How to decorate a new marketing department?
April 11, 2012 10:09 AM   Subscribe

How can I create an amazing work environment for my employees? Moving to a new building and I have a blank slate for office layout, design and decor.

I'm a senior at an online marketing company. My department is currently at 12; will grow to 45 in the next 2 years. Our corporate culture supports collaboration, free communication and open doors. Our unofficial motto is "We work hard and we play hard."

My company is moving to a new building and the owner has asked me to provide a floor plan, furnishings, etc.

My group handles all marketing including SEO, ad creation, advertising, copywriting, ecommerce optimization, etc. I want to create a fun, vibrant setting to stimulate communication and great ideas.

What's important to you? What stands out in your own workplaces, good and bad? I'm particularly interested in decorating and design, but other ideas like "A basket of toys in the conference room" are welcome too.

Bonus: tell me where to look for ideas?

Thanks in advance for your help with this.
posted by honkeoki to Work & Money (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Open doors are fine, but please, please, please give every employee a door. Nothing like being stuck in a cube 6 feet from someone who natters all day, clips their fingernails, and sings along to the radio.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2012 [13 favorites]

Something I saw in another office building that always struck me as a good idea:

If you're going to have a big open-floor plan, with no "offices with closed doors", try tucking a couple of small rooms with doors-you-can-close and a phone and a desk here and there on the floor anyway. Those rooms won't be for someone's office -- they're for anyone to use if they have to deal with something that's kind of private and personal (i.e., they need to call their doctor for the results of their mammogram, etc.). I get the idea behind having open floors and no closed-doors, but you don't want everyone to overhear you if you need to call the doctor about your VD test, you know?

My current office also has a "lactation room," which is a small room with a lockable door, and no windows, for nursing mothers.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:16 AM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Natural light, natural light, natural light. Make sure there is natural light, and decorate/design in such a way to make sure it gets everywhere.
Ensure you have enough conference rooms.
Walls should either (a) have lots of whiteboard space or (b) be conducive to tacking up in-progress sketches and work for collaboration.
Make arrangements for things like parking and bike storage. Also you need closets for people to hang up their stinky wet jackets out of sight.
Dishwasher in the kitchen. Those coffee makers that are automatically hooked up to water sources with perpetual hot water are great too.
Have an eating area for people to sit and communally eat their lunches. Get a newspaper or topical magazine subscription and have them at the lunch table.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:17 AM on April 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Free communication and open doors are lovely, but make sure that there is some way for people to have *quiet* while they are working if they want that.

Provide some privacy - a la phonebooths - so everyone else doesn't have to listen to one's juicy phonecalls to one's lawyer, doctor, vet, ... Actual phonebooths (minus phones) would be cute, but teensy 1-2 person conference/1:1 rooms would also work.
posted by janell at 10:17 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

All conference/meeting/war rooms should have a screen to use for presentations. Otherwise the one room with a screen, or portable projector will always be fought over. Also reduces printing costs when you can present digitally.

Lots of whiteboards. Lots of markers.

Seating could be arranged by project teams or by domain (all copywriters sit near each other, etc). I prefer project teams but it depends on how often those change in your company.

We have desks with lockable compartments, which I don't usually need to use but its nice to have if I need to leave an iPad or something at my desk overnight. Also if you have cubes, think about getting the kind with the low walls. The tall ones make me feel like I'm working at Innotech.

Plants go a long way to making having to be inside more tolerable. So do nice paint colors on the wall. Encourage employees to personalize their spaces.
posted by halseyaa at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2012

Also, we just converted to compressed extra-tiny cubicles, but one of the things that makes it more tolerable is desks that adjust up/down (with up/down buttons, a motor, and a height display) so we can transition from working seated to standing to (don't tell the ergonomist) slouching.
posted by janell at 10:21 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bonus: tell me where to look for ideas?

Your employees, for one. Having a staff meeting facilitated by an office design expert and/or an expert in ergonomics will be the best investment you ever made.

At one of the universities where I was an administrator, the staff wasn't consulted at all on the workspace design, and it was totally unsuited to their needs. We had to do a revamp and this time the architect insisted on surveying the staff in order to get it right.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:22 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Give employees the options for standing desks, and create an atmosphere of flexibility where they can take little walks a few times a day.

