What do your offices say about your business?

Big Red Car here.  Hey, ya’ll, it’s a great day in the ATX.  It’s 61F headed to 72F and sunny, sunny, sunny.  Ahh, on Earth as it is in Texas.

So The Boss was in NYC and Philadelphia last week visiting with some of his CEOs — brilliant all — and few Venture Capitalist friends.

A week very well spent.

The nature of office space

The Boss had been a big time office building builder and renovator/adaptive reuser/restorer back in the day.  He also owned a lot of suburban office buildings and office-showroom space.  Millions of square feet of these products.

The Boss loves office buildings.  They were his mistresses once upon a time.  Lovely, fragrant, lithe and sexy mistresses.  Expensive damn mistresses to be sure.

You may recognize this little jewel — One American Center, completed in 1984 — at the corner of Sixth and Congress in Austin by God Texas.  About half a million square feet of offices in this building.

When you are in this line of work, you build the building and then you finish out offices for your tenants.  The offices are finished out to their specifications but with an eye toward utility in case the tenant fails and you have to re-lease the space to another tenant.

You learn a lot about the design of office space and how it changes over time.

Office design

Office design has changed more than a bit over the last three decades.  Offices were much bigger, more private, circulation space more generous, public spaces grander, file spaces larger and rents lower.

With the advent of higher rents and the use of technology, office spaces have become more compact and efficient.  While lawyers still insist on having physical law libraries, as an example, almost all legal research is done digitally these days.  A law library these days is an affectation, perhaps?

Almost all files are really kept digitally and the retention time of paper files, if any, has become much shorter.  That does not mean they do not exist, just that tenants have a tendency to move them to storage space more quickly.  And why the Hell not, remote storage space is much cheaper than office space.

In addition, the ratio between support staff and principals of any business has decreased — less support staff and more staff sharing.

Financial support staff is almost completely in cubicles thus further reducing the demand for office space.  Same number of folks, smaller space requirement.

The New Look

Modern offices are often designed around the mission and values of the company particularly when the tenant is involved in businesses which use technology, create technology or are Internet driven.  There is a certain identifiable New Look.

The New Look is much more transparent with public facing partitions likely to be glass.  You may preach transparency and accessibility but nothing says it like being able to see what the principals are doing because their public facing walls are glass.  [Also introduces natural light into the core spaces.]

The core spaces are likely to be cubicles which are becoming smaller and smaller and really just a workstation built around a computer.  This bullpen approach is often decried as being de-personalizing but it is also a powerful driver of collaboration.  It is an “eat your vegetables” notion.

Do not overlook the ability to reconfigure and grow office space and support uses by the flexibility provided by cubicles particularly cubicles which are organized by discipline — all the software engineers in one area, the accountants in another, the customer facing folks in another and so on.

Real world

So last week, The Boss is in New York and Philadelphia and has a chance to visit a couple of his CEO clients at their businesses and a couple of his VC friends — new and old.  Nothing but great meetings and lunches and breakfasts and coffees.  Ahh, this is the life.

At one of his CEO clients’ business, you could absolutely feel the buzz of efficiency and prosperity.  The Big Dogs had their offices along an interior wall with the Folks’ work stations between the outer wall and the Big Dogs.

The space was huge — even Peyton Manning could not have thrown the deep ball in that cavernous and high ceiling space — and the growth dynamic could be felt with the space to expand clear and obvious.

They had a nice reception area with some “trinkets” — exemplars of their business — and a conference room.  They also had an adjoining kitchen stocked with everything but panna cotta, replete with several Keurig machines and an inventory of coffee that would do Costco right.

They had a spotless attached warehouse, a retail store and a video set up.  These guys are insane video marketers for their eCommerce business which is growing at an astronomical rate.

When you looked at their business, you could feel its successful vibe.

Venture Capitalists

The Boss went over to see Fred Wilson at USV and then down to Philadelphia to swap stories with Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital.  [Big Red Rule — The Big Red Car never, ever reveals a conversation between The Boss and anyone but will report on stuff you could see if you were in the public spaces of an office.  The Boss is funny like that.  Confidentiality is his calling card.  Sorry.]

The USV offices are up on a very high floor with a view of San Antonio.   [Just kidding, ya’ll.  They’re in NYC and you can’t really see all the way to San Antone but maybe, on a clear day………  STFU, Big Red Car.]

The offices are crisp, clean and open.  Big Dogs along the windows, natural light everywhere.  Big conference room with lots of technology for use, drain on the conference room floor to quickly drain off the blood?  [Kidding, actually.  Promise.  Big Red Car, WTF?]

Huge event space which given NYC rents is quite unique.  Great sunset views out to the West.

You are left with the impression that these guys are professional, efficient and smooth.  Very well done.

The Boss and Fred had a very nice chat for the better part of a couple of hours and solved almost half of the world’s problems.  [Would have solved a few more but Fred kept getting interrupted by calls from a guy named “Barack” about some crappy website the guy was trying to fix.  WTF, Big Red Car?]

Howard Lindzon was in town and Fred, Howard and The Boss chatted for a few minutes.  Lovely time, indeed.  [Pro tip:  You think Fred Wilson is giving the world a head fake?  This is the dividend for AVC.com — he has created a salon of friends who are constantly pimping for him.  Nice thing — it’s real.]

The Boss went down to Philadelphia to meet with a few folks including Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital.  Bit of networking for the fellows.  First Round Capital is down hill from Penn so all the good ideas roll down the hill and end up in Josh’s office.  Damn nice guy.

His space is one part offices — crisp, clean, well organized and efficient — one part incubator space and one part event space.  Very well done in an outstanding building with more than a bit of character.  Tall ceilings — basketball court tall — with lots of exposed red brick.  Real architectural character.  Very conducive to conversation, exchange of ideas and a sense of “today”.

Josh is a guy who has a natural smile, a great story and a ready wit.  The Boss’s kind of guy.  Nice chat.

The Boss has been in a lot of VC offices through the years and both of these firms exemplify what is best about the current tech minimalist working spaces — open, transparent, democratic, accessible, crisp.  Lean, agile and fresh.  Eating their own dog food?

And both with a bit of something extra which can be used to propel their businesses in the right direction.

If you walked in off the street each of these three office environments would make you want to linger.  Not a bad end result.

So, what do YOUR offices say about your business?  Do they demonstrate the values of your company?

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.

 

  • On the same route Jlm but started in Boston. What a country!

    • JLM

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      What a time to be alive particularly for guys like us who have seen the entire spectrum of change.

      Stay well and keep crushing it with Garden Design.

      BRC
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