On office space

No, haven’t yet seen the movie, but considering the constant prodding of friends to do so, I’m likely to see it some day. What I will note, however, is that having (and enjoying) office space in downtown San Francisco seems an ironic luxury, specifically for me. When employed at a normal “job” — where it was expected that I be present in the office at least half the week — I found myself wanting to work from the comfort of home more often than not.

The building HotWired started leasing in 1996 was more than a cool place to work. Wide, open quadrants in a four-story SOMA warehouse, tall ceilings, exposed beams and columns, brick walls, massive skylights, industrial-grade steel staircases connecting each floor, conference rooms with brightly painted doors and walls to distinguish each from the others. Of course, with Wired roots, when any surface was painted, it was usually coated with the brightest fluorescent color money could buy. Our desks were simple doors on sawhorses. Pens and paper were hard to find in an office which embraced electronic publishing and resource conservation.

In the early days, the cool factor of working in the office stemmed from the tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm which permeated each floor. Experimentation was a way of life. Ideas flourished. HotWired was high on personality, creativity, and innovation. And very low on rules, process, and corporate cheerleading that plagued so many successive dot-coms several years later.

In latter years of my career at Wired, the office space slid downward in its desirability and enjoyment factors. The bright colors were still present, but didn’t seem as uplifting and edgy as they once did. The open design and casual atmosphere still greeted every person who walked in. But the feeling of emptiness in the space grew continually as a result of accelerated attrition and disgust with the corporate cheerleading introduced by our new parent company, Lycos. Multiple rounds of layoffs dealt continued blows to office morale. Shrinking budgets taught us those once-filled positions had permanently vanished, incapable of being replaced by anyone from the growing community of our nation’s job-seekers.

Though the joy of working in the office dropped considerably, it didn’t entirely cease to exist. The number of people working there had been steadily declining. But there were still interesting, incredibly smart, talented people coming into the San Francisco office on a regular basis. Working directly alongside each of them on various projects was always rewarding and inspiring.

Working in any office is not just about the environment, or the design of the chair one sits in (though physical factors can certainly make the office a more comfortable and enjoyable place to spend multiple hours of the day.) It’s also about the people with whom one gets to work. Good people make suboptimal work places more bearable, and possibly even pleasurable.

When I relaunched Stopdesign as a business late last year, out of practicality, I began working out of my apartment. Not long after leaving Wired, I started missing the energy from working and being around people all day long. I found myself constantly itching to get outside my apartment to work. I like quiet time alone as much as any person. But being so extremely independent was too much for me. I started going to cafes and public spaces to work, just to be around other people. I sought out comfortable spots in the city with open wifi and an array of food so I could camp out for hours at a time. Carry a small laptop, a power adapter, a mouse, and a phone, and you’ve got a mobile office that can go anywhere. That’s just what I did as I started out.

Fortunately for me, a close connection with the fine folks at Adaptive Path yielded an opportunity to pick up office space downtown. Well, it’s more like “desk space”. But it provides a means to help keep work somewhat separated from personal life. And it’s awesome. Not only is it located in the heart of downtown San Francisco with convenient access to public transportation and a multitude of shops and restaurants. [Ack, this sounds like an ad for an apartment.] Sharing office space with the partners of AP is a great experience. Good people. Their areas of expertise complement mine. And, of course, they know how to appreciate good design. So we get along well. Sometimes the office is bustling with people and energy. Other times it’s quiet and peaceful with just one or two people present. A nice mix keeps it interesting.

Having office space again… well, let’s just say I’m enjoying it.

About the author

Designer, advisor, father. Previously led design teams at Twitter, Google, and Wired. Giants fan. Deutsche lernen. Wanna-be runner.

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