“As we went to design our new headquarters, we thought about the things that make coming into the office suck, and did the opposite.”
I’m on my fifth company, four of which are still active. I’ve seen a lot of square footage in my history of entrepreneurship. I’ve tried every layout imaginable from sharing space with multiple companies, to private offices, private offices with glass walls, and buildings with a 100% open floor plan.
We wanted to completely redesign how people work, so we decided to build new offices. However, we had some challenges.
While the design had to be aesthetically pleasing, it also had to take into account our core values which have sculpted our culture. We had to give ourselves tremendous flexibility for collaboration and creativity, yet allow people to get their work done. It’s challenging to stick a bunch of hardworking entrepreneurial people in a room together who are all client facing. We had to come up with new solutions to old problems.
Before you understand why we made the decisions we did with the office design, you first should understand a little bit about the company. mobileStorm has five core values. Think of a company’s core values as a wide path. As long as you stay on the path and continue forward, you can choose how you walk on the path. You can decide to stay on the left hand side, or cross over, run, or stop for a bit. Core values give you guidelines for how you should behave and what decisions you should make. To learn more about mobileStorm’s core values, you can go here. At the highest level, mobileStorm works a little like this…
Everyone is a partner in the business; they are the CEO of his or her goals. The company’s job is to provide complete transparency on everything. The only thing we do not talk about is salary and ownership levels (yet we are even working on changing that). The more transparent we can be with the team, the better decisions each person can make. At mobileStorm, the person closest to the decision, or the one who will be affected by it the most, should make the decision. Getting good data and seeking advice first is a must. By allowing this level of freedom, information and decision making can take a bottom up approach; allowing the business to grow without its key “top down” people, like founders or tenured employees.
For instance, people can make decisions where they want to work. We definitely leaned more towards making the office a place for collaboration, so it’s encouraged to stay at home if someone has a project where they need few distractions. Because everybody is measured by the success of achieving their goals as well as living the core values, we don’t really care what people are doing as long as they’re always making the right decisions.
Every six months we have a 360 peer review where we use Feedbacksocially.com to score each other on how each person is living the core values.
We use results.com to track everyone’s personal goals that ultimately roll up into the companies major goals. Having a system like this enables us to easily measure whether an employee is an A Player.
We have a strict hiring process (I call it “the great filter”) that can sometimes take months to bring someone aboard. We strongly believe in making the right hire, even if that means losing a great candidate because we could not move fast enough. Ideally we are working to get to a spot where each person is so self aware, they simply quit when they know they aren’t a culture fit, or cannot achieve their goals.
Building a flat organization that runs on its own is such a work in progress. I don’t feel we will ever achieve what we picture nirvana to be, but we are going to give it a damn good try.
So now that you understand how we work, let’s talk about the environment for the work itself.
After years of working in multiple types of environments, I finally felt like I had figured out the right mix of open and private areas.
By far, 70/30 was the right number. Of course this is the right number for mobileStorm with the culture I painted above. This type of environment does not work for companies who like to make decisions in a vacuum.
To expound upon our mix further, 70% of the office is open with 30% reserved for private areas like offices and conference rooms.
The openness fosters collaboration, creativity, and knowledge sharing, yet still allows everyone to get to a quiet area if they need to focus on a task that requires extreme concentration; or if you wanted to have a private conversation with a co-worker and weren’t ready to share it with the whole group.
Now that we had our floor plan, we started thinking about the physical objects we needed or needed to get rid of to create the type of environment that would excite us to visit on a daily basis.
Below, are a few ways in which we approached the design:
1. Paperless: I’ve become a big fan of forcing behavior change by removing people’s access. If you want to go on a diet, then make sure you don’t have any unhealthy snacks or sugary foods at your house. There is nothing to eat when you get that urge. We are in the information age, so what is the point of paper? You would be surprised of the push back people give you when you get rid of the printer. But it forces people to come up with alternative solutions. We found that 98% of our work can be done using a digital signing services like hellosign.com.
Sure we have had to print occasionally, but usually that comes with having to mail a document at the same time, so we simply get up and go to Fedex. We purchased cool looking trash cans with a very small footprint because there is a lot less to throw away. By not having plastic liners, it also forces people to throw food away in the kitchen’s trash can, where bad smells can happen away from where people spend most of their day.
2. Mobility: Of course mobile was critical for mobileStorm, but we took things to the next level — like OCD next level. The decree was that everything we did had to be untethered. We wanted anyone to work from anywhere at anytime. We plan on getting a tour bus as a mobile office in the next couple of years so we can literally go and work anywhere. The first thing we did is we got rid of our very expensive phone system that requires hardware, cables and DID #’s, and signed up for grasshopper.com.
We created a web-based phone tree and used everyone’s personal cell phones as their office line. Each employee gets reimbursed each month for their entire phone bill. Everyone ditched their desktops and PCs for Macbook Airs (which tremendously increases productivity by the way). We purchased Karma Mifi devices so no matter where people are, they have internet.
