I’m super excited about the epic trip I’m about to take over the next few weeks, visiting some outstanding workplaces, designed to support creative collaboration, innovation and open learning.
On the list: GoogleX, IDEO, Stanford d:school, Facebook, AirBnB, Microsoft, Gensler, MIT Labs and some creative co-working spaces.
I’ll also be speaking to some experts and key thought leaders from the worlds of Design, big data Tech, Neuroscience and Creativity.
I’ll post blogs daily, so follow me to see what I’m up to… But more importantly, if there are any questions about what makes a great #InnovativeSpace, just ask and I’ll see what I can find!
I had the chance to visit and run a workshop in the offices of Red Bull Dubai back in April, spending 3-4 days there, where I got a real taste of what makes it such an energetic place to work in – even without drinking the iconic energy drink!
I spoke with the “Head Coach” (HC) for Middle East and Asia Pacific (MEAP), who struck me as genuinely passionate about the business, the people he works with and the space they work in. After the tour and interview, he asked not to be named, because for him it would be sending the wrong message: the creation of this new, exciting environment is not about him receiving glory for a beautiful space; it’s all about the creation of a place that inspires the whole team, and one that they all play a huge part in.
As the elevator doors open onto the 4th floor of this commercial building in Dubai’s Airport Free Zone, the standardised uniformity of the surrounding services offices is challenged – Red Bull style. An immediate statement is made as you step into the office – greeted by a what looks like part of a giant Red Bull can – which is in fact a salvaged KLM 747 jet engine cowling repurposed into a reception desk. Dutch designer XXXX was commissioned to create the desk not only to reflect the brand’s love for precision and showmanship; his brief included a specific request to lower the leading edge, ensuring eye contact between the sparky and attractive “Ambassadors” and any visitors who come to call.
The experience here is as important as the design details and material finishes. And these two elements are evident throughout the place, driven by two needs that create an environment that at once demonstrates the spirit of the company and also serves to support the business to achieve its ambitious goals.
Drivers for change
The catalyst for this transformation back in April 2013 was a need for more space – as the company continued to grow in size, and HC also wanted to create a ‘positive shock’; the physical space became a tool to help communicate the spirit of a new chapter in the business growth. HC saw this as an opportunity to not just revamp their existing space but to reinforce a new directive and embed some of the behaviours to support the change the business wanted to see.
Where the previous space was standardised, the new space is unique. Where the old offices were closed, here it’s open. Where before you could have been in the offices of any insurance company or bank, there’s no mistaking that you’ve walked into the heart of one of the most vibrant brands in the world. White dominates, giving the whole office a bright, fresh and positive air, inspite of relatively low ceilings – and throughout, splashes of the familiar silver, red and blue provide an injection of energy.
The brand’s four main areas of focus are showcased in glass-fronted meeting rooms – all instantly visible from reception: Field– celebrating sport and in particular football (soccer) – turf and field markings with replica stadium lights; Pitstop – a nod to Red Bull’s huge involvement in Formula 1 racing – tarmac-like flooring , dynamic sweep through the ceiling and a real wing from a former F1 car; Street – Round table like a stage – platform for Red Bull’s involvement in street culture: breakdancing and music; Gallery – sculptural mural with the Art of Can.
Formula for success
In HC’s view basic condition for success is down to two elements: the right environment plus the right platform. Here, it’s about enabling people through open, professional, high quality, fully-fitted workspace with sound infrastructure, and combining it with the cultural platform of “positive energy”. Each meeting room is kitted out with best-in-class audio, projection and tech equipment that anyone can use whenever they need it. “The technology here is to serve us to do better.” With all the event and production content the team needs to share with each other, it has to be “top notch” in order to to optimize the experience – imagine trying to convey the energy and exhilaration of a envelope-pushing event like Red Bull X-fighters, or the F1 stunt a-top the Burj Al-Arab on a laptop screen!
“We set the bar high. When people come here they know that is Red Bull is providing an environment to the highest standard than we should we expect high standards in the work that we do.”
THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT + THE RIGHT [CULTURAL] PLATFORM = SUCCESS
The working environment at Red Bull Dubai enables people to think. And to think differently. “If you want to get out of the box you need to have a different environment, “ says HC. The meeting rooms by themselves are inspiring. And there are plans to develop a different floor in the building to build a creative space and hall of fame. A flexible drop-in space with college chairs and Fat Boys(TM) and plenty of wall space.
So what’s the verdict a year on? HC is really proud of the team and what they have achieved with the space and business results.
The impact this has had is threefold: business performance is up, the bottom line has been affected and the right cultural values reinforced. Teams are more exposed to each other, communication is more fluid, more direct and less formal. Business targets have been smashed this year, compared with a struggling period before the transformation.
The return on investment has been significant, too: whilst the investment on the space was considerable, meetings are now held on-site, versus hotels. “So we’re saving money. I tell you – if we rented our meeting spaces out – and I have been asked many times – the space would be making a profit!”
For HC, it’s visible: “After a year, everything is still very white! People really look after it. I think that re-confirms the importance of taking care of the place we work in, and it reflects the care we take in the work we do.”
