As the good old Winston Churchill put it: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
For generations, architects have recognised that the building you are in has a direct effect on the work you do. The benches of the House of Commons have famously placed two sword lengths apart, facing each other, not only representing the oppositional nature of British politics but enabling and encouraging that opposition. Compare that with the European Parliament’s hemicycle, which aims to inculcate a more collaborative, harmonious political process.
In business as in politics, our work is shaped by our surroundings. Office space is indeed hugely important in business. Steve Jobs, a man who dedicated his life to transforming the lives of millions with the design of everyday things, understood this and thought deeply about office design while leading Pixar. He was quoted as saying:
“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say “Wow” and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Jobs designed the Pixar offices to be more like a campus, with the aim of fostering creativity and encouraging ad-hoc, unscheduled meetings. The people who worked there produced some of the most amazing animated films of all time. Coincidence?
It’s all very well for Steve Jobs, I hear you cry, but what about me? Is it important for my business?
If you’re a startup then there is certainly timings to think about. If you’re bootstrapping something in the early days you are likely to want to keep your burn rate as low as possible. This means you are probably working from home and not renting an office space. But, there does come a time when you are asking yourself:
“Is it time to get an office yet?”.
It’s a tricky question, as it’s likely to become one of the largest overheads in your business. I think, however, that it’s important to look at it as an investment. Trying to evaluate what return you are going to get on that investment might be a tricky thing to quantify, but ask yourself:
‘What other ‘non-financial’ benefits are I going to get from a great office space?’ is a better question to ask.
Obviously being a provider of awesome London office space we are a little biased. We can, however, say one thing with certainty. Without a shared space for work and collaboration, we would not be where we are today.
So we did a team roundup and asked what our shared space brought to the team here at Hubble. There were 4 major factors that suggested why office space is important.
Office space shapes company culture
The space that contains your business shapes your company culture. The culture within companies is something that’s very hard to define, and even harder to voluntarily shape. Your environment is second only to your team when it comes to cultivating a strong sense of common identity. Does putting your senior team in private offices say “open, transparent and flat management structure”?
We believe that companies which want to remain flat in structure, where innovation and collaboration are the lifeblood of the business, should be in an open office environment. Open meeting areas, open kitchens, large desks and even hot-desking are common traits of such spaces. Famously, Mark Zuckerberg sits on a standard desk at Facebook just with his laptop and, yep you got it, that dark hoodie he always wears.
Your office shapes your communication
Books like ‘Rework‘ certainly make us question the way we work and the need for office space. Rework implies that with virtual work and highly skilled team members being available all around the world, you may not need an office at all. It’s an excessive overhead, one surely you don’t want?
I will admit to agreeing with a lot of the book about productivity, staying late (check the video below), stupid meetings, conference calls and unnecessary workflows; but from personal experience, building a business with a remote team is hard work… it only gets you so far.
Something is ‘Lost in Translation’ when you are solely engaging with someone through tools like Skype or Hangouts. I think that these are amazing tools to increase productivity and team happiness, helping people work remotely when required. But if you never get to ground your assumptions about someone then you are very likely to make the wrong impression. Did they mean to sound so harsh on that Skype call, are they being sarcastic in their email with that ’emoji’, did she really understand what I was trying to convey? All of these little questions would evaporate if you actually got to meet the other person… in person.
In short, office space helps people to communicate better. Regardless of how good tools like Slack, Skype and email are, there is no substitute for the back-and-forth, “always-on” style of face-to-face interaction.
Albert Mehrabian is famous for his publications on the relative importance of the various attributes of communication: verbal and non-verbal. According to Mehrabian’s research, there are 3 main elements that contribute to communication when someone is talking about their feelings: words account for only 7%, tone of the voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for a whopping 55%! These findings have been regularly misinterpreted in human communication workshops around the world, so we should be careful about taking them literally. But the point is that we can convey vast amounts of information through body language that might not happen via ‘non-personal’ forms of communication.
So if you’re a new manager, a leader in an organisation, or a founder trying to lead a pivot, and you are doing it through Skype, you might have some issues. You might struggle to get your passion across and be unable to persuade more experienced people to try it out and take this new course of action.
Finding a space that helps you and your team talk more frankly with one another, and removes any obstacles to getting the thinking from your head and into someone else’s is important.
Contrary to popular belief you don’t need a water cooler to spark a conversation, but they always help.
Get out of your pyjamas and into a routine!
Now you might think this sounds silly, but this is actually really important for you and your team’s wellbeing.
We understand that taking time to work remotely on occasion is incredibly important for happiness and productivity. All good businesses should be treating their teams as adults, allowing them to make the decision when to work from home and when to be in the office. But knowing that you have to be in the office for that presentation, meeting or simply making sure that you are at the daily standup is a great way to increase your motivation.
Being part of a team, all pulling in the same direction is another great motivating factor. You don’t want to let any of your buddies down. When you’re having one of those days where the internet seems like a vast, distracting playground of blogs, cat videos and streaming status updates, it can really help to have an office full of people around you who are busy getting on with productive work.
Choosing what to wear (assuming that PJs might be pushing it on your commute), leaving the house at a set time and getting your coffee as you enter the office are all parts of a routine and help you to separate home from work. I have worked both from home as a freelancer and as a full-time team member, the optimum being a combination of both. Whilst working as a freelancer, I did, however, crave the collaboration and interaction that obviously goes with being in an office with your colleagues.
So in short, we recommend a routine that involves coming to the office every day with the option for flexible ‘work from home’ time where required and not the other way around. This removes any cognitive fatigue as you have a set routine that requires little decision-making activity.
Your office is your second home
We spend a huge amount of time in the office, about 1,920 hours per year, and you are likely to spend more time with your colleagues that your loved ones. Wow, that sounds a little scary but it’s true.
Armed with this knowledge it is obviously crucial to be happy where you work. This comes from 3 main things:
- working in a field that you are passionate about, with
- people that you like, in
- a place you feel comfortable.
The routines, habits and daily flow that your office helps you to establish is remarkably important and is deeply life-altering. Because finding the right office space in business is crucial for success, we believe offices should be like your second home: spaces where you can express your humanity and unleash your creativity.