Can’t wait to get to the office

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Image: M’learned colleague, Dr Ryan is responsible for his energy

Partly because I’ve finally got around to reading Tony Hsieh of Zappos’ Delivering Happiness*, I’ve been thinking a lot about culture at the moment.

The other big reason for thinking about culture is, of course, that the start-up I’m a co-founder of, Brilliant Noise, is growing and soon its culture will begin to evolve, or emerge, if you will.

You can’t design a culture – that would be weird. You have to cultivate it, I realise. Like lots of activities where emergence is important, you end up drawing on analogies about gardening.

We’re clear about the values that are important to us, we’re clear about the shape and texture of the culture that will emerge. The effort goes into making sure the conditions are right, the seeds are planted, the… well, you get the horticultural gist of it. 

I was reminded of this because of a post by Adam Tinworth about offices, called “Finding new windows to stare through”, that asks what the point of offices are when all our working tools and practices are very portable.

The office needs to adapt for a more democratic working age. It needs to woo us, win us back into its embrace for at least some of our time. It can no longer dictate to us the devices we use, but must accommodate those devices we choose to use to get the job done. It needs to be a place we want to spend time, not that we’re forced to visit.

The point of offices is, of course, intensity and quality of relationships and interactions with colleagues.

For certain kinds of work – writing, planning, thinking – I like to roam, to become semi-nomadic – coffee shops, libraries, my home. Other times I like to hole up in my attic office – this is usually for long-haul writing, or simply when I just need to be alone to get myself back on track.

But the office is where I want to be most of the time, where I want to return to, to re-connect with colleagues.

We’re in our first home at the moment, but even as a start-up we are prioritising things that make it nicer to be in the office.

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Image: Did I mention the importance of screens… 

Screens and chairs are the first things. Then coffee. And green tea. Then snacks and treats of sickeningly virtuous provenance (and low carbs) from Brighton’s hippie answer to Harrods Food Hall, Infinity Foods.

Soon I hope all sorts of other things will be possible – but it will be up to everyone what they are…

Probably the nicest thing about our office is the feeling that you don’t have to be there if you don’t want to be. You’re there by choice. Because you want to be in that place, with those people – both in terms of that’s where your job is and that is where you want to be doing that job on that day, at that time.

We had a rule early on that if you were in a mood and you wanted to grump about a bit, it was probably best to go and do that outside the office for a bit: have a walk, go for a chat in a coffeeshop, go back to bed, whatever…ZZ3A876527

Image: M’learned colleague, Jon – taking responsibility for his sun block

The phrase emerged: “be responsible for your own energy”. It’s a start-up and our office small space, for now, so you have to be especially mindful of the effect you have on the other people in the room.

I’ve always liked the idea of managing energy rather than time (the book on that subject by the way is The Power of Full Engagement). You’re in the office because you have the energy to be there, you have energy to bring to the space and the group.

If nothing else, I hope we can keep the weeds of presentee-ism out of our culture as the company grows. It’s a waste of energy…

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Image: M’learned colleague Maddy and I testing new company cars… 

* You probably know the Zappos story, and may well have read Delivering Happiness. If you haven’t, it’s defintiely worth it – there’s a lot to learn from it. It’s written in charming Californian, so remember to switch off the cynicism before you start reading… 

  • http://twitter.com/mcaino Matthew Cain

    It’s a nice idea but I’m fascinated to find out how it works in practice. 
    Our team worked from home during the Games as a contingency. At times it worked, but it didn’t work equally well for every project. 

    Often you need a certain colleague to be in the office in order to get your own project done. People unilaterally deciding that they aren’t required in the office (no matter how responsible they are) may not promote the most collaborative working. And yes, I know that it’s still possible to communicate whilst not there in person – but it’s never the same. 

  • amayfield

    It’s trial and error,  case by case, and all the rest, Matthew.

    We’re in the office most of the time when we’re in Brighton. It’s more that we know we don’t have to be all of the time, and that sometimes it is better to be out for a bit.

    I guess the fact that we all live in Brighton – a small city – helps. We can switch between home/coffee shop/office in the same day if needs be and if we are needed we can be there in half an hour at most.

    The other things we do are working to communicate a lot when we aren’t together and having a projects meeting / call every other morning to let each other know what we are up to, and what we need from each other to get things done.

    We’re a small, tight team at the moment. We’ve evolved these habits quickly – it will be interesting to see how it evolves.

  • timaldiss

    Jason looks like he’s a crash test dummy for the ‘invisible bicycle helmet’! 
    http://vimeo.com/43038579

  • Thomas Georgy

    Nice to see you updating your delicious feeds after months of inactivity.

  • amayfield

    Hi Thomas – Thanks and sorry for not replying sooner. I was posting at Diigo and syncing to Delicious, which I am doing again now, but stopped for a while.