How Cisco Connected Technofy's Dispersed Team and Cut Down Travel by 50%
Connecting people is hard, especially when they’re geographically dispersed. But that’s the challenge we’ve been tasked with at Technofy. In 2015, I had the idea to start a business around Amazon Web Services (AWS). My wife and I left Toulouse, France, for Sofia, Bulgaria. We wanted to take advantage of the fastest internet service in Europe, an emerging economy with big potential, and a great tech ecosystem. All that, and a location only two hours from Germany and three hours from Paris.
When we started out with the ambition to become an AWS partner, little did we know that in four years our little would grow to 70 people spread across four countries. Our customers are all across Europe, too.
Today, Technofy has diversified to the point of providing end-to-end solutions developed in the cloud, with expertise around AWS. Our customers, including a major player in the aerospace industry, are located in France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium.
Meanwhile, we have four offices: Sofia and Toulouse, as well as Riga, in Latvia, and Bucharest, Romania. Add to this Technofy’s work culture and values: when my wife and I founded this company, we knew we wanted a new kind of business structure, based on a flat organization and agile methodologies. Flowing from this, we agreed that if one person works remotely, everyone is remote. The result is that we’re a highly distributed team.
While it’s been a great success, it has had its challenges. Namely, the distance between us and our customers has made the journey difficult. We needed a solution that was able to bring us all together.
A Unified Communications Solution to Scale with Our Team
Servicing large customers in another country meant a lot of travel. To build relationships, it was important to institute regular in-person meetings. Once we gained mutual trust, we proposed a schedule where we would visit them for a week once every four weeks. That schedule did reduce the amount of travel, but it was still expensive and tiring for our team. Face-to-face meetings can be valuable, but travel comes with financial, productivity, and personal costs.
The distance between our teams also presented internal challenges. We needed a solution to facilitate collaboration in meetings or on source code while allowing people to see one another and bond to build a company culture. The need to travel to maintain that human connection within our company took a personal toll.
It was different when it was just my wife and me who had to travel, but when we had to send 25 employees on business trips, it quickly became very expensive. Business travel can be a waste of time and money if not managed efficiently.
We used multiple meeting solutions that only partially covered our growing list of needs. When we first started, it was fine using just Slack and Webex Meetings, but we have grown a lot since then. We used to be 25 people with only eight licenses and all our conferencing was done via audio-only calls, which, I believe, are outdated. You feel disconnected and emotionally detached when prevented from processing your conversation partners visual cues. We wanted a company culture where everyone could work remotely, but our remote team felt isolated since our meeting solution wasn’t explicitly adapted to our needs.
I’m a big Cisco products fan, so when it came time for us to move offices, I realised using USB cameras wasn’t going to work anymore. We needed a single solution that could scale with our incredible pace. It was time to drop Slack and migrate entirely to Webex.
The Power of Integration
Our decision to migrate to the full Webex suite came at the same time as our move to a new, 2,000-square-meter office in one of the most iconic buildings in the centre of Sofia. It was an opportune moment to consider how we could build meeting rooms in our new space to better connect our people.
We now have 13 rooms equipped with Cisco endpoints and Webex boards: one of each in Toulouse, Riga, and Bucharest, and the other 10 here in Sofia. They’re very nice-looking rooms, with the perfect setting, to make a good impression when we are meeting with a customer. We use Webex endpoints for the video, Webex Teams for messaging, and Webex Meeting for the meeting itself.
With Webex, we’ve got a seamless, fully integrated system between Webex Teams, Meetings, and Calling. When you have the full Webex suite with Webex boards, for example, the meeting is automatically connected to Webex Teams. You can also share a Webex Board between two locations. When you have a big meeting with lots of people who just met, Webex uses facial recognition to tag everyone. You don’t have to awkwardly work around the fact that you forgot someone’s name, because it’s right there.
Three Real-World Applications of the Webex Meeting
I’ll give you some examples of how we apply Webex, in case you’re thinking of how this might work for connecting people within your organization. First, we have our daily stand-up meetings in a dedicated room, and those who are remote or in other offices can connect.
Having a dedicated room every morning allows us to run stand-up meetings with teams stretched across the world. Every morning we have approximately eight stand-ups across different projects. Each project involves two to eight people. Without Webex, this would be impossible. With that many people in an audio-only meeting, we’d lose most of their attention. Just try sprint planning with audio only—I guarantee you’ll hit a wall. Whereas now, it’s incredibly efficient. We have shorter meetings because of the better connectivity.
Secondly, if you visit our offices, you’ll also see rooms where we do pair programming—these rooms have two screens: One for a video of a remote person, whether it’s a colleague or a customer, the other for a code. It means we can work on programming together without being in the same room.
Because the Webex chat feature is integrated with the meeting, it’s easy to exchange code snippets. Webex brings a totally new experience this way, and it results in a lot more collaboration between team members who are in different locations.
Finally, we have what we call our “checkout” meetings. Every Friday, we have a meeting where we talk about our successes of the past week and our new goals for the upcoming weeks. People gather here in person or remotely through Webex, but attendance isn’t mandatory.
On a Friday, someone might be busy completing part of a project or talking with a customer, so we don’t expect them to drop everything to attend this meeting. Instead, we record the meeting, and then everyone can watch the recording when it works for them. We’ve also found this useful for webinars or for recording sessions to be shared with customers. The point is we now have rooms equipped for easy recording functionality, which we didn’t have before.
Room to Grow Our Business
Now, everything works well together. The young generation at Technofy expects this kind of seamless, modern integration. They expect a workable solution to be as up to date and easy to use as their smartphones. That was an important consideration for us: how Webex works on Android, iPhone, tablets—on everything. The whole ecosystem is connected. It’s so seamless, you don’t even have to think about it.
Webex is now a part of our work culture. I’ll bring in some statistics here from our Webex dashboard that I find amazing. This past summer, on average, we saw 11 devices a day using Webex for an average of three hours. One day in mid-October, half of our entire company participated in Webex meetings. The number of minutes people have used it has consistently gone up since we began using solely Webex. In one day, we logged 1,020 minutes.
Think about what those 1,020 minutes represent in commuting and travel time. Since moving exclusively to Webex, we’ve cut our travel in half. We’re travelling less, but our customers feel we’re more connected to them than ever before.
Instead of travelling once every few weeks, we can hold weekly meetings with our customers who tell us they feel like we’re there with them in their office. Our teams have been performing better and delivering more since moving to the Webex suite, with increased story points per sprint for all teams. It’s improved our relationship with our customers immensely.
Now that I've seen what Webex can do, I have set two complementary goals for Technofy. First, I want to expand our customer base in Europe because when I look back at what we've achieved with Webex, I’m certain we will be able to communicate flawlessly with customers across countries.
Second, I want to transform our small offices into “two pizza” teams. Like Jeff Bezos says, “If you can feed your team with two pizzas, it’s the right size.” I’d like to form small teams, loosely coupled, in each of our offices. A team composed of a UI specialist, designer, security engineer, infrastructure, front-end and back-end developer, and a delivery manager is a multifunctional, highly autonomous, easily scalable team.
The goal is to continue to scale. We still have a lot to learn about the management structures and practices for this kind of growth, but I know Webex can scale with us. Technofy could double again next year, and Webex will be the technology to connect our teams, no matter where they are.