An Agile Workspace For An Agile Team: Chilid’s Story

Glass wall are a great place for scribbles and sticky notes

By Anna Zarudzka, founder and CEO at Chilid, a high-end web design and frontend development company. Anna found herself in the Internet industry after years of adventure in a music school, film and TV production. Privately she is an off-road driver, far North traveler and skydiving beginner. Connect with Anna on Linkedin, Twitter or at chilid.com.

When I decided to create Chilid, I knew that I would have to really look at the business of high-end web design in a new way. It’s a specific type of creative industry that needs to be both fresh and efficient with each new project to stay relevant. And so I realised we needed to stick to agile methodology – releasing quickly, testing, improving and responding to change. This innovative angle in product design turned out to be very effective but I wanted to do more to inspire and energise the creative teams behind these projects.

As the company was growing exponentially, I wanted to create a work environment that would suit the specific needs of our agile and creative teams and allow us to preserve as well as cultivate our culture of transparency, teamwork and communication.

The solution was an equally agile office.

  • Glass walls provide transparency and collaboration between agile teams.

My first concern was that of transparency. I wanted the office to feel like a communal space, where everyone could actually see what was happening and stay informed. Any day of business is filled with triumphs and blunders, big and small, and I think it’s important to acknowledge these openly.

One of the real benefits of transparency is it decreases the amount of needless gossip and office politics, which, more often than not, is just destructive

So the first thing was to make it as open-plan as possible (no cubicles or partitions), and where separate rooms were necessary we put up glass walls. Another key element was to install screens displaying stats of the day and common information throughout the office. We found this to be a great way to stay in the loop, and it’s faster than having to ask around.

One of the real benefits of transparency within a growing company is it decreases the amount of needless gossip and office politics, which, more often than not, is just destructive. When everyone’s role is clearly defined and we all know where we stand, it leaves us with clear head-space to get on with the work to the best of our abilities.

Flexible workstations accommodate ‘flux’

Having created this inviting space, the next thing was to be mindful about change. We live in a constant flux, the environment we operate in changes quickly – clients, products, requirements, end-users’ needs.

We must respond to those shifts quickly and thus our environment also needs to reflect that openness to change. So of course this meant going for flexible workstations instead of fixed cubicles. Each desk set-up is the same, which makes it easy to transfer yourself and your project anywhere without having to spend time setting up from scratch.

The tables are designed to be flexible to the needs of different people and different sized work-groups. We designed custom desks with a retracted middle leg to allow for easier pair work. There are also bean bag seats, hammocks and swings, as well as standing desks to allow people to work in the most comfortable or inspiring way for them.

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I strongly believe that an individual can do a good job but a team can reach for the stars. We work on the web design collaboratively.

This means that designers work alongside frontend and backend developers from the start of each assignment. They are in constant communication and often need to meet to solve more complex problems. I’ve set up dedicated team meeting rooms for the use of groups working on different projects, which are equipped with movable furniture so the team can arrange the space however they see fit for any given moment.

The client is also part of the team and this is why the conference rooms are equipped with the latest teleconferencing equipment. Though it is always better to meet with a client in person, this is undeniably not always possible.

The open-plan office and adaptable work spaces were vital in forming a communal environment. But what then?

There was still the fear of social groups forming and people only communicating with co-workers they already knew. This is just human nature, and can be an issue in an expanding company that brings in new faces regularly. So once again I thought about the space we had and how we could use it in a new creative way to avoid this problem.

In a somewhat counterintuitive move, I decided to install just one printer and one coffee machine for the use of over one hundred people. As strange as it may sound, this created the need for people from different departments and teams to meet up and socialise while waiting for their turn. This has been key in forming relationships organically where they otherwise may not have, and trust between both individuals and departments.

In this vein I also designed the space to include the bathroom and cafeteria at a distance from the general workspace.

This gives employees the chance to stretch their legs, free their minds and take breaks away from the hubbub. I like to encourage regular breaks because I do believe that it helps to keep people happy and working at their most efficient.

Everyone is unique and requires different environments to perform at their best.

There is the silent room for anyone who really doesn’t want their concentration broken, or even for those who need a quick nap. Conversely there’s the chaos room where teams are encouraged to be loud and rage against whatever they are struggling with, or celebrate when there’s a breakthrough.

Everyone is unique and requires different environments to perform at their best. This is something we value at Chilid, and our office has been designed to reflect and encourage this.

All image credits: Janina Tyńska/ XSolve & Chilid