Agile office space
By Adil Wali , 3rd Apr 2010

I had a remarkably interesting week.  First of all, I realized that we needed an office space last month here in San Francisco.  (At ModCloth speed, we need everything last month!)  With the rate at which we are planning to hire, it’s critical that we find a solid space that suits our needs today and gives us a tiny bit of room to grow.

But the more exciting part, of course, is thinking about how to design the space.  I think that workplace design is easy to overlook.  By that, I mean that people won’t give it the attention it deserves.  Of course, they’ll buy furniture, they’ll go through the motions.. but they won’t REALLY THINK ABOUT IT.

That’s what I am trying to avoid when I think about building out our San Francisco office.  In the end, a lot of life boils down to ‘user experience.’  Whether you are shopping on the web, playing golf at a well-designed course, or sitting down at your desk to get some work done, someone SHOULD have thought through your experience and worked to to make it pleasurable and easier.

I guess that someone is me.  Given the urgent timeframe, it’s up to me to get smart about this really quickly.  So here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Collaboration is of critical importance to any creative organization, ours included.
  • Most workspaces don’t REALLY center around collaboration.
  • People especially don’t think about the realities of human nature.
  • Furthermore people don’t think about the ‘little things’ that drive usability, or lack thereof.
  • Form is important, but function is more important in a space that people work for 8 or more hours each day.
  • We want to promote an atmosphere of collaboration as well as distraction-free work, somehow at the same time.

We’ll have a variety of roles at work at our San Francisco office:

  • Marketing
  • UX Design
  • Graphic Design
  • Product Management
  • Engineering
  • Administrative

It feels to me like most of the people in the workplace will be collaborating in others in cross-functional teams.  If not all the time, then people will be working in teams for at least some part of their day.

How do we effectively promote that kind of work?  What we really want in these collaborative workspaces is for people to be able to work in close proximity and to share what they are working on with other people when that’s useful.  At some point, their teammates and colleagues will want to share back.  But the whole day won’t be sharing.  Just the times that need that collaboration.  (Unless, of course, they are engineers doing full-time pairing — but we’ll come back to that.)

In an ideal world, people would even be able to seamlessly collaborate on the same workstation from time-to-time — using different sets of mice and keyboards to drive the same machine.  This way, they can all collaborate in real-time on something.

But once a shared understanding has been built within the cross-functional team, it’s likely that people will need to do some heads-down (distraction free) work on their own.  Working in a group-setting all day would make it nearly impossible to actually get anything done.  So they’d need the ability to get into the zone and focus somehow.   Does that happen somewhere other than the collaborative space?  In other words, can people move from a private place to a more collaborative space throughout the workday?  Possibly.

So what does that workspace look like?   Well… that’s what I am trying to figure out.  Would love insight from others.  I’ll continue this thread in another post soon…

About the Author

Hi, I’m Adil Wali. I became a Microsoft certified professional at age 14 and started my first web development company. That led to a career as a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and startup investor. I got my first “real job” at 33, and I’m now a FinTech executive with a passion for the markets.