Peter VanRysdam / Technology Videos / April 10th, 2014

Collaborative Offices: How and Why – 352 Noodles and Doodles

We’ve talked before about our new offices in Gainesville, Tampa and Atlanta, but we haven’t talked much about why we decided an open, collaborative office was so important to 352. Since our new office was my big project for the year, this week’s 352 Noodles & Doodles focuses on why we felt a collaborative office was so vital to our new brand and team structure, and how we implemented our new office design. An open office isn’t right for every company, but it was the perfect fit for 352.

Transcript below.

[Peter VanRysdam:] Hi, I’m Peter VanRysdam one of the founding partners at 352, and today I’m gonna talk to you a little bit about collaborative office spaces: why and how they work. I do want to say as a disclaimer in the beginning: they don’t work for everybody, and this is an example of how we’ve made this space work for us. Every type of company is a little different, personalities are a little different, and you have to find something that works for you. But I just wanted to go through our process as we recently moved into an open office layout, talking about why we did some of the things we did and how we came to those decisions.
First, a few of the benefits of moving to an office where everyone is kind of in the same area and able to interact. There’s a great term that our friends at actually told us when they let us tour their office and get a feel for how they work. They called them creative collisions.
A lot of times you’ll have people, based on the proximity, just kind of run into each other or overhear something and jump in and be able to help. You wouldn’t get that if someone was in a separate office, you wouldn’t necessarily hear them talking about a particular problem that you might have a solution for. A creative collision is a great thing that happens as a result of people being together.
Along the same lines, you get a lot of cross-department interaction. You can have people from finance talking to people from sales that might not normally see each other throughout the day. Sometimes you might find that you don’t even see people from other departments in the office at all. Having that cross-department interaction gives you a better feel for how and what the company as a whole is doing as opposed to just your department, that you get from being in the same area.
Productivity – there’s been a lot of questions and if you did a search, you could find articles supporting both sides of the productivity argument: does it help or does it hurt? There are going to be some distractions and things we’ll talk about in a second, but as far as productivity goes we’ve found that when you’re out there, it’s a lot more difficult to slack off. You don’t want to, as much. You see everyone there working, and it drives you. You also don’t want to have things on your screen that people are gonna see, so it’s a lot easier to not fall into those traps of clicking on that link in that email while you’re at the office.
Flexibility is also key. When you put up a lot of rigid walls and doors and hallways and things in an office, you’re pretty much locked into that. Our old office space really didn’t work for us that well because a lot of the rooms were way too big for one person, OK for two and too small for 3 people, so it made it difficult to put our teams together that are functional teams of 5 people. So we’d have them spread across 2-3 offices, and you didn’t get those interactions all the time. Having that flexibility where you can reconfigure: things can change all the time, and every month or every year, you can rearrange desks and get some good flexibility out of it.
On those same lines, cost-savings can be huge on your build out. Studies have shown that 15% of most offices are made up of things like hallways and the area that you have to leave for a door to swing, and walls. You can eliminate a lot of that and not only saving on the build out, but also save on the square footage monthly rental fees.
Let’s talk about some of the things we did in the implementation to make this work for us. One of the big questions we had and we did a lot of experimenting with was desk arrangement. Kind of the default we were thinking originally was to think of any police show where you have the two detectives or partners facing each other so they can share ideas or talk to one another. We have teams that are about 5 people, so it doesn’t really work as well and we’re doing things on computer screens. So not only are those screens in the way, but you can’t see what’s on the person’s screen across the desk.
So, where this is what a team looks like in most set-ups, and what we originally thought a team would consist of, we’ve actually kind of flipped it so the teams are the interior section so that people back-to-back. Off the bat, that doesn’t sound good, but think about the fact that if this person wants to talk to this person, all they do is turn their chairs around, or all 4 turns their chairs around and they’re in a quick, impromptu meeting. Everyone can see everyone’s screen, and it’s simpler to share things back and forth. So this group will be with another team over here, and it’s a way that we found that worked for us.
This is one of those areas that you’re going to want to experiment a bit and find what works for you. We tried this out in our old office, we set up a room like this and the results were fantastic, so it’s what we’ve moved to across the company.
If you work in a certain area where you’re not necessarily working in teams, what a lot of companies have done with good results is not assigning spaces. So, let people just sit anywhere they want on any given day. Each area has a keyboard, a monitor or works well for people with laptops who can plug into a docking station. That’s one thing to consider so you get a lot of that cross-department interaction on a day-to-day basis by doing that. 
Cleanliness was another big concern that we had going into this. We found that, for the most part, people tend to police themselves. Food on the desks and papers stacking up, and especially cables and cable management is something that you can easily let grow into a big problem in a private office space since it’s just you that have to look at it. People take more responsibility when they know everyone can see it or clients are coming in. You do want to have some rules in place about some of those things and definitely give the tools for cable management and things like that. Cleanliness is definitely something you want to keep an eye on, but it’s something that polices itself.
Noise was a bigger concern that cleanliness for us definitely. We’re going from a situation where everyone was enclosed in smaller offices. And we’re very concerned about the noise. A couple of things we’ve done. Headphones are a huge one obviously. There’s noise canceling options for people now. That’s a great way to go if you kind of want to get in the zone. Also headsets with a mic so you can do calls on Skype and not have that ringing phone on your desk. You’re not hearing that ringing going on all around you at all times.
The people that we do have that are on the phone a lot, the sales people and some of the executive management, they’re in private offices because of this reason. We wanted to make sure they weren’t distracting. At a certain point, though, it turns to white noise. You get used to it if that’s the environment that you move to. You can look at installing a white noise, or what they call a pink noise system, which kind of acts like your noise canceling he
adphones, it listens to the environment it sends out some sounds that are kind of negative to that to kind of cancel them out. It kind of turns things into just a hum instead of specific conversations. You can definitely notice the difference.
You want to create breakout spaces as well so when those conversations are happening between teams if they find out hey, this is a bigger conversation, we want them to be able to break out. You have conference rooms of course, you also want to have some little team spaces, a table and chairs, a couch, an outside space, where people can go out and just meet for five or ten minutes. If it’s a quick conversation. Different kinds of breakout spaces. Even kinds where people can go by themselves if people want to keeping the sanity in all this.
The last piece of advice I would give is just give it some time. So if you’re going like we did from an office environment to an open environment, it’s going to be tough at first. You’re going to notice the noise, you’re going to notice the cleanliness, the different smells from people eating at their desk. Don’t just go and put in all these rules down right away. Give it about a month at least. Then, based on that, here’s the things I’ve gotten used to. Here are the things that are going to be an issue for us. That’s when you might want to set up some rules about you know no eating at your desk. Phone calls over ten minutes, you should go to a breakout room and things like that. You’ll find out what rules work best for your team based on how they work together. Don’t have any knee jerk reactions right off the bat to those kinds of things. That’s a little bit about how we implemented our open office. That’s how it’s worked for us. And if you use some of these tips, hopefully it’ll help you out to. Let us know how it goes for you and thank you very much for watching.


  • Lorraine Ball

    We have had an open space for years and it works well. One of the things the team has done is build a shared Pandora station which allows them to play a mix of music which everyone likes. The music isn’t on every day, but late afternoons or Friday morning, it adds to the team spirit.