I do half field work where I am on my feet all day, and half being a computer desk slug. When I go back into the office, sitting all day in those computer chairs, staring at a screen, REALLY sends my morale plummeting to the ground. I come up with all sorts of reasons to get up and move around and often stand in the back of the room at meetings. I really do feel like a gross slug when I have to sit for 8 hours to type up my reports and it has a huge impact on my productivity because I hate it so much.
posted by cakebatter at 10:26 AM on April 11, 2012

My last office had a row of enclaves in a central location - small glass-walled rooms with sliding doors, and a phone/table/chairs/whiteboard/wall-mounted monitor. They couldn't be reserved like meeting rooms, they are meant for when you need to go have a mostly-private phone conversation or a quick meeting, or whatever. This is how they addressed the privacy issue in cubicle-ville.
posted by lizbunny at 10:27 AM on April 11, 2012

Offices with doors. Offices with doors. Offices with doors.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:28 AM on April 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Our unofficial motto is "We work hard and we play hard."

Just so you know, a lot of people interpret this as, "you will be expected to go out drinking with your coworkers late into the night all the time rather than having your evenings to yourself." If that's what you mean, then fine, but if you mean something more like, "we work hard, but sometimes a Nerf gun war breaks out or we play ping-pong," you might want to think of a different motto.

And yes, I think this sort of communication issue directly affects the work environment that employees will perceive.
posted by rkent at 10:30 AM on April 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, offices where people are welcome to bring their well behaved dogs in are the BEST. My sister brings her well mannered, sleepy, great dane in to work everyday. She then stays at work for 10 or 11 hours, takes the dog for a walk at lunch, and people stop by her office for a few minutes when they want a happy break. Having animals around is relaxing and people don't want to rush home to be with their pets and are instead happy to stay around work.
posted by cakebatter at 10:32 AM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Color! All of the big columns in our building are painted a bright color (yellow, pink, blue). Our cubicles have tainted plastic windows (not really sure how to explain) that match the column colors. They also match our company logo colors. There's a LOT of color in our office. It's great!

Also, we have really comfy couches placed in various places throughout the building that are really comfortable and are pretty as well. And some of the furniture in our conference rooms and people's offices is also colorful and goes along with the rest of the company colors.
posted by carmel at 10:32 AM on April 11, 2012

Can you maybe do an (informal, anonymous) survey to see what portion of people prefer offices/cubes/high-walled vs low-walled cubes etc.? This will also help you figure out what you're forgetting to think about.

I've worked in open-plan no-cube offices, and it worked well in one place where not many of us needed to talk on the phone very much, and it was just the culture of the place that people were quiet. Another department in the same company, though, was much chattier and their work was more collaborative in nature - fortunately, their open-space office was entirely separate from ours.

Your copywriters, for instance, may prefer to work without being surrounded by talking all the time, whereas some other team prefers to be able to talk across desks to each other. If you put these two teams in one space they might kill each other. Or not. But ask them!
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on April 11, 2012

I am guessing that with your mantra and field combined with the small size of your group that your average age of worker is quite low. With the greying work force as well as your projected growth you should consider the needs of older workers. Older workers are often less tolerant of interruption, more sensitive to temp fluctuations and require more ergonomic options to be happiest.

Allow me to suggest one option that helps with an older workforce.

Individually controlled radiant heat panels. If you plan to have drop ceilings overhead lay in is a great choice. If not an under desk option is greatly appreciated as well. Make a point to give people access to a thermostat controlling these and they will tolerate lower room air temps. This can save you money on HVAC and increase happiness. A very rare situation in Facilities Management.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 10:43 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh my god. Please make sure there is adequate ventilation from the restrooms, and make sure that whichever poor unfortunate soul's desk/office/cubicle is nearest to the restroom has another source of ventilation. There is nothing NO NOTHING NOTHING I TELL YOU worse than being the first person to know, every single goddamn day, when someone has eaten something for lunch that did not agree with them. NOTHING.

oh god the horror
posted by elizardbits at 10:47 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

i am nthing offices with doors, if it's feasible. i have one coworker who sits right next to me who talks to himself all day long. i mean it. all day. about nothing in particular. (oh! let's start this test! oh! the test is failing! let's see why that is, shall we, mr. machine?) 3/4 of the time, i want to strangle him, or drop a machine on his head from a great height.

the guy sitting next to him makes the rounds every single day, meaning he walks around and around and around all our cubes and makes chatty small talk for x number of minutes. this is incredibly distracting as i'm usually on some kind of deadline. then he makes it to the guy next to me, and they talk for hours. it causes me endless amounts of annoyance, because i just don't care about anything he's babbling on about and would rather do my work and go home to the person and cats i love.

