Last week one of our stakeholders brought his pug dog, Lola, along to our product review meeting. “Watch out, she likes feet!” he joked but she remained quiet and well behaved throughout the meeting. Unruly is not the only place I’ve come across where dogs have been accommodated at work, another had a dog basket in their main board room. I appreciate not everyone likes dogs around but I like working for a company that’s not too stuffy to allow people flexibility to make our workplace more homely.
We’re lucky at Unruly to have a dedicated People & Places team who work closely with our Design team create a work environment that has personal touches. There are many informal meeting places around the building to make collaboration easy and it’s decorated with original artwork reflecting our culture.
Little things amaze visitors as we show them around, for instance we created a two-way webcam portal between our London and New York office with a gold antique-style frame, which makes it seem more special and echoes Harry Potter where characters move around.
What’s the business case? Creating an environment that allows human expression encourages creativity to flourish in our work.
The design of our workspace is not owned by a central team outside development. We recently reorganised our desks and unlike many companies, where a "Desk Move" is a dreaded logistical nightmare involving packing things up for another team to execute overnight, our developers simply got stuck into disassembling desks and lifting floor tiles themselves to get everything in the right place. Our spirit of collective ownership and taking responsibility for how our code structured seems to extend out to our surroundings. Taking care of our workspace, isn’t somebody else’s job.
Our teams use our walls and whiteboards for practical purposes but with a sense of humour too. Even electronic tools get a bit of customisation, we use Trello for our backlogs and teams can add distinctive backgrounds to make them easier to pick out.
Teams in bigger companies often find that their boards are the easiest areas to start personalising, when you introduce Kanban boards you can involve everyone on the team in designing the layout. Rather than diving straight into moving things around, create a mini-version of the new layout with sticky notes so the team can make adjustments before implementing. This way everyone on the team gets the opportunity to mull the proposed design over and suggest a few tweaks. We’ve taken this approach with how we lay out our boards and our desks (as in the examples below).
I appreciate that many people work in organisations that don’t actively support personalisation of the workspace but you can start small with a potted plant, a team mascot, a little whiteboard artwork. You'll likely find personal touches are noticed and soon start to spread around surrounding teams. Another small step that you can take is to adopt iteration names or pictures that pick up on what’s going on in the outside world or reflect metaphorically on current mood within the team. In software development, we spend a lot of time in an office environment, taking care of your surroundings helps to take care of the people working within them.