Success in software development business depends on an intricate fusion of optimized individual performances, be it for a C-level executive, or for a junior software developer, QA engineer or UX designer. Naturally, stakeholders want to drive business results to the optimum, using the leverages they can control, as they are looking for the ways to foster productivity of teams and individuals. In the end, it’s people who take decisions, come up with creative ideas and make working software. That’s why it’s so important to design a harmonious workspace that helps people feel good and deliver their best work. Enough has been said on how stressful environments strangle performance. A stressful environment, the way I see it, covers not only work, but lifestyle-related stresses, such as tedious commutes, being a parent to a newborn or overspending energy on a pursuit unrelated to work. Employers pretty much have no control over such things. A sensible employer will surely be aware of the impact they make on productivity, but these are life choices that people make, when it goes about babies and hobbies; it’s a matter of personal responsibility. Commutes can be controlled, partially, either by setting up an office in a favorable location with decent standards of living and reasonable population density, or by allowing remote work. What stakeholders can control completely is workspace. Rather than brooding over utopian surroundings, it makes sense to focus on the things that can be improved in your office.
That’s exactly what we do in our company, Targetprocess. We are in product development, and this implies that enhanced creativity and optimized individual performance are essential for the company’s success. In this business the price is too high if people are coming up with faulty solutions, on all levels. We simply cannot afford being downtrodden by a dull office environment.
A well-thought-out workspace can help a lot with these 4 things (or activities):
#1. Informal exchanges
Very often, if not always, discussions on work-related issues occur anywhere but at a scheduled meeting. Such conversations can bring along some good ideas, from our experience. That’s why Targetprocess office has been specifically designed to encourage these informal exchanges. The office is made up of 3 round towers, and we have a lounge dining area in one of the towers, the Green one, where we carry free buffet lunches. There’s also an espresso machine with a counter, and this lunch space has snacks and supplies. This environment encourages people to talk and share ideas. Here’s a map view of our Green tower (we also have the Blue tower, and the Orange tower, the space takes about 11,000 sq feet in total):
The other two towers have coffee counters in the center, with bar stools and a cooler/heater nearby. Everyone is welcome to stop by, sit down and discuss something.
Another thing that we have in place to facilitate informal exchanges is a no-cubicle setup. Some of us had previously worked at companies with huge open spaces, which would be another extreme. Of course, people can talk freely when they sit in one large room, but the noise and distractions are horrible. So, we’ve arranged something in the middle and remodeled the original space in the towers as “slices of a pie”. Check the snapshot of the Blue tower:
These pie-slice rooms hold comfortable workspace for our feature teams. Each feature team is cross-functional, and includes software developers as well as QA engineers. They usually develop one piece of our product’s functionality. This workspace arrangement is more favorable for our development process than a maze of 50 cubicles in one open-space, looks like. And, of course, it fosters informal exchanges in feature teams.
#2. Focused solo work
This kind of work can also be facilitated by office space. We have silent rooms, with a lounge chair or a couch, available to anyone who needs some time alone. One of these rooms is located in our office library. A UX designer, or a software developer, or a company stakeholder, or anybody else can walk in to the library (we have 300+ books and counting), pick a book from a shelf, flip through the pages, sit down in an armchair nearby and get some insight. Actually, a library is not only a part of an office space. It is a part of our continuous learning culture, which is mega-important to us as a software product company. Here’s a picture of some bookshelves in the library:
#3. Visual aids
We believe in the power of all things visual. Nothing facilitates creative thinking and problem-solving more than having a problem sketched, visualized, diagrammed and dissected. Also, nothing can give a work status report faster than a crisp visual dashboard. That’s why our office sometimes reminds a school with many classrooms. We have whiteboards in every pie-slice room, and we’ve also used IdeaPaint to turn some of the walls into the renewable sheets for jotting down ideas, software architecture maps and what not. That’s how we visualized our production roadmap on an IdeaPaint wall a few years ago:
A large digital screen is another tool that helps a lot with visualizations. Just one example, that’s how we feed the status of our production builds to a screen:
This whole visualization philosophy is very strong with us, and since our product is a visual management tool, we have many screens with boards in the office.
#4. The sweet things and "feel good" stuff
These are the small things that do not directly contribute to productivity, but help brighten up the environment and make it happiness-oriented. Imagine, after a dull commute in a rainy day, or after a night of bad sleep you walk in to your office... and this charming cat greets you 🙂
This cat is a very influential guy, by the way. We use it as a token to identify who is in charge of automated test runs. The cat obviously feels some affinity with deer (this picture was taken at Christmas time).
It somehow happens that our employees care about the space around them. Such small things do not appear in the office by an executive rule. People use their own creativity to make their workspace vibrant. Take a look at this custom artistic installation at a QA engineer’s desk:
I believe each and every office can come up with things like that. Such DIY craftworks create a cozy environment at work, helping people feel relaxed rather than stressed out. When everyone is focused and still relaxed, that’s when the real good work happens.
There’s yet another dimension to office environments. Workspace can be improved not only with furniture, or artefacts, but emotionally. Harmonious emotional spaces facilitate improved individual and group performance as much as harmonious room spaces, if not more. But this would be a subject for another article.