Find out how Interfolio, a D.C.-based tech company, is using its new office to support the company’s business goals.
Interfolio is a Washington, D.C.-based company that creates software for higher education faculty and staff. As of January 26, they’re occupying a brand new, Gensler-designed office space at 14th and K Street that the company’s CEO, Andrew Rosen, describes as “WeWork-meets-industrial loft living room”. His goal with the office is to completely break down communication barriers between employees, both remote and on-site.
We recently spoke with Rosen about the experience of planning the new space, why he no longer has a need for his own office, and the value the workplace delivers for his company.
Scroll for the interview.
Bob Fox: Start by describing your business for us — what’s the industry you’re in?
Andrew Rosen: We are a technology company in the education tech arena. We have about 70 employees and we focus on faculty technology, to help faculty be more efficient and proficient. We have three areas of products. One is to help scholars manage their career, apply to academic and scholarly positions and to request, trigger, write, and manage letters of recommendation.
Then we have two enterprise tech platforms. One helps faculty facilitate the complicated shared governance workflows for hiring, promoting, reviewing, and tenuring scholars, and the other has to do with helping scholars do their institutional activity reporting for accreditation and compliance. Add a bit of reporting and analytics, and you have a good picture of the problems that we solve for higher education.
Everything we do is to help faculty be more productive and efficient at what they do daily and across their professional career.
So what do the majority of your employees do?
We have a decent amount of software engineers and product managers, UX and UI designers, and dev ops. That’s on the engineering side. Then we have a sales team — inside sales as well as field reps. Sales operations and marketing communications. We have marketing, and we also have a team we call our client success team, and then we have scholar services, which help scholars and end users be successful utilizing our technology.
There’s a huge amount of interaction and creativity. It’s so ultimately collaborative that I don’t even have a desk. I come in, I immediately set up in our cafe, and then we’re in teaming spaces. And the new space that we just moved in to was built with these concepts in mind.
Our engineering and tech organization use a functional development approach called AGILE — two-week release cycles, iterate-test-release, iterate-test-release; people are always huddled up, collaborating, designing, solving problems, and working together. We have desks so everyone has a place to go, but we also have work lounges and huddle areas (“agile workspaces”) everywhere — basically the equivalent of your living room every 20 feet.
Do you have places for people to concentrate?
Everybody has a desk. There are desk pods for 8-10 people, and then there’s a lounge or huddle space.
Are those lounges assigned to teams?
They’re unassigned, anybody can use them. In our new space we have an entire floor, and at every corner of the rectangle there’s a lounge.
Are the lounges open — employees can interact as others walk by? Or are they quiet places for dedicate teams to meet?
Both. Three people can huddle up on an L-shaped couch and a coffee table, and we put in a noise suppression system so people can’t be overly loud.
What’s the biggest value that your workplace brings to your company?
It’s really comfortable, promotes collaboration, allows for a separate space for concentration and allows for easy virtual teaming with remote employees — all while feeling that you are in your study or family room. Thus, it makes you want to be there with your team.
Any sort of message that you’re communicating through the space?
We want to break down the barrier between work/life balance. I want the workspace to feel like your living area. I want it to be comfortable like that. It’s kind of like some of the more contemporary houses — the kitchen and great room are connected.
In our space, when you get off the elevator, you immediately walk into the kitchen area. The idea was to sort of break down the barriers between work/life balance and just make it a comfortable space where you want to be. For the client success managers we bought them noise-cancelling headphones in case they were having sensitive conversations with clients and need their own “zone”.
Additionally, of our 70 people, 20-30 are remote. So we sort of had to embrace this remoteness. And we found that we use technology like Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Rooms.Co regularly. Our head of marketing is in Los Angeles, and she is consistently remoting in with her team, the sales team, me. Many of our engineers are remote, and consistently team and collaboratively solve problems with each other via Slack and Google Hangouts, so we are consistently and constantly doing ad hoc video conferencing using efficient video and chatting tools.
The other thing we did is we created five mobile carts, each has a Mac mini, Apple TV, and a camera. Mobile carts by Salamander. They raise the video monitor/TV to six feet high and back down to three feet. You can roll remote people into your meeting at any time, any place, really easily. Each corner in the space has its own mobile cart that can be rolled into workspaces, lounges, huddle spaces or into the cafe, designed to let remote people easily interact with teams.
Two big areas for us are (1) breaking down the barriers between living space and workspace (making it comfortable and productive, easy to team, and super collaborative), and (2) making sure that we break down any barrier to collaboration for remote team members. Our theory is to hire the best person, not the best person in Washington, D.C., and we want to make sure that no person is disadvantaged for not being in D.C., culturally.
So you’ve pretty much transcended the wall?
Correct. Now we have a couple of break out and call rooms, a handful of glass conference rooms, but everything is open — allowing available light and views of D.C. to permeate the space all over.
In terms of running the business, what for you is the biggest priority for your workspace?
My biggest priority is to create the strongest team. Once I have the strongest team in place, it’s to make sure we’re all on the same page and there are no communication or collaboration barriers. I don’t want anyone to have any questions whatsoever about the direction that we’re going.
That concept right there that you just described — is there a way you’re using your workplace to drive that?
We do company-wide meetings every Tuesday. A third of the people are remote, it’s making sure that we’re all on the same page as to where we currently are, where we’re going in the next three months, and in the next year, that there’s no confusion. We want everyone completely on board with what we’re doing and where we’re going as an organization.
When you’re on different floors and you have doors, it inhibits collaboration.
What are the barriers?
In a really open space, you see people meeting, and you can say, “Oh guys, are you talking about what we talked about yesterday, can I join?” Every painted surface in space has IdeaPaint, so it’s writable. If we had walls, you’d never see that and you’d wake up two months later and realize, “What just happened? Who decided that?!”
In terms of budget and where you spend money, where are you most willing to spend it for your work environment?
We went over budget on AV and wanted to make sure that it’s easy to plug one of these mobile carts in; we also brought in Clarus whiteboards that you can roll around and into ad hoc meeting areas. You can be in a lounge and just pull up a whiteboard, and a mobile cart. We wanted to break down those areas.
We invested in making sure you weren’t penalized for being remote or virtual. We invested in an abundance of agile and creative spaces — ideation spaces. We design for our customers and users all the time. Start with a teased out hypothesis, test-iterate-release-learn-iterate-release. Lounge and huddle spaces. We found in our old space everyone went to the cafe to work. We found that our team was much more productive when they could change up their work environment.
We saved money on the concrete floors by going with a matte finish. Then with the design, I was looking for a sort of New York industrial loft space, and I came across the West Elm Workspace line. The millennial mindset knows and appreciates West Elm more so than they know Knoll or Herman Miller. And West Elm has some really, really functional (economical) industrial commercial furniture.
When someone walks into the space, what’s their experience?
They’d walk into cafe area and you’d feel like your walking into a coffee shop in Georgetown. You would see there’s a huge amount of natural light and views. Wrap around windows — we left all the views across K Street open. And a lot of cohesive lounge areas. So I think if you were 50 you’d think this is really cool, and “I like this, but I’m not sure I could get work done here.” If you’re 25, you’d say, “Holy shit, I want to work here.”
If someone were to come in, walk out and meet a group of friends, what’s the story they would tell?
WeWork-meets-functional, industrial loft living room. I have a workspace I can go to and put stuff away, but I prefer to work and meet in open lounge areas, that breaks down the barriers between living space and workspace. If you are going to have a drink with friends from work, you might rather do it in the cafe than leave work.