Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Text Request founders Jamey Elrod, Brian Elrod, and Rob Reagan pose for a portrait on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The pandemic temporarily sent everyone home from their offices on the Southside in 2020, but it's also one of the reasons Text Request is investing in brand-new downtown digs in Jack's Alley where employees can gather as a team.

"We really want a space that's going to complement the culture we're trying to build, with places to work independently, spaces to work together, common areas, downtown quick access to lunch and walking," says Kenneth Burke, the vice president of marketing at the company. "Culture is the only thing you build in a company without meaning to. How do we do it right if it's going to happen either way?"

Text Request helps its customers use texting to communicate with everyone from clients to colleagues, and those services were in huge demand as everyone stayed apart in 2020. The company broke $6 million in sales, grew revenue 400%, and hired half a dozen people from May to November 2020. Moving into the 7,200 square foot space on Market Street doubles their footprint and prepares Text Request for growth.

"We have 2,500 business customers," Burke says. "It takes more and more people to manage these accounts and serve those people and create ever-growing products for them."

When the pandemic hit, the company shifted gears quickly, focusing on how to take care of employees while still supporting clients in crisis. The office closed initially, though it eventually reopened for those who wanted to come in masked and socially distanced.

"There was so much uncertainty all the way through it," Burke says.

Text Request

* Founded: 2014

* Employees: 21

* Why this is a Best Place to Work: Being a best place to work is literally part of our mission. We believe in hard work and continual improvement, understanding how others (like customers and employees) think and feel in any given situation, continual learning and sharing that knowledge to help others grow, and making anything we create (blog posts to software and beyond) best in class. This, along with high compensation, intangible perks like autonomy and opportunity to impact the company, help us function day to day as a true best place to work.

* Online:

Text Request supported local businesses in the transition to online ordering, and Proof Incubator, a resource for restaurateurs, became a partner. But what grew fastest in 2020 was the use of the text platform for political campaigns.

"Political campaigns couldn't have in-person town halls, so they had to start conversations with constituents, voters, advocacy groups," Burke says. "We saw this huge shift — people understood texting works, but their other options fell through."

And that comfort with texting will persist, Burke predicts. "Even if things shift back a little bit, those preferences that consumers have learned aren't going to change," he says. "People don't unlearn convenience."

The business, which married founders Brian and Jamey Elrod launched in 2014, has grown from family to village in scale, and is focused on keeping a sense of connection and camaraderie, Burke says. Leaders are flexible in terms of where people work, but 2020 left them convinced that being together is important, he says.

"Those in-person times pull the veil back a bit, to get to hang out and get to know someone, those moments make a huge difference to happiness and engagement and productivity," Burke says. "People want to be in a place where they feel like they belong. When that is the case, you perform really well."