Silicon Mountain
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Silicon Mountain

Proximity — A Dual-Edged Sword

It’s a bunch easier to hit a target from close up.

We recently started a couple of experiments within our own team. Since we have experience as a distributed team, these seemed to be reasonable tests to perform. This experiment is running in two locations with one of our military customers. In Florida, we have one of our members of our leadership team on site and on base. In Colorado, we periodically are spending time at a government-lead facility off base. The two experiments are relatively early in action, but are leading to positive results — so far. There are hints of potential challenges in the future.

Experiment 1 — Colorado

We happen to be headquartered in Colorado so this one is relatively easier than experiment 2. Also, security is relatively lower at this particular location. The facility is unclassified and run by a nonprofit in the innovation community. There are incubator / accelerator events and activities and the architecture of the old rail station in Colorado Springs is just cool. Exposed brick, exposed lumber, all industrial vibes that today’s innovation crowd enjoy. This of course is Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation. If you are military, civilian, or contractor, there is always something cool going on at the campus. Sure Covid hurt the campus vibe as much as anywhere, but there are still many cool experiments and activities ongoing at the campus at any given time.

This is the same campus that hosts Space CAMP, which should be rolling out their Gravity product for the USSF soon. That product will provide the digital force that the USSF intends to be with access to more control over their Big Bang (think Platform One) environment.

Currently once a week we go and visit the campus to hang out with other cool teams doing amazing, rapid delivery of software solutions to warfighters. There are a lot of positive cultural activities going on within Space CAMP, where teams can blend and get to know each others in an inviting, positive environment. From goofy trivia with goofy prizes like ‘the cheapest thing on Amazon today’ rulers with personalized drawings from the government leadership. The environment is open so there are a lot of opportunities to interact with peers and run into people as they come and go from the events hosted by a variety of collocated organizations. Plus, sometimes you can find free food.

This is early in the experiment that really began more than two years ago. Through persistent interest, we found our way to be a part of the team at Space CAMP. As this continues to play out we only see positives. We can hear about developments and advancements first hand, attend industry events with contractors of all sizes and government customers, and hear about challenges first-hand from all of these parties.

Experiment 2 — Florida

One of the leaders within the company was determined enough to drive across the country and set up shop at our customer’s location in Florida. This experiment is significantly more drastic than a 62 mile drive once a week. We have been serving our customers across the country remotely for years, including customers in Indiana, California, Switzerland, Latin America, Florida, Texas, New Jersey — basically very distributed. As a company it has been a decade since we collocated with a customer at their location. This experiment is not quite yet matured but it has started to show some interesting results.

First, a lot of these results are as expected. We have a closer relationship with our customer’s team. We have a greater understanding of their issues on a day to day basis. In no kidding real time, problems can be solved — no need to go through the painful process of email chains to schedule a meeting. Decision making can be improved with outsider perspective. A lot of these things were found to be positives when we started doing discovery interviews with personnel from their respective bases. These types of pluses are incredibly value-added for both parties. Plus — team members can see rockets launch (pew-pew).

It is not always rainbows and unicorns. There is also a bit of risk inherent with being present and on site with an operational team. It is increasingly difficult to remain unbiased, to retain that outside perspective. Proximity also enables distractions, where meetings are abundant and prioritizing time can be increasingly difficult. It also creates a precedent and dependence on collocation — which can lead to both great relationships and difficult decisions as other opportunities come along.

Neither experiment is over. The pros of being in person outweigh the cons so far in both cases. While I would be one of the first to argue that remote work is possible for many, these experiments show that perhaps a blended experience is more optimal. It will be a fun journey to follow in the coming months and years.

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Silicon Mountain is a small company based out of Denver, CO with multiple SBIR awards. We deliver DevSecOps as a service to enable our employees and customers to own their mission success.

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Michael Downard

Michael Downard

Michael works for a small business as Principal Investigator for multiple SBIR awards and earned a part-time MBA from George Mason and is both a PMP & PMI-ACP.

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