Office 2.0 | October 14, 2006

It feels like we moved in yesterday, but the six month lease on our office is now up and it’s time to move on. Brighton is a great place to live, but there is a distinct lack of good office space available. I put a shout out on our local mailing list for a “designery” office and was surprised by the reaction I got. It seems that “designer” office space has become associated with the worst excesses of the dotcom bubble and is something many people look down on.

I can understand this to an extent as agencies did go slightly mad at the turn of the millennium and start installing roof top sushi bars and astroturf putting greens in their offices. However I do feel that a creative working environment is crucial to the happiness of your team and ultimately the success of your company.

Clearleft may be a fledgling agency, but we have plans to grow. We are currently turning down more work than we can handle and are in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose our projects. We are about to appoint our first full time employee and have two more roles to fill in the coming months. As such we’re looking for a creative space that we can grow into.

Like most agencies we spend a lot of time at work–probably too much if we’re honest. Because of this we want to find a place we look forward to going every morning and somewhere we enjoy hanging out. Being a social bunch we also want somewhere that our friends and colleagues can enjoy, be that popping round for a coffee during the day or meeting up for drinks after work.

A nice environment is really important for the productivity, creativity and happiness of your team. As well as wanting to spend time there yourself, you want the people around you to enjoy their time at work. A creative office is also important for attracting the right kind of people to work for your company. Somewhere people can imagine working and having fun.

We looked at a lot of offices in Brighton but were generally disappointed. They were either overpriced battery farms–cramming as many people into as small a space as possible–or rundown ex-council buildings. We found a couple of possibilities including a lovely sea front property overlooking the pier. However in the end we managed to stumble on the perfect place almost by chance.

Located in “Brighton’s trendy North Laine” area, the Argus Lofts are one of the coolest re-developments in Brighton. A converted Grade II listed building, the lofts were once the printworks for the local newspaper. Redesigned by Conran & Partners in 2003, the lofts are now a collection of designer apartments and workspaces.

We are hoping to move into a space managed by the creative charity Lighthouse. Lighthouse are completely re-fitting the area so it’s currently a bit of a building site. However assuming all the legal stuff goes ahead, we should be able to move in sometime next month.

Here are a few pics we took the other day to give you a feel for the space.

Being a creative charity, Lighthouse have gone to great pains to make the offices a pleasant place to be. This includes designer touches such as a reception that doubles as a showcase gallery, and a glass bridge over the downstairs atrium. It also includes things like a secure indoor bike storage area and regular recycling collections. Being a training charity, it also means that we’ll have access to a state of the art training facilities, so expect lots more public courses from Clearleft in the future.

Once everything is official, we’ll have to think about fitting the office out. The temptation would be to put all the desks around the outside of the walls, but this won’t maximise the space in the centre of the room. I’d prefer to have one or two “blocks” of desks so everybody can sit together in a more community oriented space. We also plan to have a small meeting area as well as a chill out area where we can get away from our desks and relax for a bit if we want to.

I’ve been looking around for office design inspiration and came up with post entitled 10 seeeeeriously cool workplaces. Joel Spolsky also has a nice article on the bionic office. However I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on the subject. Do you know of any great articles or resources on setting up the perfect office? Maybe you’ve worked somewhere really nice and have some thoughts or recommendations of your own.

Over to you.

Posted at October 14, 2006 5:55 PM

Comments

william hamby said on October 14, 2006 6:10 PM

congratulations, andy

Tom Armitage said on October 14, 2006 6:35 PM

Looks very suitable, Andy.

Re: desks around the edge or in the middle; I’m getting slowly convinced that the ideal environment for small teams like yours might be a combination of the too.

Ie: desks around the edge for private work, concentration, crunch mode, or when other people need a meeting in the middle. Everyone faces out.

But: you also have a communal table in the middle, with powersockets, etc, either for when people are just feeling more sociable, or need the space to spread papers/notes/mockups/wireframes all over the shop, or when you want to have a group-meeting of any form.

(The real functionality of this setup is predicated on people using laptops, but I think a range of external-monitors (or as close as you can get to a docking station) around the edge helps).

Also: it means the edge-seats allow ownership of space and personalitation, but the middle remains communal.

It’s an idea I’ve always been batting around. Not sure how feasible it is - the middle will get very popular - but it’s an idea.

Do show us pics once you’ve moved in.

Francis said on October 14, 2006 8:13 PM

You don’t want desks along the wall - it’s a horrible way to work as you’ll find that people have their backs to each other. There’s a great deal to be said for look at people’s faces (no matter what they look like!). I worked for a company who had that set-up once and no-one liked it.

The chill-out area is a great idea - we have “breakout areas” at work that are just a couple of tables and a few chairs. They’re ideal for impromptu, non-confidential meetings where things need to be discussed without disturbing other people. And, of course, if you’re going to have friends around for coffee, drinks, etc, then a decent space will be ideal. Don’t forget to leave space for the office Dalek :)

If you go open plan, then that’s cool, but be a nice boss and allow people to plug in their iPods (or whatever) when they really need to knuckle down and concentrate. There’s nothing worse than trying to wrap your head around some complex code at the same time as trying to block out a particularly loud phone call a colleague is taking.