if it's not feasible, i'm also nthing private rooms for phone calls and for a quiet work environment when needed. also, please put enough conference rooms for all 45 people to be able to conceivably get one for a meeting, and if someone takes a time for a recurring meeting, ping them once in a while to make sure they still need the room. this is a major problem at the corporation i work at - no one can get a room when they need it, yet there are so many meetings scheduled that no one ever shows up for.
posted by koroshiya at 10:48 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh yes and re: the above conference room thing - ideally you should have two conference rooms - one huge one that can house everyone if necessary, and a smaller one that can fit ~25% of your daily staff.
posted by elizardbits at 10:55 AM on April 11, 2012

I have extensive training and experience in participatory design. If your existing work style is collaborative then a collaborative approach is worth considering. No one here can do more than offer great suggestions. Listen to your group since they are the ones directly involved.

If nothing else, giving everyone a voice and soliciting ideas can lead you to a solution that addresses the needs of your group. Often the folks doing a task are the experts. Everything from workflow to noise to glare to adjacencies can be considered. Not everything is doable, but open it up to group discussions of trade-offs. Even as personnel change over time, your current workforce is acting as proxy.

Engaging everyone from janitorial to head honcho will give worthwhile insight. Plus, it's a wonderful way to form additional cohesion amongst your group. I could write reams about this topic as it's one of the least utilized in design, which is frustrating since there's tremendous payoff in the final design.
posted by mightshould at 11:01 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you'd be best off hiring an office design consultant or interior designer or architect to solve these issues.
posted by suedehead at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Instead of "fun," think about what's comfortable and useful. All the foosball tables and posters in the world won't help if your employees are inconvenienced or annoyed.

I currently work in a building that isn't particularly user-friendly, and here are some of the things I miss:

- Kitchen sinks. We either have to wash our cups and utensils in the bathroom or use disposables.
- Windows. If I want to figure out if it's raining, or if the sun's gone down, I have to walk a hundred feet. This makes more of a difference than you can imagine.
- Visible name signs on all of the conference rooms. Visible nameplates on everyone's cube/desk.
- Cubes/desks/computer setups that can be easily rearranged. My desk faces a wall, with my back to my coworkers, because that's the way my cube was originally set up and they can't change it without taking the whole thing apart.
- Highish cube walls (not ultra high, but to the top of my monitor would be nice). Partly for privacy, partly because I pin a ton of information to my cube walls where I can find it at a glance.

People differ wildly on the silent vs. chatty office issue; my own preference changes from day to day. Whichever you offer, set up an area for people to do the opposite. If you have a chatty Nerf-gunning office, set up a few quiet rooms that people can easily take their laptop to and set up. If it's quiet, have a chatting-encouraged break room.

And I nth the need for phone rooms with closing doors. I was at work when I got the call that my dad had passed away, and thank goodness I had somewhere to go.

If you haven't already, you should absolutely ask for input from your team. Send out a survey and/or hold a brainstorming meeting. They're the ones who have to be there all day, and their opinions will be the most valuable.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2012

Doors, private offices, and soundproofing. Whether the person next to you talks to themselves all day long, bugs you for every little thing, or just annoys the crap out of you (or wait, all 3, for me!), the option for privacy is really important for some (many?) of us.

Make sure there are enough bathrooms and that no office is super-far from one (although as elizardbits mentioned, don't put anyone too close to the bathroom either!).
posted by radioamy at 11:21 AM on April 11, 2012

This might sound obvious, but make sure all the construction is done before you move in! I have been working for almost a year in a building that is undergoing a major renovation (it was supposed to be 6 months, ha ha) and it is a noisy, pain-in-the-ass morale killer.
posted by radioamy at 11:22 AM on April 11, 2012

Kitchenette/break room in a sunny corner so people will actually want to hang out there. Nice furniture and greenery make it comfortable.
Double sink and dishwasher, 2 microwaves, fridge.
A set of dishes, mugs and cutlery in the kitchen for everyone to use. You keep the dishes clean with an incentive - signature sheet for unloading/loading dishes, and a monthly draw.
posted by lizbunny at 11:26 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

From my experience in an open floor plan at a big company:

If the office will be open and noisy, white noise will help. You won't hear it after about ten minutes on the first day. Please make sure people have an out of the way place to hang their coats, because open concept floor plans can overlook this very real need and hanging coats on chairs is a disaster.

