“Suppose you want to design the best company on earth to work for. What would it be like?”
I’ve learned a great deal from Harvard Business Review over the years, but one of the articles that has stuck with me the most is “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth.” The author’s choice of the verb “design” always resonated. It’s been a great reminder of the amount of thoughtfulness required to create a great workplace, right down to the physical place itself.
Speaking of those places, they’re more important than ever to get right in the age of telework, which has tripled since 1980. Most full-time employees, however, still show up to an office each day – especially knowledge workers like us at JS – and research is finding that face-time (not FaceTime®) is critical to an organization’s ability to generate ideas and solve problems. Taking that tension into account, isn’t it a no-brainer that we should make offices into places where people are really excited to spend their valuable time?
One year ago this week, we moved into a brand-new space – the first we’ve ever gotten to design from scratch – with help from our friends at tvsdesign. It was our first new digs since 2007, and we knew we had to build the kind of home that could be where our heart is. It took lots of work to get here, and along the way we’ve learned just how important “where we are” is to “who we are.”
As I look back at the design process, it’s become obvious that our values were our ultimate guide in creating a place that helps us deliver our best to clients and each other every day. Each of the JS values tells a small piece of the story.
We tell the truth.
Something like “be yourself” should go without saying, but sadly, it’s a necessary Rule #1. In our research, we saw instance after instance of spaces going for a particular look: sleek and modern, conservative and traditional, funky and irreverent. Knowing that everything communicates, we decided early on it was more important to make an original statement than a particular one.
We work hard.
The success of an office can be measured by one question: does it help us do our jobs better? We were inspired by the kinds of spaces that foster creativity, conversation and community, and the designers wove those elements into the entire space. They also carefully balanced where we are as an agency with where we’re going, seamlessly integrating technology throughout the space and designing a studio in the middle of the floor plan so we could keep more of our ever-growing photo and video work onsite.
We respect each other.
I love working with and learning from people who are smarter than me, so JS is a fantasy camp. It wouldn’t have been very kind (or smart) to try and design a place to put all these bright minds without first getting their opinion on the matter, so that’s exactly what we did. We began by surveying JSers, posing questions like “What words would you use to describe our ideal space?” and “What are some spaces you like, office or otherwise, that embody qualities JS should incorporate?” The responses became our litmus for every design decision.
Beyond simply listening, we’ve also tried to encourage each JSer to make the space his or her own. Every workstation and office has space for books and sentimental stuff, and everyone has a whiteboard for whereabouts or witticisms. Some folks have taken personalization a step further, pulling together to give their “neighborhoods” that little something extra … like, y’know, guitar amp mini-fridges.
We work together as a team.
In-person interactions large and small are part of the secret sauce of ideas and innovation, so our new office was designed with that in mind. Rather than the true open office layout, which we had our doubts about, we wound up executing something more nuanced (similar to The Bridgespan Group’s success story). Need to facilitate a formal planning session? There are meeting rooms with big tables and inspiring views. Need to flesh out project details with teammates? There are huddle rooms, each with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards and unique seating to suit your mood and method. Need to quickly chat one-on-one, review a printer’s proof or even just get a change of scenery? There are high-top tables in each neighborhood, and you’re as likely to find Glen Jackson at one of them as you are to catch him in his office. And he’s not the only one getting out of the office: it’s not uncommon to see one of our clients working in an open office or conference room. We love being able to open our home to our friends.
We have fun.
There’s the obvious stuff: the ping-pong table, the bike and longboard racks, the secret door in the library (shh – you didn’t hear that from me). But what’s most fun to me about our space is the care and pride put into every detail so that everything really reflects who we are. Where else could everyone appreciate our conference room names (Flannery, Redding and McGill), which we named after principled, inspirational Georgia storytellers?
We always look for the better way.
The new space was still very much a work in progress on the first day we occupied it. We’ve made lots of little tweaks and improvements in our first year, and we know we’ll never be done improving. Our business is constantly and rapidly changing, so the place where we do our business will have to follow suit – in that way, our space serves as a reminder of how we should operate.
Your physical workplace can be one of your greatest assets, so to recap, here are our six tips for maximizing your “12th Man”:
1. Don’t be something you’re not – that goes for you and your space.
2. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Will this help us do our jobs better?”
3. Listen to your people and let them express themselves.
4. Design with teamwork in mind.
5. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably doing it wrong.
6. Never be done and never want to be.
We’re looking forward to many more years in the home we’ve made for ourselves, and we hope you’ll visit us here very soon. What do you hope your workspace will help you do in 2016?