Creating Collaborative Spaces

OpenSesame office

OpenSesame was born in a kitchen. In a small, dark room with a sink, an empty hole where an oven used to be and tile floors, our first days were packed with hard work but lacked glamor. After we launched our elearning marketplace, we soon moved into a space the size of a large SUV - where we packed in about 10 people, countless computers, jungles of cords and several whiteboards. The office worked for us, but it wasn’t anything special.

This summer, when we hired 27 interns to help us achieve our summer sprint goals, we knew we needed to change. We wanted more than just a bigger room - we wanted a space that reflected our values as a company: Collaboration, quality and service. We needed an open, attractive space that enabled all of our employees to do their best work. 

Ten years ago, Phillip Greenspun, a founding engineer at ArsDigita, wrote a treatise about hiring and supporting great software engineers. He recommends trying to make the office even nicer than employees’ homes, to encourage working long hours. While we value quality of work over quantity of work, we took Greenspun’s advice to create a welcoming, attractive space to heart. Greenspun recommends focusing on 5 dimensions to create an inviting office: 

  • Social - Despite criticisms from well-known names in tech, we believe that open offices promote team cohesiveness, enable collaboration and allow conversations among workmates - well worth the occasional interruption. We balanced our desire for interaction and productivity by dividing our office into sections, for individual work and group work. There’s no assigned seating, so the social dynamic of the office is always shifting as employees and interns move around working on different projects.
  • Aesthetic - When you enter the OpenSesame office, it feels like a treehouse. Floor-to-ceiling windows line the far walls, the ceilings are high, and the orange and white color scheme is bright and cheery. Our office is an Ikea-lover’s dream. We purchased the majority of our office furniture from the Scandinavian style furniture store in our OpenSesame colors - orange and white. Besides making it easy to purchase in bulk, we were able to keep our budget reasonable. Because most employees don’t have a designated desk, everyone receives a cubby to store their personal belongings.
  • Entertainment - A start-up isn’t a start-up until there’s an Xbox. OpenSesame is no exception. We also have converted our old office into a space for playing ping-pong games. We’ve found ping-pong to be an excellent way for interns and full time employees to let off steam, get to know each other and foster healthy competition. Ping-pong stats have even made it onto our official metrics dashboards.
  • Attractive - In Greenspun’s post, he says, “A worthwhile goal is to have at least one thing that is extremely attractive about the physical environment for any particular prospective software engineer.” While we’re not yet in any position to have a koi pond and a climbing wall and pinball machines - we listen to employee suggestions, work together to make improvements and value each person’s comfort.

In future posts, we’ll outline how we designed the space to foster our agile development model and use metrics dashboards throughout the office to connect employees to real-time data about work and results.

What tips to do you have about creating workspaces to optimize productivity and creativity? Let us kow in the comments.