HQ Door - Full

One of the most important parts of the "Substantial experience" is the spaces in which we work. Whether it's our wide open HQ or the glassy enclosure of our SF space, we're very particular about the spaces we inhabit. While it's easy to get fixate on details like a DJ booth or a roof deck, there's more of a framework at play for how we envision our spaces, born out of the ways our needs have evolved as the company has. Perhaps thinking of space this way will help some of you out there as you determine what you need in your own environment.

The prevailing feature we want in our spaces is flexibility. As such, the following list isn't meant to indicate that every one of these needs to be a dedicated area. Instead, physical spaces can/should have more than one of these qualities, providing all that you need in what you have already available.

The Six Kinds of Space*

Productive Space

Productive Space

The first, and most obvious, space to list is what I'll call productive space, a place for work to be done. For individuals, this means their desk or work area. For teams and groups this means conference rooms, nooks, or annexes where ideas can become reality (see Communal Space below). Instead of deeming this "default" or something else to denote its obviousness, I'm using "productive" because that encompasses a lot of what this space needs to do and what it requires. If you want people to be productive, you need to ensure they have the tools and facilities available to help them do that. That means not only the equipment to do what needs to be done (computer equipment, writing materials, printers, etc.), but the equipment that allows said work to be done comfortably (standing desks/mats for example). For groups, that means conference rooms with the appropriate materials (whiteboards, markers, teleconferencing), ideally with the appropriate degree of isolation/soundproofing.

People need to get work done. Give them the space to do it.

Communal Space

Communal Space

Meetings happen. Standups happen. Client calls happen. As with the above, people need to be able to work in groups as effectively as they can solo. And that time might not always be as structured as a meeting, so you need to accommodate dedicated meetings as well as impromptu conversations/work sessions for groups that may vary in size and need. Perhaps conference rooms alone can fill this need, but it's possible to fill this need in other ways as well.

People can't always work alone. Give them freedom to work effectively in groups.

Alternate Space

Alternate Space

Sometimes you just need to get away. You may be working on something that requires your complete attention, or you may just be having a day where you can't focus. In times like this it's helpful to have another place to go to get things done. Maybe it's an open lounge, a series of lunch tables, or an empty conference room, but give people a place to go when their default area isn't doing the trick for whatever reason.

People need a change of scenery. Make that available.

Creative Space

Creative Space

Creativity isn't always neat. Sometimes you need to scribble ideas for hours in a million different colors on a million pieces of paper before settling on a final approach, generally creating a maelstrom of materials as you do so. Other times you just need to go nuts on a whiteboard capturing ideas from a group. Regardless of the exact mechanisms, what you're looking for is a space with freedom. The freedom to make a mess, the freedom to make some noise, the freedom to just do it, whatever that takes. Far from being just an empty room, it's a space supplied with the materials for creativity and that doesn't have the expectation of needing to be tidy.

Creativity can be messy. Allow for it.

Quiet Space

Quiet Space

A perennial challenge with open office spaces (like ours) is dealing with the constant chatter of those around you. We stress collaboration in our work but sometimes the din of all that collaborating can take you out of the flow of what you're doing. Maybe you need to have a sensitive or important conversation with someone without disruptions. Regardless, there needs to be a place to make that happen. This is in many ways a subset of the alternate space described above, but getting away doesn't necessarily mean quiet. When it does, be able to provide that.

Silence is golden. Create a gold space.

Slack Space

Slack Space

This one may be a bit controversial. You're at work to work, after all. Sure, but everyone needs a break, and that break can be more effective with a space made for it. In a past life, my team had an arcade machine available (Mortal Kombat 2 if you were wondering), and it was a great way to decompress. The tech stereotype is ping pong. Both of those options may be noisier than desired, and thus not ideal. Perhaps what makes sense is a comfortable chair or couch with a few available magazines. Or a break room separated from desks/offices.

People need to rest their bodies and their minds. Make that painless and integrated.

What did I miss? There are plenty of ways to consider space (here's one from Inc.), and I'd love to hear yours.

  • The six that came to mind anyway. YMMV.

ps. Our spaces were hardly a solo effort. We also want to give credit to SHED and DolanBuilt for all of their help over the years in planning, designing, and building out our spaces.