Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Designing a Workplace Just for Us

Over the past year or so I've been working with a small team of other IDVers to help find a new home for our office and throw in on how that new home ought to be.  It was an exciting/tiring process and I'm happy with the results, proud of my cohorts, and relieved it's over.
It was an opportunity to design a space just for IDV, which was a real thrill having worked in inherited spaces for ten years.

What we wanted in a new location
Over the course of designing the office layout (and, before that, the office location) we had lots of staff-wide Lunch & Learns to let folks share what they hoped for in a new space.  This was the most important raw material for our team conversations and design sessions.  Generally, here is what people wanted, which may not be any different than what folks at your organization want:
  • Natural light (in the electromagnetic sense, not necessarily in the crisp refreshing and affordable libation sense)
    Our previous location was the former executive floor of an insurance company.  This meant, of course, that offices lined the perimeter of windows, leaving behind a dearth of life-sustaining photons to the cave fish straddling the long inner hallway.
  • More meeting places
    We craved more spaces to gather, both for closed-door conference call sessions and for informal gathering clusters to share progress/ideas/chatter.  There just weren't enough official places to meet and as good-natured as we all feel for each other, of course frequent minor turf skirmishes were inevitable.
  • No cubicles
    That was the easy, specific, message, but the undertone was a desire for a layout that better facilitated collaboration.  An unfortunate constraint in our previous location was that we occupied pretty much a long hallway.  Sometimes it was referred to as the submarine, which you can imagine isn't the ideal layout for popping over and discussing ideas with any number of people.
  • An accessible kitchen
    Queuing for, and subsequently devouring, lunch is an important part of our days.  Previously we jammed through a door into a small kitchen with some make-do buffet tables.  It was alright, and of course it worked, but when you are designing from scratch you can design for specific workflow and get way better results than making do.  UX is UX.

My overarching goal was/is to be as open to the staff as possible, throughout this (and other) process(es), which isn't all that different from a typical customer engagement except this time we were the customers -lots of communication and input, few surprises.  This included meetings early-on where we pinned everybody's home locations and calculated drive-times to get a sense of suitable site locations, unfettered input on preferences and ideas, debates on corporate/work-space/office philosophy, and lots of image-heavy FYI updates on the planning and building process all the way through.

Chris Fisher worked tirelessly with the team through dozens of revisions for a handful of location candidates to design a floorplan that was open, light, and gave us room for growth. Marcus Greathouse kept a living SketchUp model running throughout the planning phase to help understand the space and keep folks in the loop.

The new place!
We tried to design a layout that was open enough to provide a sense of easy collaboration, but modular enough to break up noise travel and serve as neighborhoods to anchor base-level teams.
Most offices are interior, to allow for lots of outdoor views and natural light to pass deep into the office.  Interior offices are arranged along a row and are a little like a walkable street-front with views out to the community.  The open layout of the workstation neighborhoods was my biggest concern, but the early response has been really favorable.

The kitchen is a link between the large formal meeting area and the rest of the office, and the first thing you see when walking in.  It's a lot like a home that I would want to live in, in that way.  In many ways, the kitchen has become the cultural nucleus of IDV and ours is an open and bright and flow-friendly place to be.

The kitchen is the hub that joins the entrance with work spaces, the main conference room, and phone booths.

A ginormous bar where TWO ROWS of IDVers can stream on through, piling those plates high, minimizing queue-to-consumption time, and maximizing lunch goodness.

There are lots of unassigned nooks where anybody can duck-out or where visitors and offsite employees can camp for the day.  We have several unassigned "slip seat" offices, four phone booth nooks, three tucked away collaboration areas with couches and club chairs, and a library where you can hunker down (this is an important resource, given our open seating plan).
Also, there is a dedicated ping pong room where dedicated ping pong players get the wiggles out. This is the nerve center of IDV and by far the most important room.

Frank Tan in one of the collaboration areas (or, in this case, collaboration). We all installed ChromeCast and can stream our devices onto the wall monitors. I'm fond of blasting Nessun Dorma out to teams of surprised developers. You're welcome.

You can find more images at IDV's Facebook page.

Adventure and perspective
In most respects, my role here at IDV is exactly the same as it was when I started here ten years ago.  On the surface, that can sound like a real drag; ten years is a long time -a big chunk of my life.  The exact same job.  But the wild card in a statement like that is, in a smaller company, your role includes helping out wherever you can -and a "job description" is an infrequent formality that (increasingly) doesn't/shouldn't mean a whole lot.  It's the sort of environment that, when you realize how flexible your contributions can be, invites certain on-ramps into professional adventures that you couldn't have predicted (this blog, and it's visualizations, rants, etc., is an example of that).
You get hired for certain things, and then you figure out how you can best help out.  I guess what I mean to say is that in the right company, just about anybody can be a special teams player.  And the longer you stay, the less accurate your title becomes -if you want it that way.

On move day, we all met for pizza at the new place, having packed up our boxes at the old.

John McPherson welcomes an early-bird IDVer to the new place, while desks are being assembled.

So long, submarine.  This is the strongly-linear space of the old place, as we pack up the last of the boxes.  In 2006 I felt like a champion moving here but the mega-long orientation was a real drag on collaboration (and devoid of natural light).

Chuck Fields took on an enormous extra effort to coordinate the design and construction, and orchestrate the complex move of a technology company and all of its living and electrical parts.

A building is just a building, and for what it's worth, they have to pay you to be there.  But considering you spend a massive proportion of your waking time there, some care should be taken in making the best of it.  Here are some heads ups around planning a work space that you can take from me, for whatever they're worth.
  • Get input from everybody and keep them posted.
  • Think about how your business flows and try to replicate that in a floor plan.
  • Note well what blows about your current space and improve on it.
  • Be prepared to make compromises, especially when the estimates start rolling in.

That is all.  Abraços,

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