Springload is a web development agency that places emphasis on user experience, and is also a neighbour of ours in Wellington’s Hope Gibbons Building. Springload recently moved back in after the building underwent earthquake restrengthening last year, and have gone from taking up a few rooms to a whole floor, as well as the caretaker’s old house on the roof (which is another story in and of itself.)
After attending their office warming recently we heard an interesting story from founder and director Bron Thomson. She used the office move, and brand new fitout, as an opportunity to experiment with different workspace arrangements in order to design the best physical work environment for her team. We sat down with Bron to glean some insights from her workspace tinkering (so far).
Your physical environment should support the way you work
Springload has an inclusive, collaborative working style both within the team and with clients that is a core part of their service offering. Bron notes that there are some very real physical requirements of a space in order to be able to work in agile, cross discipline ways.
On another level, creating a space that represents who you are as a team can do wonders for staff morale and business culture. Bron says it was the first time they had had the opportunity to design a fit-out from the ground up and they wanted to do it properly – finding a balance of wanting to feel like a professional agency while still having Springload’s friendly and fun personality. What they achieved is a welcoming, flexible space that moves away from an “us vs. them” style of working – it isn’t uncommon for a client to come and hot desk for an hour if they find themselves in the area between meetings. “The space supports our philosophy that the client is as much a part of our team as we are”, says Bron.
Don’t underestimate the power of open space
Everyone knows that open plan is really distracting and bad for productivity, particularly in terms of privacy and the auditory impact. But at the same time no one wants it to go away. The feedback Bron received from her staff supported this – “most people said they wanted to sit in a big open space with the rest of the team, so even though we knew it was disruptive (and they knew it too) it’s what everyone wanted so it’s what we did.”
Don’t underestimate the power of rooms
One thing we loved about Springload’s new fit-out was the creation of small ‘pods’ – private, sound proof, phone booth-esque nooks that are a great use of a small space to create distraction free zones away from the main open hub of desks.
Rooms can also become physical manifestations of the work people are doing. Project rooms allow for ‘working walls’; whiteboards, stickies, sketches, and imagery, and they are fantastic for collaboration and enhanced team communication. Springload has a couple of project rooms that allow cross discipline project teams to sit next to each other, including the client, to get the most effective work outcomes possible.
For Bron, creating rooms was an important part of recognising that working collaboratively with team members and clients sometimes means a distracting conversation in an open plan environment. Having project rooms allows team members to swivel their chairs around to have a quick chat, or have a client sit and work alongside them. This reduces the number of formal client meetings needed to present work to date.
People will use spaces in different ways than you’d expect
Bron says don’t be surprised if a space you’ve created for a certain purpose gets used for something else entirely. Even moving a couch around can mean the whole office suddenly starts congregating in a different spot.
And what things really didn’t work?
Bron says they found that even a tiny visual separation can lead to a massive feeling of disconnect within the team. Now there are only two spaces (used for chilling out in) in the whole Springload office that you can’t see the main hub of desks from.
Springload is a great example of a business recognising that the physical environment plays a pivotal role in the way we work and create value. A rock solid culture and work style comes from within the core of organisation itself, but needs to be supported by the workspace that it functions within. We talk about culture all the time but it’s hard to know what that looks like exactly – an office environment that speaks to your values as a business helps to cement your business proposition in a tangible, easily understandable way.
We were particularly impressed with Bron’s personal commitment, leadership and creative style along the fit-out journey. The main reason why the fit-out works so well for Springload is the fact that it has come from within the team rather than imposed from above.
Refitting your office from the ground up is not usually the most viable option but there are still plenty of lessons to be learnt here around how to physically serve your organisation’s unique character and offering, no matter what the scale.
Do you work in an environment that does your awesome business culture justice? Tell us about what works and what doesn’t in the comments below.