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Working from home isn’t enough: Bottle Rocket employees can ‘work from wherever’

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This is bigger than COVID-19. It’s the future, CEO says.

Place is overrated, or at least the place of the workplace is overrated.

That’s the take from Calvin Carter, founder and CEO of Bottle Rocket, a local firm best known for creating mobile apps and websites for dozens of well-known brands.

Like most tech companies, its 200-plus employees have been working from home for two months, and Carter isn’t eager to bring them back, even to the company’s cool digs in Addison. He’s fine if they never return, as long as they’re producing great stuff.

On Tuesday, the company adopted a new policy, and for Carter, it wasn’t enough to say they could work from home as long as they wanted. The new motto: “Work from wherever.”

“Who am I to tell you how to do the best work of your life?” Carter said.

For many, that may happen at the corporate office, where impromptu connections and collaborations are part of the routine. For others, it may be a Starbucks or public library.

“It might be an RV in Yellowstone Park — with a good internet connection,” Carter said.

Bottle Rocket surveyed employees, and about 80% said they were as productive or more productive while working from home. The company’s performance data, including deadlines for software development, supported those claims, he said.

The Addison headquarters was designed for high-tech collaborations, and people work in close quarters and across functions. They also cover thousands of square feet of whiteboard with various digital solutions and to-do lists. Much of that work has since migrated to online platforms and technology tools.

Employees use Zoom for meetings, Slack for instant messaging, Lattice for employee engagement, Salesforce for tracking the sales pipeline and Miro for an even better whiteboard, Carter said.

Social activities, including board games and the bourbon-tasting club, have moved online, too.

“We thought collaboration had to be in person, but COVID forced us to realize we were wrong,” he said. “We did not have to be in the same place to do our best work.”

Carter deliberately used the word “wherever” to make a broader point: At Bottle Rocket, the work is much more important than where it’s done, and managers shouldn’t second-guess colleagues on that score.

The company let employees take their equipment home when the region went into lockdown. In addition to their Apple laptops, many workers borrowed 30-inch monitors, office chairs and even desks from the Addison office.

If they wanted something, he told them to go for it.

After announcing the new work plan, employees said they were “ecstatic, super-excited, crazy-pumped,” said Jana Boone, vice president of marketing.

“One said, ‘Holy cow. Is that real?’ Yeah, it’s real,” Boone said.

Almost no one has worked in the Addison office in recent weeks, and Carter said there would probably be a soft reopening in June. More people may start returning in July and August, but he’s not planning a major retrofit of the facility, as others have done.

Eventually, Carter expects about a quarter of Bottle Rocket employees will come into the office many times a week, much as they did in the past. But half or more will probably visit just once or twice a week.

“There’s not gonna be consistency, but that’s OK,” Carter said. “Consistency in your work, in engagement and passion — that’s the stuff that matters.”

In surveying employees, about 20% said they weren’t doing their best work from home. Many noted they didn’t have the variety or range of experiences they were used to.

What Carter misses most: frequently walking around the office to check on a project or get extra face time with employees.

He didn’t appreciate how much exercise he was getting. At home, he sometimes sits at his desk for the entire day, and it bothers him to be so sedentary.

He developed a sore back and then started setting an appointment for a daily walk. That’s one way to create a “bookend” to separate his professional life from the personal.

“I was having a hard time understanding when my work day began and ended,” Carter said.

When he and colleagues were mulling “work from wherever,” they debated whether it was simply a response to the moment. If COVID-19 disappeared overnight, would Bottle Rocket drop the program?

No way, the team agreed.

“This is not work from home for the summer; this is not for the rest of the year,” Carter said. “This is our new reality and our future. And it’s gonna be this way until we come up with something better.”

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