All files were uploaded to Dropbox or to our local Apple Time Machine. To cut down on the noise and allow people to move freely around the office, we purchased the JabraPro 9400. Its noise cancelling so people calling you cannot hear the person next to you talking. It also goes over both ears, which drowns out the noises you will hear that typically come with an open floor environment.
As part of our “Thirst for Knowledge” core value, we wanted to be able to share information everywhere, so we hung a lot of TVs around the office, and purchased the wireless HDMI solution Airtame. At any time, one can simply stand up, grab their laptop, walk over to a TV and share what is on their screen.
3. Aesthetics: With as many hours as we spend in the office, we wanted to create a beautiful space that was pleasing to look at. We worked hard at putting some detail into the office’s aesthetics such as white washed wood walls, stainless steel tiles, white quartz counter tops, pendant lighting, dark wood cabinets, white shag rugs and lots of glass.
We wanted to surround ourselves with a peaceful atmosphere that you might get hanging out in a stylish New York loft.
4. Organization: You know that feeling you get when your room is a mess but as soon as you make the bed things feel better and more organized? It’s a fact that a clean room makes you feel more you are in control of your day. While I appreciate individualism, I think some offices can get out of control and people’s workstations turn into a horrible mess with left over cups, napkins, pieces of paper, and pointless toys. To combat this, we purchased the Bivi Desk from Steelcase. Each workstation comes with a monitor arm that allows each person to set their laptop up next to their Thunderbolt monitor. This gives everyone two screens, but it also gives them room to use Apple’s notepad stickies, instead of real ones hanging everywhere. It gives each person enough room to put digital pictures of their family and friends. Everything is digital nowadays anyway, so why use real picture frames? We rotate desks every 3 months so everyone has to be able to easily pick up and move. The Bivi desk also comes with back pockets which allow people to hide their personal belongings, receipts, pens, etc. With clean lines and less clutter, people get more focused and organized.
5. Fun & Fuel: To ensure we are living our “Have a Healthy Work/Life Balance” value, we needed to, well, balance the work with the fun. Cold beer is served on a duel tap from some of California’s finest microbrews, DirectTV is piped in so we can watch football games together, and talk smack in our fantasy leagues.
Healthy snacks are delivered each week from Amazon Prime’s subscription service, and we have extremely cold beverage refrigerators from Edgestar stocked with everyone’s favorite drinks.
We decided to put a garage door in our main conference room so the room could be opened up to host a larger meeting or showcase a new movie.
6. Relaxing: We wanted to create a space where people could lie down and relax, so we had a very nice shag rugs installed where people can take their shoes off, grab some pillows or a bean bag, and kick back and get some quite time or work lying down. Try leaving your laptop at your desk and host a meeting lying on the ground, it’s very un-stressful.
7. Creativity/Innovation: mobileStorm has a “Creator” brand archetype. Creativity happens when you least expect it.
We tried to create an environment where lighting can be captured in a bottle from time to time. To foster spur of the moment ideas, creating a collaborative environment was critical. Most of our walls were painted with Idea Paint which allows you to write on any wall from the ceiling to the floor (and you won’t believe how often you use the whole space).
We break up each desk with a hang out spot. Each hang out comes with a Bivi couch, Campfire Table, and Bouys (also by Steelcase).
In addition, we created multiple areas to meet both in the open and in private. We purchased Steelcase’s Media:scape Lounge for intense brainstorm sessions.
We outfitted the office with Phillips Hue lights, which gives you not only 16 million colors to choose from so you can set the perfect mood, but we are exploring how to use lights in an open floor office to communicate and drive efficiency.
Using apps like IFTTT, we can create rules that allow us to control the lighting. Someone just closed a new deal? Flash all of the lights green. Someone on an important phone call? They can simply grab their phone and change all of the lights to red.
There is so much more we want to learn about how to use lights to become effective in a collaborative environment.
We use Amazon’s Echo to change the lighting simply by asking Alexa to “dim the lights.” We also use Echo to command a mobileStorm approved Pandora playlist that everyone has been able to give their input on (just no Country or Death Metal please).
8. Experiments: When visiting Steelcase’s showroom they showed us magnetic wallpaper from Designtex. You install a magnetic baseboard on a wall, then anytime you want to change the wallpaper out, you simply create a new design and they print it on a magnet and send it to you.
We decided to use the main wall in our foyer to experiment with this new technology. We are currently creating a graphic that shows mobileStorm’s ecosystem, listing out everything from our Target Market Customer, to our BHAG, Core Values, and Mission Statement.
We are working on a living wall to bring some much needed plant life with oxygen into the space. We purchased an Evolve Desk, to start to see what the fuss is all about to work standing up. And believe it or not, all of this we did on a relativity small budget. Target was our friend when it came to purchasing things for the kitchen, and office supplies.
We didn’t need to buy any expensive phone systems. The Steelcase workstations cost half the price of most of the benching systems we found out there. We were able to get a line of credit with Fidelity, which allowed us to finance some of the larger items, making it easier on our cash flow. And thanks to signing a long term lease, our landlord gave us enough TI to put just the right finishing touches on the space.
Each culture demands a certain type of environment, and it’s all about finding what works best for you.
If you are an entrepreneur designing an office, and you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, jared [at] mobilestorm.com.