So, our office has expanded and the question inevitably arises; "How do we layout and furnish the new space to convey an ambience of effortless cool that gently provokes a stimulating work environment, confidently expresses efficient productivity to visiting dignitaries yet carelessly emotes a perfectly tuned balance of work and life".
The most common answer appears to be "Foosball table".
Don’t get me wrong, as a hard pressed Director of Engineering with a budget to delicately balance and many “!!!ACTION REQUIRED!!!” emails implausibly asserting that they, above all others, require my immediate attention, this answer has a strong appeal of both cost and convenience. Yet a lingering remnant of integrity pauses my pointer above the one-click™ button and niggles out a suspicion that, in a post-Friends world, the veneered chipboard and frantically spun plastic blobs don’t quite cut the funky mustard anymore.
The next most convenient option appears to be inconveniently curved desks organically placed into cloverleaf pods, punctuated by uncompromisingly #00FF00 leafed plants that, though genuine, appear convincingly artificial. But it must be true that anything that appears in a Staples catalog cannot be considered innovative or, and I bow to no one in the primitive satisfaction of browsing a fine catalog of stationary, cool. Since we went there we can also immediately strike out anything that has a description containing the word "innovate" or any of its derivatives. In a few years we'll be able to use "innovation" ironically and laugh ruefully at each other but the scars are too raw, the pain too recent. All too soon.
If we were awash with the desperate slosh of venture capital then we could stretch zip lines from the upper balcony to the basement ball pool and craft ideation pods from upended Mini Coopers but we’re one of those companies that has to make stuff people pay to use so the indoor pedalo pool will have to remain a wistful wish.
What to do? As I ponder whether angry red walls, professional blue chairs and environmentally aware green desks will subconsciously motivate the dev herd to deliver it soon, good and cheap I'm beginning to suspect that (glances round nervously) it probably doesn’t matter too much.
Software engineers are often surprisingly smart. They know that funky offices are fantastic for the recruitment promo video and thence onwards to the irritating of your ex-classmates by implying that you wile away the day sipping Frappuccinos and energetically discussing putative flow charts on the other side of a glassboard with people who eschewed their burgeoning modelling career when they fell instantly in love with servlets after mis-clicking an Apache Jasper link that came up whilst Googling Jasper Conran. (I know, but where would you break that sentence without breaking its joy?)
Now the envy of friends is a pure and beautiful thing but I have a sneaking suspicion that what actually makes us not miss home quite so much whilst at work isn’t really the brief distraction of elevating desks or cockpit complex coffee machines or even the hammocks slung across the indoor koi carp pool. I wish it were so cheap and easy; but it’s not. It’s not because creating a good workplace costs time not money; because a good workplace just needs to be full of good people doing a good job.
And double monitors.
September 26th 2014