Creating Offices of the Future in Our Local Communities

SMART Technologies is almost 30 years old, and we’ve seen a lot of change during that time. We got our start in Calgary, Alberta, and Calgary is still home to our headquarters. The building we are in now is one that has also seen lots of changes. For example, our CEO Neil Gaydon and I recently located to the second floor of our five-story building into an open office where people are invited to come in and join us for informal conversations and networking. And in the Calgary office, we moved to a very open floor plan for our sales and marketing teams. The collaboration fostered by this type of work environment has been inspiring. While it can certainly get loud at times (we encourage work from home when needed), we’ve also witnessed amazing dialog and innovation come out of our newest floorplan.

It’s always exciting to see how changes in the office impact our business. Harvard Business Review published a piece that delves into the advantages and disadvantages of open floor spaces and the importance of privacy. The article, “Who Moved My Cube” does an excellent job summarizing the intricacies of these changes. As you can see, the offices vs. open space debate has been going for a while.

So a couple years ago when we were looking to expand our office presence to Seattle, we took a look at the research and endeavored to build offices of the future that people would thrive in. Planning a new facility is an exciting and eye-opening venture, so when we decided to open an office for a couple hundred people, our team had to start from the ground floor – no pun intended. Location was first order of business. All the normal stuff came into play here, close to transport, whether we should be on the east or west side of the lake, a sense of community, costs, etc.

And then it got really interesting. When we chose our location, which had dozens of private offices, the owners said, “Don’t worry. We’ll rip all the walls down and make it a big open space.” This caused us to pause. Seattle was going to be home to many of our R&D team. Technical folks that are doing a lot of thinking and programming and coding. We needed to ask ourselves what we really wanted or this office.

Certainly the load factor (number of people per sq ft) is greater in open space than offices, but for us the main driver was happy productive people. We knew that the Seattle team would need to be able to concentrate for long hours at a time. And we know that even a two-second disruption can lead to a doubling of errors according to research published in the Wall Street Journal. Since the majority of the people in this office was engineering staff, we decided to keep the individual offices. And then we put SMART kapp boards in the nooks and hallways and created some larger open spaces that people could work in – these were purposely not assigned to anyone.

Walking around in Seattle, you regularly see people sitting in these nooks collaborating and working together. The office is quiet when you first walk in because people are beavering away in their dens. If we were building it for marketing or sales people we would have done a completely different thing just like we did in Calgary.

In a nutshell, I recommend office designs that suited the roles our staff are filling and also included plenty of areas for informal meetings and collaboration.

I’m interested in hearing from others. What does your workplace look like and how might it look five years from now? One futuristic approach we’ve seen is at Plantronics. If you have a chance, check out our post on their innovative office space.

Warren Barkley
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About Warren Barkley

Warren Barkley is SMART's Chief Technology Officer. He brings over 19 years of technology experience and leadership. Over the last two years at SMART he has built a world class technology team, created a new product category with SMART kapp, and award winning education SAAS SMART amp. Prior to his current role, he served as General Manager in the Microsoft Lync/Skype division. Barkley held several key positions in Microsoft over his tenure and was instrumental in the development of Microsoft Lync as the communication and collaboration software of choice for Fortune 500 companies. At Microsoft he also played a central role in establishing WiFi as a worldwide standard. Barkley holds over 60 worldwide patents in networking, wireless and communications. Mr. Barkley has degrees from University of British Columbia and University of Victoria. Before his technology career Warren was a teacher and musician.