Over the years, we have moved our offices many times, but in a recent change to our Miami office, I put a great deal of effort into the design.
Part social experiment and part labor of love, I thought we could simultaneously use the space more efficiently while helping to adjust the culture at the same time. Let me walk you through what has worked and what has not.
No New York Lawyer Layout
Most offices are designed by seniority; the windows are usually blocked off by other office’s and the lower your seniority, the more you are towards the inside of the building.
Not only did I hate that but often the offices were built for privacy with solid doors and no way to see in (also means no way for light to get through to the majority of the workers). When we designed out Miami office we tried to turn everything around.
Those without an office should get the sunlight, those with an office- well, they still got an office. We also got rid of all the cubicles. The majority of our staff are now in an open environment surrounded by windows. This was a huge Ikea investment for us that definitely unnerved staff that was previously used to the quiet and theoretical focus of a cubicle.
We tried to make the offices as small as possible but we knew our team members needed space to economically work in. Since we had a fairly large available area, I wanted to create several meeting rooms for people to quickly jump into.
This created more of a demand for the typical office setup, so we built these meeting spaces out from the wall and segmented the office into several work sections. While the workspace was an open environment, I did not want the feeling of a factory so the largest section only had 24 desks, with others settling in smaller spaces.
We also made very door have a glass enclosure and a very large window to look out of. Now everyone could see everyone else and there were no more places for someone to hide behind- regardless of whether they had an office or were in the open.
We anticipated that we would need special “calling” rooms where demos, support tickets or lengthy phone conversations with only one person could take place in. This led to the creation of our phone booths.
Along one of our main walls, we have a series of doorways. We painted all of these rooms to resemble actual English phone booths to encourage use. Our internet was to take it to the next level by designating each booth a Harry Potter Hogwarts House, but that may have been one step too far as I have never heard compliments on the banners I bought on Amazon.
Of course, we also built a game room; yet it is really secondary to our kitchen, where we put in multiple seating options (high tops, regular seats, etc.). In addition to an upgrade on caffeine choices and an Internet TV, our kitchen area has provided a place where staff can get away from their desk and have a chance to mix things up. Over time the kitchen has proven the impact food has on bringing people together. Nothing creates buzz like a celebratory breakfast.
Finally, we added a funky brainstorming room; one with lots of color, weird rugs, chairs, flowers on the wall, and smart paint on doors that allow for jotting anything down. I thought it would be a great place for debating ideas- although others find it just as enjoyable for relaxing in the large bean bag chairs.
Other Subtle Design Choices
Most software companies have the cement floors and open ceilings that you see so often. I absolutely agree it looks awesome, the exposed ceiling and the loft feel is completely Silicon Valley.
The issue I’ve always had with this aesthetic is that the acoustics are terrible- cement and brick echoes. We went with another, also less expensive, option.
Our flooring is a gray carpet that is similar to the appearance of cement, without having the actual feel and sound of it. We also included a pattern throughout the office that has vibrant tones to match our brightly colored walls. Bright colored paint costs just as much as boring colors!
Lastly, we added inspirational quotes on the topics of design and innovation that really pulled the look together. These were easy to apply, I bought them online and put them up myself.
Pros/Cons and What Worked
Right off the start, we noticed a certain buzz around the office. Many of our staff were concerned about the increase of surrounding noise due to cubicle reduction. We do have a fair amount of coders so we provided a nice pair of headphones which did the trick.
A funny thing happened to those individuals who initially appreciated having a window and receiving light; they began to actually close the shades that the office building did not allow us to remove. Why? Screen glare.
I would like to completely open the shades but each group tends to change it up, sometimes based on the time of year and sun placement. The phone booths tended to be a hit, although initially many avoided them for a while.
Believe it or not, the game room was not used very often. It did take some of the employees sitting near the room to get used to the occasional event and group gatherings, but with some added noise panels and people becoming more aware of the disturbance, I believe a happy medium has been reached.
We started to outgrow our first office very quickly and realized that while it was a great layout, we did not want two separate offices.
When the office next door became available shortly thereafter we moved in and took over; we knocked a hallway door though to connect the two separate offices and instantly had twice the space.
Unfortunately, the new addition was designed in the “New York Lawyers Layout” but we have tried to make the most of it.
Recently, we added a huge Central Park concept into the middle of the previous cubicle zone with faux grass, picnic tables, and street lights. It is slowly being used more. The area is great for company meetings, as well as the occasional ping pong tournament.
Your office design drives so much of your culture in ways you don’t realize. After doubling the space, we still have a high level of available occupancy for the office, yet we don’t have an ideal balance of staff and space.
Too much space for each employee and things get very quiet (something we learned when we expanded into the space next door). Not enough, and people start to easily get irritated with one another.
If you can find the balance between the two, you can create an optimal level of “buzz” that improves employee engagement- ultimately the clients benefit from this. Of course, like everything else, it is a work in progress.
Let me know of any ideas you used to improve the layout of your office and how you made it a more enjoyable, and productive space, for your employees.