4 Things We Learned at LinkedIn about Billion Dollar Startups

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Photos and key takeaways from last week’s Work Design TALK at LinkedIn’s office in Chicago.

Looking in through LinkedIn’s logo. Photo by Ashley Hamm.

Last Thursday night at LinkedIn’s Chicago office, we gathered a crowd of designers, end users, and architecture enthusiasts to network, learn, and discuss what we can discover from the design and spatial branding of billion dollar startups. Below are a few notable points from the discussion.

  1. The “cool factor” matters

Swings and kegs are for kids, you say? Dan Kraiss, a principal at BOX Studios, disagrees: spaces are supposed to have fluff, he said – it’s energizing for the employees. He noted that it’s important to break up the monotony of an office space when designing for startups. Kraiss walked the group through a few recent BOX designs that had cool and fun as design objectives: for Vivid Seats, they incorporated a floor that imitates a football field; for Groupon, they created a “fun zone” with swings.

Neil Schneider, a senior designer for IA Interior Architects called the firm’s work for LinkedIn “intoxicating”, and indeed, it’s tough not to be energized when amenities include scooters, bikes, and skateboards.

John Roa, the founder and CEO of ÄKTA, a Chicago-based digital experience consultancy, affirmed that they had “no rules” when it came to dreaming up their new space. Planned by Horn Design and soon to be completed, ÄKTA’s new office will have swings, kegs, and a life-size Lite-Brite. “It was important not to have a Big Brother sense in the office,” said Roa. The playful flourishes, in other words, contribute to a sense of relaxation and “at-homeness” in the new space. Roa wanted a comfortable setting for employees to grab a beer and not feel as though a manager is watching.

The panel. From left to right: Mark Davis, of LinkedIn; Dan Kraiss, BOX Studios; John Roa, ÄKTA; Neil Schneider, IA; Paul Singh, 1776; and moderator, Bob Fox, Work Design Magazine. Photo by Ashley Hamm.
  1. But: productivity is still the number one priority

Mark Davis, LinkedIn’s global workspaces services manager, walked the audience through his existing space in Omaha, where he said the vibe is “more production oriented”. Though they’ll be expanding the location soon, with a focus on both fun and high-utilization, he believes “traditional” workstations are still necessary for optimum productivity.

Schneider, who has led his team in designing spaces for multiple “billion dollar” companies, emphasized how important it is to design for the population inhabiting the space. You’ve got to “really understand how your space will affect and support your employees and how they work today,” he said. “There is a lot of math and science behind LinkedIn’s layout.” He added that knowing where employees need to be (and when), and how much and what kind of room they need, is vital to their productivity. He points out that each team within LinkedIn’s Chicago space has a 30’ x 30’ “plot” where that team can design however they choose. This way, users have a sense of ownership over their space. Of ÄKTA’s program, Roa noted, “we’re a tech company, so technology was a huge focus as we built our space, but we also wanted it to be… conducive.” In the end, the panelists agreed: the latest technology and entertaining games are important, but having a space that is beneficial to the productivity of the employees is essential.

  1. Social media can help you turn your space into a marketing tool

“Architecture is not just the bricks and sticks, it’s the cloud as well,” said Paul Singh, managing director of 1776, a D.C.-based startup incubator and seed fund, quoting a phrase he’d heard before.

Singh explained how, in a space like 1776, you can now use apps to post when someone has checked in or out of a location, and then instantaneously know when they have returned, re-posting accordingly. This is a clever tactic for free marketing and data for the firm, showcasing who is in their space. One way to utilize social media and the space is to physically post the Twitter handles and hashtags, for examples, on windows, refrigerators, and kegs – anywhere lots of images in the space will naturally be posted to Instagram, Snapchat, and any other source of social media. This, he said, allows you to instantly leverage the space as a branding tool.

Photo by Ashley Hamm.
Photo by Ashley Hamm.

Davis noted that social media can be so powerful that his office has an entire team dedicated to reviewing social media to check for destructive or harmful issues. Schneider shared that one of his clients, a leading global retailer, was able to track the success of their recent marketing campaign around the world in real time. Knowing who is consuming their marketing — and when and where they’re consuming it — that’s unbelievably powerful data.

An attendee checks out info provided by “Billion Dollar” series partner, AgilQuest. Photo by Ashley Hamm.
  1. These billion dollar startups are disrupting more than just their own industries

Singh — having invested in over 1,000 startups in the last six years — has an especially interesting perspective on their workspaces. Things like having a lot more showers and locker rooms within the company’s suite rather than gym memberships directly affects the design and usage of the space. White noise machines have also become popular, he said, in a world where concrete floors, stark white walls, and open ceilings have “ruled” in the field for a few years, these machines create warmer, more inviting spaces.

Schneider pointed out the “beacons” throughout LinkedIn’s space. These are absorbing spatial data, a relatively new practice. These small pieces of equipment hanging in the ceiling track how often the conference rooms are used, how much energy is being used in which spaces, and which rooms are (or aren’t) being used. This data will undeniably change not just how the next office in designed for that company, but will alter how the entire industry uses space.

Thanks again to everyone who joined us last week, and thanks especially to our sponsors, without whom these events would not be possible: AgilQuest, Humanscale, FOX Architects, and IIDA.

We’re taking this same conversation to San Francisco on August 11. Click here for tickets, and here to meet the panelists!

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