commute times are limiting the talent pool. We simply can’t all work from a single location and recruit “locally.” I live only 13 miles from our HQ and it still takes me 45-60 minutes each way to commute.

So, unless scientists quickly invent the transporter beam or the CA government figures out how to fix the traffic problem (my money is on the transporter beam), the concept of having a single campus with a workforce from across the Bay Area is dying fast.

We are attempting to address this problem by creating Virtual Campuses.

This is not as simple as setting up a good video conferencing system. Our goal was to look at all the elements involved in team collaboration in a development environment. We established our plan to meet the following goals:

-       The entire Bay Area development team must be in a single location one day per week

-       New site options will be investigated if 5 or more core team members would significantly benefit. This means a  > 60 min (one way) commute time improvement

-       All of our tools must be used effectively including our agile (carding) process across distance

-       Collaboration must be seamless

-       Team members should be able to meet face-to-face in under an hour if needed

On the technology side, we have found a good selection of cloud-based tools for agile development and collaboration.  The difficulty is that these tools are typically designed to be used individually via a browser. But we’re adapting the tools so that sites have group monitors showing sprint status and card boards. Each site has video collaboration and all sites participate in the daily stand up meeting 

To facilitate the ability to meet face-to-face for weekly meet ups (or as needed), our policy is that all sites be located within walking distance to a BART station.  Our HQ is at Fremont BART; our first outpost is near the Powell Street station in SF; our second will be near Pleasanton/Dublin BART.  The three locations provide team members with reasonable commute times from the entire South Bay (it is a reverse commute to Fremont), Palo Alto, greater San Francisco, and the East Bay.  With close proximity to BART, team members can hop from one site to another in about an hour. And no transportation is needed from BART to our offices. It is all walkable.

We are hoping that this combination of technology, location selection, and meet-up schedules will help us adapt to the new traffic realities, enrich our recruitment efforts, reduce the stress for our team members, and be positive for both diversity and the environment while not compromising our team effectiveness. At this point, it is too early to know. We will track our progress and I will blog more in the future about how it is working out.

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