Living Up to Expectations
How do you create a Living Office? To answer this question, WHY followed one company’s journey from a headquarters that was hindering its growth to a workplace where its people and business could prosper. This is part three of a series.
Written by: Mindy Koschmann
Artwork by: Kyle Bean
People are the single most important asset to every organisation, yet many of today’s offices aren’t designed to support their needs and activities. With Living Office, Herman Miller offers a new kind of workplace, one designed around a research-based understanding of people, the work they do, and the tools they need to succeed.
When Harry’s CEO, Jeff Raider, decided to move the company out of a noisy and overstuffed loft to a 2,415 m² office in New York’s SoHo district, he and his design team enlisted Herman Miller to outfit the space. Raider and Design Director Scott Newlin thought their men’s grooming company and Herman Miller shared a similar design aesthetic, one that emphasises beauty and functionality. But beyond furniture, Raider and Newlin were drawn to Herman Miller’s Living Office framework, which offers a deep understanding of people and work, and a customisable model for creating workplaces where both people and the organisation can prosper. Harry’s used the Living Office Discovery Process to articulate the company’s unique purpose and character, and to identify the types of activities employees do throughout the day. These insights helped architectural firm Studio Tractor plan a workplace that reflects Harry’s highly collaborative culture. The new space offers a variety of settings where people can share ideas, have quick conversations and work together to solve problems, as well as private spaces where people can retreat from the energy and noise to focus on their work.
Six months after Harry’s moved into its new headquarters, Herman Miller’s research team checked in to see if the new office is helping people work more efficiently, share knowledge more easily and present a stronger expression of the brand: all goals established during the discovery process. To answer these questions, Herman Miller conducted robust, on-site research using a variety of methods, including on-site observation and extensive surveys and interviews among leadership and staff. WHY tagged along to speak with Raider and Newlin about their ongoing journey to create a work environment that, as Newlin puts it, “is literally living”. Here’s what they had to say, along with an overview of the findings from Herman Miller’s research.
When did you decide to move to a bigger office?
Scott Newlin: The tipping point for us to change was when we reached about 85 people. The square meterage was just not big enough for that, plus all of the things that we needed to store and house in the space.
It was great because you walked into the room and felt like something important was going on. But it was hectic. All of that buzz and all of that energy is great for momentum, but it also hurts your day-to-day when you’re having a hard time having a phone conversation.
Jeff Raider: In our old space, we were constrained. We had to dedicate the vast majority of the office to individual workspaces and desks, which didn’t leave lots of room for people to get together, to huddle quickly and discuss things.
One of our huddle spaces became our goods lift, which was in the outside hallway. We were meeting there in the depths of winter in winter jackets, with little cardboard tables set up in the middle. We clearly needed more shared space.
Why was Living Office a good fit for Harry’s?
JR: We learned about the idea of Living Office and the ability to tailor a work environment to the needs of our team. We were really intrigued by the ability to have a space that enabled diverse people to work together, but also to have a space that was clean and beautiful and that we were proud to come to every day and proud to have lots of people come and visit us.
SN: Living Office was really interesting for us because it did a lot of the things we were trying to accomplish. It gave us the ability to be flexible so that then we could grow, change, see how things are working one week, and if it’s not working, the next day be able to adapt.
Did you learn anything surprising as you worked through the Living Office Discovery Process?
JR: We realised that we have lots of different types of people at Harry’s who have to come together and work in a very collaborative way. So having a typical, cookie-cutter office environment might not set our team up to be maximally efficient or maximally successful.
For instance, we see these marked differences across individual groups. Our software engineering team, for instance, really needs to focus deeply on the code they’re working on. Our CX and marketing teams are talking to people all day long. The environment that enables them to be successful is livelier and more interactive and collaborative.
“In many ways we feel like we have a Living Office. It’s an office that we feel like we can live in, and that accentuates a sort of action and vibrancy in the way that we interact.”
-Jeff Raider, co-Founder and co-CEO, Harry's Grooming
How did the design team use insights from the Discovery Process to plan the new space?
SN: Through the Discovery Process, we really broke everything down into literal numbers. We need this certain number of conference rooms, we need this certain number of one-on-one chat rooms, this certain number of casual lounge areas where you could put your laptop on your lap and just work, throw some headphones on and do your own thing.
We now have our marketing team sitting next to our acquisition team, who on a day-to-day basis have dozens of conversations. I think this really allowed a more streamlined approach to the way they work. It also has allowed us to take less time in between certain tasks. So we are able to be efficient from point A to point B, less running around ultimately.
JR: What’s really nice about our space is that people can tailor their own meeting spaces to the types of interactions that they want to have. If they want to have a casual discussion, they can go and sit on a couch in a conference room. If they want to have a serious group meeting, they can bring people into a more closed conference room.
When people walk into your new headquarters, what do they see?
JR: The first thing that people see is that it’s open. And that speaks to the collaboration and selflessness that we have as a brand and a business. This is a company where people want to come and work with each other and are highly committed every day. The other thing about the openness is that it belies energy. When our full team is here and we’re moving and working together, I am energised by the buzz that happens.
SN: The new space is meant to feel and look like the embodiment of Harry’s culture and the way we work. We paid a lot of attention to details of the finishes, the colours, the fabric choices, so that every moment and every scenario in which an employee might touch or feel or sit or interact with a piece of furniture, we wanted that moment to feel really like it was us. So we worked with the design team to create this warm palette that felt inviting but the furniture itself was super functional.
“People are feeling like they’re generally more positive and happy to be in the space. The uptick has been quite dramatic.”
-Scott Newlin, Design Director, Harry’s Grooming
What about potential employees? Are they impressed?
JR: I’ll meet somebody who I think might be hired at Harry’s. We’ll have coffee, and my next step is always, “Come to our office. Just come check us out. See who we are. See our space”. I think because we’re so proud of our space, it speaks for itself for all who will come here. They’re like, “Whoa. This is cool”. The brand immediately comes to life.
You worked with Herman Miller to study how well the new office is performing. What did you learn?
SN: The numbers came back and what they showed us was that overall, we’ve had the impact that we wanted and completed our goals successfully. For instance, people are feeling like they’re generally more positive and happy to be in the space. The uptick has been quite dramatic from the older space to the new space.
Do you think you’ve created a workplace that can grow with the company?
SN: The new space is going to be constantly evolving. We’ve added more desks as we’ve added more headcount. We’ve switched certain seating zones from one space to another and reconfigured them so that they worked better for the way that we saw people were working. So for me, the research is ongoing and the project is ongoing. It is literally living.
JR: We are growing really fast. In many ways we feel like we have a Living Office. It’s an office that we feel like we can live in, and that accentuates a sort of action and vibrancy in the way that we interact. The other thing that I really like about Living Office is that it can change and constantly evolve and you can learn. That’s very much aligned with how we think about growing our whole business.
The Leesman Index is a global benchmarking service that includes data on workplace effectiveness from hundreds of global organisations. Using the Leesman survey tool, employees assess their work environments. The results allow organisations to understand where they need to invest time, money and effort for future improvement.