The new Campaign Monitor office

Towards the end of 2009 we really started pushing the limits of our current space. All our closed offices were taken and we were squeezing more and more team members into crowded workstations. Eventually it looked like we’d need to get rid of the precious ping pong table to free up space. To avoid a staff revolt, we started the search for a new office.

Our space at the time was located right across from a park and near the beach. It’s a great spot, so when we learned we could take over almost the entire floor instead of relocating elsewhere it was an easy choice. Construction started in November 2009 and we excitedly moved in last month. I wanted to walk you through the finished product in the hope that you might find something useful to take away and apply to your own workplace.

Here’s a quick video tour of the end result to whet your appetite.

A video tour of the new office, shot and edited by Ben (you can also watch it on Vimeo)

Getting the balance right

In our experience, the ideal office environment is about finding the right balance between socializing and getting stuff done. Too much of one or the other has its downsides, but there are some fundamentals you can put in place to help get that balance right. It should be easy for everyone to remove any distractions, put their head down and get into the zone. Just as importantly, they should be able to take a break, hang out with other members of the team and generally switch off.

To make this happen, we teamed up with the same architects who designed our last office and gave them this simple brief:

  1. Closed offices for everyone.
  2. Large dining area where we can all eat lunch together.
  3. Enough space to cater for our ping pong obsession.

After a few iterations the new design really took shape. The architect came up with the idea of having a huge open area right down the middle of the space containing the kitchen, dining, library, gaming area and lounges. Flowing either side of this open space would be two corridors of offices. They managed to fit 40 private offices into the new design, more than enough for the 20 staff in our Sydney office with plenty of room to grow.

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40 private offices and loads of open space - See the full plan (PDF)

Why private offices beat open plan

For us, private offices were non-negotiable. Over the years we’ve had fully open plan, only offices and a combination of both. In my experience, closable offices for each team member are by far the best configuration for a software company. I think Paul Graham said it best:

“After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you’re a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.”

Paul Graham, Great Hackers

Of course, I can understand why open plan is popular. It works for small teams. It’s flexible, cost effective and gives the illusion of great communication. But the moment a team grows bigger than a few people, cracks start to appear.

Getting into the zone

When you’re designing, building and supporting software, you need to juggle lots of complex ideas in your head at once. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour of thinking about a problem, and that’s when the juicy stuff starts flowing. You get in the zone and solutions start presenting themselves.

The last thing you want is to bother that person with a stupid question, force them to overhear your phone conversation or any other kind of distraction that isn’t related to what they’re working on. I don’t care how disciplined your team is or how good your noise cancelling headphones are, this kind of interruption is unavoidable in an open plan office.

Jesse working hard with the door closed

Jesse working interruption-free on the Campaign Monitor UI

The research is in

This isn’t just anecdotal either. There’s been plenty of interesting research into open plan vs closed offices too. A study by Microsoft showed just how destructive interruptions can be to productivity. Here’s some commentary by Bill D’Alessandro on the findings:

“The researchers taped 29 hours of people working in a typical office, and found that they were interrupted on average four times each hour. Here’s the kicker – 40% of the time, the person did not resume the task they were working on before the interruption. The more complex the task, the less likely the person was to resume working on it after an interruption.”

Microsoft Research, A Diary Study of Task Switching and Interruptions (PDF)

Last year a team of Australian scientists came to a similar conclusion. They found that working in an open plan office leads to lower productivity and higher staff stress.

“The evidence we found was absolutely shocking. In 90 per cent of research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative. It has been found that the high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity. The research found that the traditional design was better - small, private closed offices.”

Dr Vinesh Oommen, Asia Pacific Journal of Health Management

There’s no doubt that open plan is more flexible and cheaper than putting in private offices. But is 20-30% extra in your fit out costs enough to justify all the extra interruptions? It’s not just about productivity either. Solving challenging problems and getting things done is a much more rewarding experience on a personal level too.

Big, well lit offices all with closable doors

Big, well lit offices with closable doors

The closed door policy

It’s only slightly harder to walk in someones office to ask a question than to yell across an open plan office. Having private offices is one thing, but you need to have a system of mutual respect in place for them to work. At Campaign Monitor we have a simple rule: If my door is shut, don’t interrupt me.

It’s common sense anyway, but making this clear to everyone has made a big difference. If you want to get stuff done, shut the door and you won’t be bothered. If anyone needs to talk to you, they can come back later, send you an email or leave a message in Campfire that you can reply to when it suits.

Don’t forget the social side

Like I mentioned earlier, you need to find the right balance between removing interruptions and spending time with the rest of the team. While we all get out of the office for some crazy activities every few weeks, we also made sure the new space included plenty of room to hang out together.

Eating a meal together every day

At SXSW earlier this year I was lucky enough to have dinner with the founders from great companies I respect like 37signals, Wufoo, Dropbox and Freshbooks. The dinner was organised by the always awesome Dharmesh Shah, the man behind HubSpot and On Startups. At the dinner, Dharmesh shared a little secret of his that I hope he doesn’t mind me passing on here.

He explained that the best conversations almost always happen over a meal. Because of this, he organises many of his meetings to take place over lunch or dinner. He even goes as far as to research the best location in a restaurant (quiet area, round table) beforehand.

Dharmesh’s experience reinforced my belief in the value of the entire Campaign Monitor team eating together each day. We provide free breakfast and catered lunches which brings everyone out of their offices and together for a meal. The conversations aren’t necessarily work related, but are always entertaining and a great way for us to get to know each other, especially those we don’t work with often. It’s my favourite part of the day.

