I have clocked time in a lot of different workspaces. I worked in a factory assembling fuse boxes. I made sandwiches for drunk college kids in the basement of a dormitory. I kept order at a line dancing bar with a mechanical bull, and I designed printer software from inside a cubical. I’ve also worked at Bullhorn for over a decade. And no matter the place, I’ve noticed this: Every physical space influences the people, and the people create the work culture.
When I started at Bullhorn, I worked incessantly, striving to be the best at everything. I was critical of my work and the team’s work. By holding others to those standards, I was making Bullhorn a tough place to work.
Over a year ago, I returned from a sabbatical with less of an ego. I began thinking about what Bullhorn could become instead of the issues I was formerly forcing. And now it’s a new year: time to put my thoughts into action. And with a renewed sense of optimism and a vaccine around the corner, we are thinking about our space differently. What will it be like to come back to the office and be together? Or will we? 2020 brought a lot of change, and we are following its lead.
As with any new project, understanding the situation is a good starting place. I began by interviewing everyone at Bullhorn. We all shared the positives of working from home: flexible schedules, sweatpants, more efficient communication. We talked about the things we missed about being in the office together: in-person chats, camaraderie, better coffee.
After these productive conversations, it became clear that we needed to create flexible spaces for different working styles and job types. And within a place that feels comfortable and welcoming. There is a big difference between spaces that look creative versus spaces that foster creativity. Instagram and architecture blogs are full of photos of sparsely furnished offices with no people in them that look cool. But are those spaces actually enjoyable to work in? Do old factory floors covered in IKEA furniture make us more creative?
When researching how to build a space that fosters creativity, I came across the book Make Space by Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft. It’s full of advice and tactics for how to create collaborative spaces. And I borrowed heavily from it. When we finally return to the office, we need our spaces to adapt to how people work best. So some areas will be for collaboration. And other areas will be quieter, meant for solitary work.
Technology is already complicated enough, so we made it less cumbersome by getting all of our meetings and conference rooms into one system. We are installing large acoustic tiles to soften the overall noise and creating different areas in the office based on volume. We are building lockers so people have secure places for their personal items. We also purchased a variety of seating options (comfort is key). And we are keeping all of the plants.
My hope is that all these changes make the office better, not just different. Bullhorn needs to continue to be a place of belonging where new ideas and all people (and the occasional pet or kid) are welcome — a place where we can be vulnerable, fail, get back up, and do great work. By creating spaces that foster creativity and don’t just look creative, we will continue to build collaborative culture.