It’s so cool that you’re expanding so quickly - I hope it continues to go so well for you.

Ian Lloyd said on October 14, 2006 9:19 PM

So, cutting to the chase …. is there going to be another office warming do? ;-)

adrian lansdown said on October 14, 2006 9:45 PM

congrats on the new offices.

I really like Tom’s idea about private desks but communal desk in the middle. Sadly I don’t know how well it will work.

If you go with the “open plan” layout allow headphones as I find concentrating with phone calls and fan noises extremely hard.

I also think the chill out area is a great idea, always good for phone calls and just getting away from the desk for a few minutes.

Good luck with the move

Matt Carey said on October 14, 2006 11:07 PM

We had a similar issue when we moved into our studio space here in Reading — desks around the walls or in the middle. At the time we used a floorplan (provided by the landlord) and cut out bits of card (to scale) which we moved around trying to find the right layout. The only way for everything to fit turned out to be with everyone around the edge. Not something I would prefer to have done but sometimes you have to compromise with the space you have.

Since then we are about to take the adjoining room and when we get the keys next month we can make that our meeting and chill out area, and make the main room work better for us.

We don’t all have the money or space of googleplex so sometimes you have to make do with what you have!

Matt Carey said on October 14, 2006 11:12 PM

On the headphones issue — I’m actually very anti it for a number of reasons.

We are a small studio (3 of us) and anyone answers the phone or the intercom on the door. This is not helped by people being plugged into headphones.

People having headphones in a small company makes everyone cut-off from everyone else. If you want to ask someone a quick question abut a file, for example, you have to tap them on the shoulder and ‘disturb them’. Something you are less inclined to do.

The ‘vibe’ is not as nice. Instead we have an office iPod or people can bring in their own and plug in (this includes freelancers) and we have a 2 person veto on any music (if 2 or more people object to the music choice it goes off!!). There is a shared meeting room on the ground floor which people can go to if they really need space to think, which people do.

Andy Budd said on October 15, 2006 12:49 PM

We tend to have music playing most of the time. Headphones only go on if we really need to concentrate on something as it helps block everything else out so you can focus on the task at hand.

Jason Kitcat said on October 15, 2006 4:35 PM

Glad to see the ground floor of the Argus Lofts is getting proper use. I lived in a flat in that building for over a year and it was interesting

Everytime workmen came to try and fix things they would just shake their heads and the quick and nasty construction. Lots of stories which really are appalling like the immersion heaters being incorrectly fitted.

Sad thing was people paid massive amounts of money to own these properties (I rented). But they couldn’t afford it and there were 3 repossessions in our section alone.

Our neighbour bought off plans but there was so much deviation he took the developer to court and won £30,000 compensation.

Phew, didn’t mean to be a downer there - but strangely the ground floor is separately owned so I think it’s a different kettle of fish for you Clearlefters. Just don’t be wowed by upstairs.

Rob Day said on October 16, 2006 9:01 AM

Hey Andy, looks like we’re going to be neighbours.

We have taken the other space in the Argus Lofts (closer to the glass bridge). Really looking forward to sharing our new creative environment with you.

Let’s catch up for a drink soon - we can compare notes on where to best place our desks! Best of luck with the move and see you on the other side.

Geert Leyseele said on October 16, 2006 9:48 AM

Hi Andy, we are seriously thinking of getting a solution by Vitra called “Joyn Bench” for our new office. It’s a solution that let’s you built your office space as you want and adjust it in a matter of minutes and it encourages communication between people. It’s design (by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec) and not really cheap :(

Nick Wilsdon said on October 16, 2006 11:05 AM

>It seems that “designer? office space has become associated with the worst excesses of the dotcom bubble and is something many people look down on.

I’m not sure it’s looked down on exactly - it’s just (as you say) so many of the offices are terrible/unaffordable in Brighton for small web business start-ups. I’m sure anyone given the chance would jump for something better but you’ll fall into that usual Brighton inverse-snobbery trap when you suggest that those offices are less than desirable ;)

I agree with you though - a clean, open office space is essential to creating a good work environment. We love the place we have now, 90m sq/three-rooms in a factory conversion with private gym and cafe but if I had this in Brighton I’d be looking at large 4-figure rent bill each month!

Frances Berriman said on October 16, 2006 1:44 PM

It looks really cool. It’s good to hear that you guys are expanding so soon. :) You’ll have to have an office warming, eh?

Maleika E.A. said on October 16, 2006 11:41 PM

I cannot add anything of value to the discussion. However, I found your article to be extremely inspiring for someone whose workspace equals the living space. I will be needing a few more years before taking that step but I wish you and Clearleft the best and good times at your new offices. It looks very nice from the outside (I actually prefer old buildings as opposed to modern ones) and the inside, well, I do hope you’ll have more images to share once your office is setup. :)

Best wishes,

Maleika

James AkaXakA said on October 20, 2006 3:26 PM

Looks great Mr. Budd!

Aaron said on October 26, 2006 8:04 AM

Wow that office looks great! Congratulations!