The warm strum of an acoustic guitar, the electronic timbre of a synthesizer, the thunderous syncopations of a drum set: Walk the halls of Reverb’s Chicago office and you might hear music blooming from unexpected spots.
Instruments are strewn throughout the open floor plan and in adjacent conference rooms. Vibrant art, old records and vintage Reverb t-shirts from throughout the company’s decade-long run as one of Chicago’s leading musically inspired brands adorn the walls. Employees gather in loosely organized pods, “jamming” over ideas.
“When you walk into the office, there’s always music in the air — there’s a vibe of creativity and excitement,” said Associate Creative Director Lynette Sage. “It’s a perfect reflection of our mission of making the world more musical.”
The energy in the office is at its highest when the space is full of many of Reverb’s 270-person-strong workforce — particularly during Ensemble Week, the e-commerce organization’s take on creating connection and collaboration opportunities during specific weeks in the office.
“It’s awe-inspiring when you see everybody gathered at once,” said Senior Engineer Sean Bowen-Williams. “You realize the full scope of our teams working in harmony toward the same goal.”
“It’s awe-inspiring when you see everybody gathered at once. You realize the full scope of our teams working in harmony toward the same goal.”
The purposefully planned company gatherings bring a sense of unity to the hybrid company, he added. It provides the opportunity for immersion among the company’s key customer: the musician.
“Being in-office with other employees who happen to be musicians helps us understand our product better,” Bowen-Williams said. “Reverb has a tight culture, and it’s reflected in the space.”
“It’s not a museum to our culture but a living, growing exhibition,” he added.
WHAT REVERB DOES
Reverb is on a mission to make the world more musical. Its e-commerce platform is designed to help music makers all over the world connect with sellers of all sizes over the perfect piece of music gear.
It takes Senior Product Designer Mo Kamperda 30 minutes to walk to the Reverb office — 15 if she rides the bus.
Kamperda is most excited to make the quick trek into the office during Ensemble Week, which Reverb holds almost every month, sometimes focusing on different teams and projects. The events are hybrid, she noted, to accommodate the handful of Reverberers who can’t attend in-person.
“It’s a different vibe during Ensemble Week,” she said. “No matter where you are, everyone’s week is centered around the event.”
These weeks afford the opportunity to bond, brainstorm, talk strategy and align while it's easiest to read the room and tackle challenging decisions face to face.
“It’s so much easier to be present when you’re present,” Kamperda said, laughing. “Having the space to chit-chat humanizes the hybrid work experience.”
For her part, Sage capitalizes on the chance to travel from Colorado to gain face time with her direct reports.
“I get to come to this beautiful office and have meaningful face-to-face collaboration sessions with my team,” she said. “It’s the perfect time to lay out the problems we’re trying to solve, surface risks and talk about ideas.”
The connections made at Ensemble Week stretch far beyond the days in the office, Bowen-Wiliams said.
“Virginia is the third state I’ve lived in while I worked at Reverb,” he said. “I’ve made friends and long-term connections with people that I’ve only met in person a handful of times — our collaborative culture is excellent.”
Of all the Ensemble Weeks, Summer Jam is perhaps the most anticipated. Time is designated to catch up, jam together at a live concert performed by Reverbers, share meals and connect. Reverbers are treated to connection-driven activities while work sessions are minimized. “Summer Jam is a celebration of all things Reverb,” Employee Communications and Engagement Manager Victoria Wiedel told Built In
At Ensemble Week, Serendipity Abounds
“It could use some color.”
The phrase has stuck with Kamperda since a recent Ensemble Week. As she pored over a design, a coworker from the operations team trailed by. They stopped, admiring Kamperda’s work over her shoulder.
Before he walked away, he amicably imparted his recommendation. The in-passing epiphany shook Kamperda from her work flow — it completely shifted her approach for the rest of the project.
“This was someone I would never interact with remotely outside of Ensemble Week,” she said. “These are the moments of serendipity I look for.”
“This was someone I would never interact with outside of Ensemble Week. These are the moments of serendipity I look for.”
At the end of each interaction, Kamperda walks away with two distinct feelings: of being heard and of connection.
“There are so many people, and we’re all talking at once, yet somehow I feel like I connected and made immense progress.” she said. “It’s not something that’s easy to do virtually.”
Bowen-Williams shares the sentiment.
“As an engineering team, we do a great job handling our day-to-day rituals with Miro, Figma, Jira and Slack,” he said. “These weeks offer the chance to fill in the gaps, ad hoc, in person.”
“It’s changed how I think about our features and how to drive adoption — all in a very casual environment,” he added. “Have I mentioned that I love our office?”
For Sage and her team of designers, serendipity strikes in the nuanced conversations that aren’t possible remotely.
“Design calls for a lot of critique, and in a physical space, we’re able to just be humans in a room looking at the work” she said. “You can read each other’s body language, you can laugh, you can build trust.”
WELCOMING MUSICIANS AND MUSIC-LOVING PROFESSIONALS
“Half my team is either in a band, was in a band, knows somebody in a band or their partner is a musician,” Kamperda said, noting that Reverb’s workforce is deeply knit into the music community. One team member’s husband has released his own music, another repairs old synths, still another is a storied garage band star, nearly everyone can play at least a lick on the guitar: The anecdotes are rich and copious. For those who are not trained musicians, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. “Everyone’s always willing to teach me chords and tolerate my lack of musical ability — it’s very inclusive in that way,” said Bowen-Williams.
On a brisk day in Alexandria, Virginia, Bowen-Williams was walking his dog when a voice rang out from across the street.
“Are you on Reverb?”
“No, I work there,” Bowen-Williams called back.
The friendly stranger had spotted his Reverb beanie from across the street and felt compelled to launch a conversation.
“Next thing I know, he invited me to his studio, he’s showing me his music setup and he’s asking me if I can help him with an order,” Bowen-Williams recalled. “I’ve never had people cold-approach me to talk about software I’ve worked on before.”
Whether gathered in the office or engineering from afar, “It’s very rewarding work,” he said.
“We’re all drawn to this product, we all love music,” Kamperda chimed in. “Maybe I don’t play, but I have playlists that move me.”
She added, “There’s something amazing about working on a product that makes music happen.”