CourtAvenue on establishing a culture of digital nomads

Agency Co-Founder Dan Khabie extols the virtues of going without headquarters, designing the ultimate open floor plan and more.

Many of us in the "over-thirty-five" population have lived through the evolution –or devolution depending on whom you ask –of the agency office structure. First, individual offices gave way to cubicles ...which were subsequently reduced to clusters of desks ...that ultimately became vacuous rooms of employees sitting shoulder to shoulder at long tables resembling workers in a cigar factory. Those in search of quiet, civilized conversations are forced to battle it out over a handful of conference rooms that are about as easy to reserve as a table at a trendy new restaurant.  But what if there was no singular building that everyone filed into between 8:00am and 9:00am every morning? What if a café in Rochester, someone’s kitchen table in Cleveland or even a beach in Portugal were all as effective as a few floors of rented space in midtown Manhattan? 

When Kenny Tomlin and I set out to launch CourtAvenue, we were clear on our vision of designing solutions, building products and creating companies. We also knew that we’d need to instill our philosophy of making everything optimized for speed, convenience and transparency in every aspect of the business. But applying only those principles that supported our business goals, left us with an unconventional working model.

First, we did away with the notion of a single headquarters and the rules of a traditional office. Next, we decided to go after the best talent –but not restrict our recruitment to a twenty or thirty-mile radius. We were determined to design a floor plan so vast and so open, that it encompassed the entire globe. The term ‘digital nomads’ resonated because it spoke to the freedom with which technology allowed people to fluidly move around and explore. And while the culture has historically been limited to freelance writers, developers and computer programmers, we felt this fluid work structure worked well as a mainstream option.The key, of course, was recognizing that whether people were conducting business from remote cabins, burlap hammocks or home offices, they still needed to feel as connected as if they were sitting a few feet from one another.  

Every Monday morning, Kenny and I meet with each other and our senior leaders. We do this without the use of a plane, a helicopter or a split-screen Skype session that resembles something out of the opening credits of the Brady Bunch. Instead, these communications happen over Zoom, email, text, Slack and plain old two-way phone calls, among others. CourtAvenue does, in fact, occupy work spaces in a few major cities. Our offices aren't huge (lower overhead allows us to deliver more deeply in other areas) but they have been thoughtfully designed to feel modern, foster transparency and still provide quiet spaces for employees to concentrate, collaborate in flexible-sized groups –or even work independently if need be. Come in or don’t come in. No one is keeping track. While there are occasions when it is necessary to be in the same place at the same time, we’re all adults. We maintain frequent and constant contact and trust each other to make the best decisions around environments that optimize ours --and our clients’ --time and encourage the very best performance. Whether you fully support a digital nomad culture or only subscribe to it on occasion, working successfully from remote locations is a good muscle to exercise (pandemic viruses notwithstanding). 

Dan Khabie is a co-founder of CourtAvenue, a digital consulting and product development company.

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