The team eating lunch together

The team sharing lunch together in our new dining area

A new kitchen and coffee machine

In the same vein, we also installed a massive new kitchen that’s fast becoming a popular congregation spot. To keep up with the serious coffee demands of some team members, we also installed an integrated and programmable coffee machine so staff can set up their own coffee profiles for the perfect cup.

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The new kitchen

Library and games

The architect also came up with some beautiful joinery that runs the length of the new dining area to house our growing book collection. To satisfy our ping pong obsession he managed to fit in two new championship tables, some custom joinery for bat/ball storage and a touch screen scoring system.

The gaming, dining and kitchen area in the new office

The new ping pong arena

For those wanting to recover from a hard game of ping pong, we also added a new lounge and gaming area with a few consoles and an increasingly popular Guitar Hero setup.

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Xbox 360, Wii and Guitar Hero ready for after work sessions

The new space has been quite the journey. The planning started around a year ago and construction went from the end of last year to just last month. It was a long process, but has been totally worth it. If you want to see more pics, we’ve thrown together a photo gallery on Flickr. Many thanks goes to This Ain’t No Disco and Office Snapshots for featuring us on their blogs.

Looking to fill one more office

If you like what you see and you’re a talented UI designer, we’ve just opened up a brand new position on the team. Check out the details to see if you fit the bill.

Posted by David Greiner

20 Comments

  • Daeta Robinson
    3rd September

    Wow, I’d almost work for free in an environment like that. If you added apartments on another level then. Well. I doubt I’d leave the building. Just think of the productivity in not traveling and working in that office.  Bugger the wage, I might give money to work there:-)

  • Paul
    3rd September

    Have to laugh when I read “Getting the balance right”. Sounds like something one of our politicians would say.

  • Julian Schrader
    4th September

    Wow, that looks amazing — I like your office(s)!

    The only thing I’m concerned about: Do you people enjoy having see-through glass behind your backs? I keep my room’s door shut almost all the time because I don’t like too much “open space” behind me — it’s a feng shui thing.

  • Simon Mahony
    4th September

    I’m really quite gobsmacked that there’s no mention of the almost identical article and office design posted by Joel Spolsky nearly 2 years earlier:
    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/12/29.html
    http://picasaweb.google.com/spolsky/FogCreekSNewOffice#
    The Campaign Monitor office design is clearly inspired by Joel’s office and I’m surprised that it’s not being recognised.

  • David Greiner
    5th September

    @Simon, you’re spot on there, a lot of the thinking that drove us to closed offices originally was Joel’s article from a few years back. In fact, we referenced it in our last office write-up back in 2008. We know Joel and Michael well, and I personally wrote them an email when I published this post to again thank them for the early inspiration.

  • Gareth Boyd
    5th September

    Absolutely awesome, if this doesn’t make someone want to work with Campaign Monitor then I wouldn’t know what would! Plus to the matter of fact it’d really motivate your employees to come into work. Damn.

  • Big T
    5th September

    I love the office, and it is really inspiring ... Just out of curiosity how much an office like this would cost?

  • Luke Parkes
    5th September

    Nice One boys,
    I really like the design and layout of the entire area.
    Your Architect knows what you are thinking thats for sure.
    Im surprised your staff aren’t working for free with an office space like that.
    WOW
    Parkesy(Turnip)

  • Aaron
    6th September

    Beautiful office and I’m sure it will be a very inspiring place to work. The one thing I wan to know is where you guys got the headphone stand that is in the photo of jesse working. I like!

  • Olly goldstein
    6th September

    Maybe I saw it wrong but on the lunch order system UI where u say who is ordering am sure on the video I saw it say “Who is sick for this shit ?”!!! Do I get a prize for good observation skills? Maybe a job? Or a new office like yours?

  • Dharmesh Shah
    7th September

    Congrats on the new space.  It looks awesome!  I’m envious of your group lunches (but not breakfasts, I’m rarely up early enough to have breakfast).

    Personally, I’m on your side of the fence in terms of open vs. private office layouts.  But, we ended up going with the open layout at HubSpot for one simple reason—that’s what the team wanted.

  • Stephen Jesson
    7th September

    @Aaron Although my set up isn’t quite as impressive as Jesse’s (I have a Little Dot MkIV SE amp with an accompanying Little Dot DAC_1 and a pair of HiFiMan HE-5’s) we do however share the same taste in headphone stands, and I can confirm that these are Sievekings ( which can be found at http://www.sieveking-sound.de/equipment/detail/id/16 ). I believe Jesse has the ‘Walnut’ colour while I have the ‘Cherry’ :)

  • Graham
    8th September

    You guys continue to inspire with everything you do - ver very cool.
    I certainly would love to work with you guys!

  • YvesHanoulle
    8th September

    I agree with the research for getting into the zone;  don’t agree with private offices as the speed of a development team is based on the slowest person and not on the fastest one.
    Yes it is harder to get into the zone. Yes individuals work slower, but the total team goes faster.

  • Mathew Patterson
    8th September

    @YvesHanoulle

    Could you elaborate on how not having private offices would make a slow developer faster? People here often move into a shared space when they do want to work on the same thing, it isn’t like being permanently isolated.

  • Marc Sanders
    11th September

    Absolutely amazing. So when can I start!

  • JB
    16th September

    Who’s the little man sitting on the television?

  • Jesse Dodds
    20th September

    @JB That’s ‘Sad Keanu’ ... It’s an internets joke that’s been going around for the last little while: Read about it here

  • Bryan
    9th October

    Curious how you licensed the phoenix music? Do you have to purchase a license or something? How difficult is that?

    Thanks

  • Renee Ralph
    27th October

    Love your office - the balance of professional work, creativity, fun and energy within the workplace!

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