After years of working in a very open space at Holstee, we have become acutely aware of both the advantages and challenges to working in this type of environment. For six years running, our team has managed to work in open floor plans. Today we have 11 people spread across a relatively large, open room. We have no personal offices and one private conference room. And yes, sound travels like an opera house: tell a joke to someone in the kitchen and you might as well be telling the whole team. While not always ideal, this layout has as many opportunities for a versatile, collaborative space as it does for disruption and distraction from actually getting deep into one’s workflow. Over the years, we have tried many things to soften these challenges. We’ve done everything from wearing "focus hats" which were meant to indicate Let's talk later to having dedicated Get-Shit-Done Days where we all agreed to have no meetings, schedule no phone calls and even minimize how much we spoke to each other. We've even had people build personal focus-inducing forts.
After trying these and many more experiments, we eventually accumulated a handful of practices that have had staying power and made our space work better (though important to note, we are still far from perfect!).
Below is a short list of personal and team practices that have helped us to navigate the obvious challenges in hopes of creating the most enjoyable office culture possible.
Plan first, email second.
Encourage your team to not start their day by jumping into email. Email is reactionary and rarely sums up what’s actually important and can quickly disrupt what could have been a productive flow for the day. Rather, suggest your team to take at least the first 15 minutes of the day to identify what they most want to get done, and narrow it down to the 3-5 top goals. Then, if possible, share these goals every morning with each other, either in person or using a communication tool like Slack. This practice takes getting used to but once it becomes a habit, it will change the way your team approaches their daily work in a profound way.
Respect the flow.
If someone on your team seems to be in a deep focus mode, do everything possible to not disturb them. Of course there are always special circumstances, but most of the time you should wait. In the meantime, send an email or a message to request their time when they are at a good stopping point. And keep in mind, an unspoken rule in many work environments is that headphones often suggest that someone is (trying to be) in a good flow state. This practice alone will return you dividends of productive output.
Variable seating and workstations.
Rather than get caught up in purchasing the most ergonomically designed chairs, remember that sitting in the same position for too long, no matter how ergonomically sound, is not good for the body or mind, fact. At Holstee, we don’t have a huge space, but we have a small range of seating options and places we can work, whether it’s a classical office chair, an exercise ball, a small couch or standing tables. If this variable set up isn’t an option, then make sure your team knows you encourage them to get up and move frequently.
Create a stretchy culture.
Neck and shoulder pains are modern issues resulting from the way we work today. If people on your team are getting chronic neck and back pains, getting into any sort of meaningful flow can feel nearly impossible. Lead by example: once a day, invite others to join you to do simple stretches like moving your arms, shoulders and neck. It always feels funny at first, but I promise you others want to do the same, especially when they have been sitting still for several hours. The goal here is to create a culture where everyone feels comfortable getting up and stretching as often as needed, but it often requires someone to kickstart it. In order to get into a good flow, your mind and body need to be in a good place first.
The office is a resource, not a requirement.
Yes, having team members in the office more often means ideas move faster. However, if possible, you should give team members the option to embrace working outside the office once in a while. Your goal is not to make your team feel they are required to be in the office. Rather, it should be a resource that allows them to do their work as best as possible. When people are able to work from the places that are best for them, they will be be happier, more productive and bring better energy when they are present in the office.
Simplify and focus.
It’s easy to give praise to the folks on your team that have a laundry list of things they are trying to do at any given moment, but real productivity comes from giving absolute focus to the project at hand. Allow yourself and your team the space to to do this. Methods like the Pomodoro Technique help make the case for this very well. Having the freedom to get deep into a particular project can be difficult to establish but far more fulfilling and energizing than jumping from the surface of one task to the next.
Lastly, be conscious of the types of food you eat and make available for others. Limit the amount of surgery foods and you will reduce the crash and burn so many people feel towards the end of the day. Fruits and nuts and other unprocessed foods are always a win to keep you feeling energized. (Okay, as I write this i see we are also well stocked with Swiss chocolates, so I guess everything in moderation. But you get what I am saying.)
What am I missing from this list? I’d love to learn what you have done to create the best possible environment for your team?
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Michael Radparvar is a Cofounder of Holstee. Always one for brainstorming, snapping photos or cooking up a storm, you can likely find him riding his bike around Brooklyn or whipping up a batch of his signature hummus.
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