Entering a New Era of Work with Out of Office
We recently had the opportunity to get to know Richard Banfield, CEO of Out of Office, a work spaces that has the amenities your business needs, whether you are a solo worker or a rapidly growing team. More than anything, Out of Office was born out of a personal need to adapt to the future of work & the unique ways employees are now able to show up to the “office.”
Richard and his team have worked hard to redefine what it means to clock in for the day and have critically developed a home away from home for remote workers to thrive. Read on to learn about the growing need for flexibility in work, the freedom that comes from acknowledging these changes, and where he thinks the future of work is headed.
We really love this Medium post where you spoke about how your design firm’s move brought on the coworking space Out of Office. Can you speak more on the change from being a distributed team to wanting a flexible work hub? Why weren’t coffee shops working out?
As a product design firm, we’d been operating out of traditional office spaces for almost a decade. Over time things started to change in our business. In an era of customer-centric design, we found we were visiting our clients in their locations, and they weren’t coming to our studio. When we made the decision to be distributed about 18 months ago, there was some anxiety. We were worried we might miss each other’s company. After a few months of working remotely, that is exactly what we discovered— we missed each other. Coffee shops and libraries are okay for short visits or checking email, but they're not ideal for collaborative work, like product design.
Can you tell us more about what prompted the decision for your design team to move towards remote work? We’re seeing more teams choose this flexibility for sure.
The decision to be a distributed team was prompted by two things: our interactions with clients and growing up. As mentioned, our client collaborations were happening on-site at their locations and less in our own studio. Growing up was seeing our team members go from being young and single to being married with kids. That meant a lot of our team were moving out of small city apartments and into the suburbs. Long commutes, daycare schedules, and the reality that once you have kids, things don’t always go as planned meant that the flexibility of working from home was a priority for most of us.
Does your team work remotely or do you find them using the space more often?
Both. Several of our team is out of state or too far to drive each day. Working in the Out Of Office space wouldn’t be possible for those people. However, the people that are close enough use the coworking space regularly. I’ve also noticed an increase in the number of client visits, which is little surprising considering the trend that client’s preferred us to visit them.
It’s worth noting that I don’t think that working in an office, working from home, or coworking are mutually exclusive. Many people will do all three, sometimes even in a single day. If I’m writing a new book, I’ll want to be closeted up in a quiet room, but if I’m running a design workshop I’d prefer a big space with lots of room to move. There’s a time and a place for all types of work spaces.
How would you describe the culture of Out of Office? And those who work there?
Scrappy. It’s not unusual to catch us on our hands and knees assembling furniture or installing a new security system. But come back an hour later and we’re neck deep in a spreadsheet or updating software. In general, we all have a highly developed sense of responsibility but we’re also just as likely to join a mid-morning wine tasting hosted by our members who import delicious olive oil and wine.
Tell us about leading Fresh Tilled Soil. What sort of projects inspire you?
The projects with the most challenging user experience problems are definitely my favorite. We’ve been working with some complex problems that will have a positive impact on the world around us. For example, working with a tech partner, we just designed a solution that will allow the Rainforest Alliance the ability to track the authenticity of wood pulp origins using Blockchain technology.
And do you see any similar design thinking come into play with the space?
Designing the coworking space has been an exercise in experience design. Instead of leaving the experience to chance, we’ve given every touch point some consideration. Using design thinking principles, we did a lot of “what if” and “how would we” design exercises to determine what the best experience might be. What will you see when you first walk into the space? What will it smell like? Who will be there to check you in, or would you prefer to interact with some sort of technology? Will there be a seating option that suits your work style? What if you bring a guest?
We’ve even used the prototyping mentality to test different experiences. We’ll stage three or four offices in different styles, and then see which ones get the most “oohs and aahs”. Next up is a gastronomic experiment. We’re working with local restaurants to experiment with Grab & Go options in our kitchen. Instead of using some big corporate to fill vending machines, we’re bringing the local food options from small businesses in the neighborhood. I’m excited for the taste testing part of the experiment.
What’s been a big lesson in starting your own space?
There are a million little things you can’t possibly know about before you start. The trick is knowing which of those million things are the most important to spend your time on. I spent a lot of time meeting with people that had either run coworking spaces or were long-term members. Every conversation led to a list of “oh, we should do that”, so it was necessary to take a good look at the patterns and determine which features would need to be prioritized. We decided to prioritize very comfortable seating, wicked fast wifi, and amazing coffee to start. Once we had that taken care of we could start adding the other cool things on the list.
What are your thoughts on the future of work?
The future of work is at a really interesting place right now. Changes in city planning, transportation, energy, shared economies, hardware, and software are all converging on us at breakneck speed.
For decades architects and social psychologists crafted buildings that reflected their subjective views on where and how we should work. That lead to regrettable building design and subsequently poor city planning. We now have to drive for hours every day to work in buildings that don’t reflect the way we actually live. Have you ever met someone who relishes the idea of being stuck in traffic every day? Or loved spending 8 hours cooped up in their cubical farm? As society rebalances the value of family with their work, it’s obvious the model is current work-style is broken. Those commutes and working conditions are being rejected.
Ownership of everything is being questioned. Sharing a car, a bike or a house seems so normal to us. Coworking is part of this new way of living. Sharing office space, whether you’re a small business or a global enterprise just makes more sense. In the same way that my kids ask me, “why would you own your own car?”, we’ll get to a point when all business owners will ask, “why would you sign an office lease?”