And always have a giant bucket with swag magnets. No one ever has enough magnets in the office.
posted by lstanley at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2012

Doors on offices that close for everyone to work in. Open meeting areas are great. Conference rooms are great. Group working spaces are fabulous, but adult professionals should have a private, personal space to work.

Have adequate storage so that no person ever has to store archived files or office supplies or excess equipment in their office.

Have a break room that is cleaned by janitorial staff daily. Include in it a full-size refrigerator and pay for janitorial services to empty and clean it once a month. Free coffee/tea. A lunchroom, so people don't lunch in the group workspaces or have to eat at their desks when there isn't time (or good weather) to leave.

Do the bathrooms like posh department stores do, not like airports do. Make sure the stalls are solid, so the doors don't swing open unexpectedly when someone else opens or closes a stall. Have sufficient counterspace around the individual sinks so it's not too crowded when one of your coworkers is brushing her teeth or making up her face and you just want to wash your hands.

Have a nice (private access would be a bonus) outdoor space or atrium space so people can work in natural light. If it's outdoors and you can get your wireless to reach it, that's extra awesome.

Adequate bike storage. My office charges for covered bike parking and there isn't enough of it anyway. The racks near the building are always too full and the admin bitches at me whenever I have to bring my bike inside because there's nowhere to lock it up. Showers are nice, but maybe overkill.

Allow people to choose the paint for their walls. If you can't have natural light in people's offices, ditch the overhead fluorescents for task lighting.

Plants. Get a service that places and cares for office plants. Or aquaria.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:01 PM on April 11, 2012

If your people are mostly on laptops, giving them work spaces where they can easily drift and congregate is a blessing.

I work on a laptop in my office, and I move around depending on my needs and desires -- either from my desk in the "designer's loft" (which is an open workspace), downstairs in the "think-tank" with the door closed when I need privacy, outside on the porch when I want to enjoy the day, or in my boss' office when we need to pow-wow. Good wi-fi and lots of chairs and flat surfaces obviously helps here.
posted by Wossname at 2:12 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a new mom, I highly second the suggestion of a lactation room. As I type, I am in some random office pumping, because the guy whose office I normally use is in today. What a P.I.T.A to have to schlep my pumping gear all over the building to find some privacy.

Oh, and if I had my way, I would actually put in two rooms - one that is quiet and relaxing, but another that is a functioning office, with a phone and a computer anyone can log on to. It takes me a long time to pump, and I don't like being in rooms where I cannot work during that time. I don't want to explain to my boss why my personal (but protected by law) business caused my production to be down for the day. I just want to get my job done, while I am getting my other job done.
posted by vignettist at 3:17 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

By the way, a long time back, Joel on Software had a really good description of the hows and whys of when he built out his new office.
posted by vignettist at 3:19 PM on April 11, 2012

Windows that open.
Adequate ventilation.
Control of temperature.
Window shades that work.
A lunch room: with tables/chairs, a sink, a microwave, a toaster oven, a coffee maker, a fridge, and a good system to keep it clean.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:34 PM on April 11, 2012

If you're interested, Here's a book that gives a good summary of designing with user participation. it's by Henry Sanoff who wrote several books on simple techniques you can use to gain group input in making design decisions. I've found the techniques of consensus building to be highly effective and it's rewarding when the group helps you achieve the outcome.
posted by mightshould at 3:48 PM on April 11, 2012

Here's and here's Joel on software's take that vignettist was referring to.
posted by spbmp at 8:11 PM on April 11, 2012

Temperature control is huge. I realized that rang true for me when reading this today.

And for some reason having a toaster oven is an amazingly happy thing compared to a microwave--crispy lunch!

You might even consult with your company's lawyer to see if there are any things you can do to make your liability insurance (or whatnot) lower, ie:extra safety precautions above the standards.

A little thing: I also really liked having my own recycle bin. If every desk gets a trashcan, they should get a paper recycle bin--but also enough space for it under their desks.
posted by manicure12 at 10:19 PM on April 11, 2012

Don't wall off the windows with offices for senior staff. Natural light & the ability to see the weather makes a big difference. Noise, temperature, lighting, ventilation are all critical, and all things that people get cranky over.

Make it not just possible, but easy, and encouraged, for people to personalize their office - rug, pictures, curtain, etc. I wish I had a big pegboard and a big corkboard for all the crap I need to use to stay organized.
posted by theora55 at 7:33 PM on April 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks to all for these responses!
posted by honkeoki at 6:50 AM on April 13, 2012

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