Technology has radically changed our relationship with the physical spaces we occupy. People can work from home, shop while at work, respond to a customer while vacationing on a beach.
The challenge is that it has led us to misunderstand the role that space plays in shaping focus and attention.
The truth is, space provides key guidance to our brains. If we want to be focused and productive, it's vital that we deeply consider the function and form of the spaces in which we accomplish our work.
A view of "The Mothership", a redesign of the office space for ShowIt.
Others recognize its importance, but misunderstand the message. Leaders that require their people to work 'from the office' often do so because of the importance of culture.
However, if they do not design the space in a way that makes it truly superior for the work the team does (and often its literally the hardest place for them to get work done), then the message communicated is not exactly culture-building.
Simply forcing people to lose time with a commute, to end up in a place where interruptions are frequent is not a path toward increased productivity.
Designing a space that connects us more deeply to the work that matters may look less efficient, at first glance, than an undifferentiated open floor plan—but the rewards are significant.
What does it look like to build a workspace with intention? Today we're looking at one example, spearheaded by Todd Watson, CEO of Showit, an online software tool that helps creatives make bespoke websites.
The result of a collaboration between the Showit team and a local muralist, this office design was built to emphasize the creative compass of the company and reflect the passions of their employees, in order to inspire their continued work.
I asked Todd to share some of his process to create this space, and what it has done for his company and his team.
Note the detailed touches, such as the lit "wiring" on the ceiling.
What was the motivation behind creating such a unique space, and who was involved?
Todd Watson: For us, we really wanted to enjoy our workspace. We knew that building a space that connects with what we enjoy is also gonna connect with the team that we're building.
We felt like it was worth investing time and energy into creating something, so that anybody that walked in and connects with that would have that same sense of, “Oh, this is where I want to be.”
All our employees were involved in the process, and it was fun because we got to brainstorm different sections. All of the ideas came from our team talking about what would make the spaceship our spaceship.
We wanted a space where people get together and this was kind of where everyone joined up, where we had our team meetings, where we work for pieces of the day.
When you think about the The Mothership and what it means to your company, what comes to mind?
Watson: It's definitely one of those things that you walk in and you go, “Whoa, this is crazy.” A lot of our customers have heard about it, it's a little bit of a rite of passage.
We spent quite a few years building our company here in this space. This feels like our garage. It definitely has that fond memory of when it was just a couple of guys that tried to make something happen.
Now we have 30 or so employees, so it's a different season for the company but, we still have those memories of just a few guys building out something.
I know you had to change your space recently. What is happening with The Mothership now? How did it affect your move?
Watson: We simply outgrew The Mothership, but we still maintain it. We converted it into more of a theater/game room. It's still a part of our company even though this isn't the day-to-day where we work anymore.
[The Mothership experience] actually made it a lot harder to find new space. It's like "well, I'm not moving out for just a Dunder-Mifflin office". It was just hard to see going somewhere if it wasn't gonna be really cool.
We've brought a few throwbacks to The Mothership into the new space. We even commissioned the same muralist to do a big painting of outer space in our conference room.
We also designed some photographs that have our robot mascot built in to classic photos. Like Einstein riding a bike. The robot's in the background. Or the guy landing on the moon. There's our robot in the background.
I think it's a fun way to make the space still look clean and classy but have this personal touch of fun in it. There's lots of ways you can do that.
What effects have you seen on your employees? How do the spaces you occupy affect productivity?
Watson: Whenever we talk about productivity, the piece that makes someone most productive is when they feel engaged; when they feel valued in what they're doing.
And so, when you add elements that feel like we provide the framework for feeling that engagement, I do feel like people respond with a lot more engagement and a lot more productivity.
We don't do measurements of putting them in one room or another and see how well they do, but I get that sense from the ownership.
We have very low turnover, and a lot of that comes from just that culture that we've built within the team. From a long-term perspective, it's fun to see how many people stick around and keep at it because of the culture we've built in the spaces we use.
Do you think The Mothership has helped shape your company’s focus on what you want to do? Why do you think it is important for creative spaces to look more creative?
Watson: Our company has always been very community-focused. When I say we're part of the photography industry, we've definitely been very much invested in not just advertising, but being a part of hosting and building that community.
With that, I think shaping The Mothership gave an insight into what that means.
I think it's important to invest in an artist to create the space. Then there's a little bit of a story behind it, and it becomes part of the culture. Instead of just having a poster on the wall or something like that, art that's built into the space says what we're really about.
I think this translates to any company that is looking at how to design space. Taking that extra effort. Art changes the atmosphere and the excitement that someone can have in a space. Understanding what they're a part of.
Physical features such as the window were carefully integrated into the design.
What is your biggest takeaway from all you have done in building your space?
Watson: I think the intentional personalization is the thing that sticks out to me. Especially when I've visited other spaces and then looking at how we want to do that for our own space.
There is an amount of wanting an office to feel clean and good and comfortable, but also provide a little bit more.
For the team to be able to collaborate on something makes it unifying—that they're part of creating some kind of art; makes it feel like theirs, and not just sterile.
Any final takeaways or ideas that you think others building creative spaces should know?
Watson: When we first built [The Mothership], a lot of times it was just something that made us smile. I think that was the fun thing when it was done, it was not necessarily that it accomplished something but that it really brought joy.
And to be a part of something like that, that we created, I think that comes back to even what we do in our business.
We look back at the software that we've created, we can be proud of that just because it's something that we got to do together. There's part of creating a space that does that.