“When my team brings their friends and family to see where they work – they’re really proud too. They have a sense of belonging and when I see that it reassures me that the investment made has been well placed.”
White dominates, providing a refreshing and positive ambiance in absence of high ceiling
Sliding doors on meeting rooms and enclosed office spaces include acoustic barrier properties
Partitions hang from ceilings with acoustic baffling
Herman Miller furniture chosen – functional/practical/heavy duty
Overall style ambition is relaxing and comfortable; health is high priority, as most people sit for long periods
L-shape desk configurations allow people to focus on screen and people to talk/collaborate at desks
Tucked away behind a grey carpark in the heart of Shoreditch, just off London’s “Silicon Roundabout”, a large, industrial-looking building houses a business card printing company with a bright difference.
I approach the London HQ of Moo, the planet’s fastest-growing print company, and rather than being disheartened by the heavy glass door, I’m greeted with a vinyl sticker saying “Ah, push it – push it real good!”. With a bounce in my stride and Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s 1998 hit jiggling through my brain, I enter a kaleidoscope of colour – a pantone parade that welcomes me into “the place where they love to print”.
After a few false starts, Moo kicked into life in 2006 when Founder and CEO Richard Moross realised that he needed to re-brand and find people “better than him” to help build the company. Now at 230 people and still growing, Moo has three offices in the UK and US, with more plans for expansion. The company has taken the standard business card and created a new way of sharing information about ourselves in a distinctive, fun and personal way.
Moo’s minicards have been dubbed “the Web 2.0 handshake” and have become a favourite with people in the tech space as well as with designers and anyone keen to share their business or personal information in a visual and creative way. Products include the unique minicards, high quality “Luxe” cards and stickers – and every one is personalisable.
Putting great design first is at the heart of everything Moo does, and it’s important that the brand values cascade from products and services through to everyone who works there. These values provide a constant as the culture evolves and include consistency of quality as well as the friendly Moo personality.
“Our brand values are explicit and guide the way everyone should be thinking; the cultural values are more implicit”, says Moross. So it is the actions of peopleat Moo – as well as their environment – that serve to remind people what the company is all about.
This is something that becomes increasingly important as the company continues to grow. As it’s no longer practical to go out to lunch together every Friday as it was when there were 10 people in the business, lunch is now brought in and Moross makes an extra effort to sit near someone different.
For Moo, the service and products they provide is inextricably linked with their culture, and the environment plays a crucial role, Moross explains, “In my view the environment is incredibly important. It sets the tone for how our thinking is guided”.
By paying attention to the space – whether the furniture, lights or even the small turns of phrases you’ll see in basic communications such as how to use the loos or meeting rooms – it tells a story of what is valued and how people should behave. In a similar way to the clothes that people wear, the way the space is dressed is an expression of what the company is about.
“They say the suit maketh the man, I think the office maketh the company”, Richard Moross, Founder & CEO of Moo
Moross is a believer in the “Broken Windows Theory” (made popular by Mayor Giuliani when he literally cleaned up New York City in the 1980s – and saw an unprecedented drop in serious and violent crime. The theory argues that in effect, if a place looks un-cared for or misused, then it invites further bad behaviour and a downward spiral of crime ensues. Moross expands on this: “I think the opposite is also true: if you create an environment that feels creative or looks creative or is comfortable then hopefully you’ll get a different result to an environment that is not conducive to that.”
Home of great design
So how do you go about creating a place where great design happens and people care about quality whilst also feeling relaxed and at home? Moo enlisted the help of Trifle Creative to help them bring the brand and culture to life, whilst balancing personality and order, creativity and practicality, function and form.
Moross wanted to reinforce Moo’s relaxed culture without dropping into a “mish-mash” and at the same time reflect its passion for design and quality.
The challenge for Moo (as with anyone) is what to prioritise. “We could have decided to spend £1m here, but then if it’s too finished, too perfect then that also sends the wrong message”. A good example of using their smarts when it comes to spending: trunking across the building was quoted as being £20,000 to complete, leaving unsightly boxing – and even more to hide the pipes into the walls. The then CTO said he would look for alternative solutions and found that washing machine tubing could do the job for almost a tenth of the price – and with a result that looks far better.
One of the founding principles of Moo was born of included the need to create something distinctive. The first ever minicard borrowed principles from phenomena like Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, where the opening lines of the music are built on an irregular 7/8, 8/8 structure. It jars your memory, and the result is an “earworm”, that sticks and replays over and over again in your head. It is this purposeful difference that Moo sought to emulate.
Having an irregular shape to the card – something that was not a business card, not a postcard, but something that allowed people just to share a small amount of information about themselves, and with the ability to personalize every card – created something memorable that jolts people out of their regular patterns and creates a moment of delight.
Moo’s offices are reassuringly urban, industrial spaces – happy home to “Big Moo” (the print machines) – that speak to you in a fun, friendly tone of voice and that tell stories about what people value with attention to the little details that are delightful and memorable. In fact, as I leave, I find myself humming “Can’t get Moo out of my head…”