A Cut Above

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 two of a series.

Written by: Mindy Koschmann

Artwork by: Geordie Wood

WHY Magazine - A Cut Above

People are the single most important asset to every organization, 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.

It’s 11 AM on a Thursday at the new headquarters of the shaving product start-up Harry’s, and from the sound of things, people are hard at work. A group of product designers are sketching ideas in a large, fully enclosed meeting room. Customer Service Representatives are chatting on headsets at a series of long benches. In a nearby grouping of workstations, two graphic designers are gathered at a desk, discussing a concept for the website. When one of them gets a phone call, she moves to a sofa in the nearby lounge area.

Despite the openness of the light-filled, brick-walled, 26,000-square-foot office, the sound of people talking, typing, and moving isn’t distracting. The ambient hum provides a pleasant, energetic backdrop for work—a stark contrast to the old office, a 3,000-square-foot loft that was so loud people had to escape to the stairwells for phone calls.

Harry’s enlisted the Brooklyn-based architecture firm Studio Tractor along with the furniture dealership WB Wood, chosen for their work with Herman Miller, to create a Living Office that would reduce distractions in the office, among other critical goals. Founded on a research-based approach to understanding people and their work, Living Office seemed like a natural solution for Harry’s. In our first installment, we followed the start-up through the Living Office Discovery ProcessSM, which helps companies identify what they offer the world, who they are, and what their people do—and to apply those insights into the design of their workplace. In this photo essay, we reveal the result: a high-performing Living Office with a variety of settings that support the diverse activities of the Harry’s team and can scale easily as its staff grows. It’s a place where people can easily and naturally work together to help the company succeed.

WHY Magazine - A Cut Above

As a growing start-up, Harry’s is always receiving guests—from potential employees to journalists to investors. In the old space, which was teeming with people and stuff, there were no places to entertain or even have a private conversation with visitors, a reflection of the organization’s very informal approach to work. But during the discovery process, Harry’s employees unanimously expressed a desire to become more formal in character. Not suits and ties formal, but more organized, refined, and ready to host at a moment’s notice.

An elegant meeting space near the reception area of the new office is helping them do just that. Outfitted with Eames Aluminum Group Chairs, a large monitor and whiteboard, and glass walls that, unlike the walls of its last conference room, fully extent to the ceiling, it’s a place where Harry’s executives can proudly meet with investors and important guests. The executive team sits at a nearby AGL Table. They asked to be positioned near the front of the office, and out in the open, to encourage people to stop by for quick chats about projects or their plans for the weekend. In this way, the new office is designed to preserve the informal vibe that distinguished Harry’s culture early on, while supporting the more structured activity necessary to sustain its rapid growth.

WHY Magazine - A Cut Above

Easy collaboration between employees has always played a major role in Harry’s rapid growth. At its former office, conversations came at a cost to everyone else: distraction. Now, when quick chats in the main workspace grow into longer discussions, colleagues can relocate to an arrangement of Public Office Landscape seating and tables, specifically designed by fuseproject to foster casual teamwork. A screen divides the space from the rest of the office, so groups can work together without distracting others. And when individual pursuits—private phone calls, complicated design problems—require a higher degree of contemplation, people can work in one of several small, enclosed meeting rooms.

Expressions of Harry’s brand, including a display area with brightly colored razors, bottles of shaving cream and lotion, and photography, act as connective tissue between these diverse settings. They also remind everyone of the company’s purpose: to offer a great shave at a fair price. 

WHY Magazine - A Cut Above

Separated from the main workspace, Harry’s spacious café improves on the former break area—a few tables crammed into a corner where people would eat, fill orders, hold meetings, and work shoulder-to-shoulder on laptops. In the new space, employees enjoy meals together (or snacks from the well-stocked fridge) and hold impromptu meetings with colleagues. This casual setting is giving people more opportunities to connect, share ideas, and talk about life and work—ultimately instilling a strong sense of belonging among Harry’s employees.

WHY Magazine - A Cut Above

Since the beginning, Harry’s unique culture has helped attract and retain top talent. So in addition to providing more spaces to meet and work, the new office reminds visitors and employees of the values and goals that have brought them together in the space. A grouping of long Layout Studio benches with Sayl Chairs called a Hive Setting enables Product Development and Digital teams who work there to easily transition between individual work and the quick chats with colleagues that keep them connected to the bigger picture. In the Digital team’s workspace, a large monitor projects live data from Harry’s website, updating the team on what’s working and what’s not, so they can make adjustments in real time. These larger design choices as well as smaller details—a pop of blue from Harry’s logo on the legs of the desks, on the fabric of a sofa, and in the wall décor—bring the Harry’s brand to life in the space.

WHY Magazine - A Cut Above

When the staff at Harry’s thought about Meeting Spaces for the new office, they asked themselves questions such as, “Why do we have meetings?” “What do we do when we meet?” “What tools do we need to share our ideas?” The answers to these questions were so varied that the design team planned a variety of settings for group work—from more traditional Meetings Spaces where entire teams have weekly updates, to project rooms where small groups can spread out, get messy, and develop ideas. 

WHY Magazine - A Cut Above

When it’s easy for people to have conversations, it’s easy for them to stay connected, share ideas, and solve problems. And since the discovery process revealed that innovation is a top priority for Harry’s, its new office has plenty of places for people to meet (and not just rooms that you have to reserve). In this working neighborhood, called a Clubhouse, members of the Graphic Design team can comfortably gather around curved Locale work surfaces to share screens and discuss new campaigns. All of the work surfaces are height adjustable, encouraging people to vary their postures throughout the day. If a few team members want to get away from the workspace to have a casual conversation without the distraction of technology, they can move to a nearby Cove, outfitted with Eames Shell Chairs and a comfortable sofa.

From impressing prospective hires and investors to facilitating more productive encounters between employees to promoting its brand, Harry’s new workplace is a valuable asset that’s helping them grow in ways that are difficult to measure—but not impossible, it turns out. Check back soon to see how Herman Miller’s research team is working with Harry’s to substantiate the impact of its Living Office on its people and business.