I've been gently teasing the news for a few weeks now, but I guess it's time to make it official now: yes, we have an office.
Sign o'the times
First off, this is a weird transition for Stéphanie and me. Since 2008 we have had little use of an office as working from airplanes, trains and mostly our customers' facilities were the norm. And we worked remotely too, as for many years pre-covid, our missions were already dotted with a solid 30% of video-conferencing and phone calls. For all this, having a dutifully designed home office was plain enough and we never bothered with a fully separated space outside in the city.
In 2020 when we saw Covid-19 hitting the planet and I famously (?) alerted our key customers that, no, it's not just the flu, and no, no one is probably moving around very much anytime soon, we didn't feel very threatened business-wise. We had a solid grasp of how to work remotely and organize workshops or webinars. We even started our webschool a year ago (nothing visionary, just bloody lucky timing). And again, although our home office was now 100% of our work week and it could feel cramped at times, no complaint. We were among the few lucky professionals to be OK in this global chaos.
So now that we're all getting back our groove in a new normal when Covid is still flying around (and yes, coming back for the winter season), when remote working has been normalized and we're still working all over Europe (and in Tokyo or Singapore – I'm starting to be pessimistic about Shanghai, but that's another story), why would we care for a local office?
Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore
Well, the first thing is that obviously, a spacious, nice home office where the two of us can work only goes so far. Functionally, it's quite sufficient. Psychologically? That's another problem. As we embraced our new normal of maybe just traveling once a month for two or three days versus two or three weeks, we started to feel the need to get "out." And I'm sure that many of you can relate to this. Of course, we could have decided to just go back to planes, and trains, and hotels. But the inefficiency of adding a day or two of travel for a day of work has been compounded by the fact that some of the customers will be remote anyway.
The truth is that remote is now superbly more efficient for everyone involved in our line of work. And a few of you will probably argue that nothing will replace human contact and seeing people in the eye, putting sticky notes on a real wall, or having a break together for a real coffee or lunch. I call bullshit.
Or at least, it means you're not in our specific business line where time (if not some plain urgency) is not of the essence. Sure, I would agree that being fully remote means losing something. There's no discussion about this and we plan to visit our clients more if only for a lunch, to grab a drink, or have some live events together (more on this later 😎). But for delivering time-to-market efficiency on sensitive innovation projects? Remote. Is. More. Efficient.
Buying is dumb
Anyway, after two years of trying to resolve these questions, we decided that our new normal would be 80% remote from now on, up from 30%. In this configuration, and thinking of the next ten years, getting out of home became less of a luxury option. We then had a brief discussion about renting vs. buying (would who'd be dumb enough to jump into buying? Ahahah!). And it was clear that we wanted our space and we went for buying.
After many months of screening the real-estate market around us in Haarlem and remembering that dealing with real estate in the Netherlands is a multi-layered nightmare, we spotted a lovely ground-floor apartment that was an old shop with huge south-facing windows in one of the most lovely parts of Haarlem city center. The kind of place that is so nice that you know you're not going to get it.
This was in July.
We got the keys last week 🤯
Designing for optionality
As you can see, the future office is a blank canvas. We have WiFi, though, so I guess the base of our Maslow's pyramid is fully covered. Beyond that? We booked the wonderful Roxan Sleurag to get things done.
We are just starting the process and will keep you posted down the road. The key point is that we strive for a lot of flexibility in this space. It has to feel cozy and open but also provide a high-end inspiring environment for small "happy fews" events (whaaaat... am I teasing about this again?).
Designing for optionality is key for us. We enjoy the future luxury of such a space for the two-person army that we are, but so much more can be experimented with and offered in such a space.
The "location, location, location" part of the equation is amazing from the get-go as the office is in the lovely Burgwal neighborhood, 3 minutes away by bike from the train station, which itself is 20 minutes away from Amsterdam central station (which translates in "three subway stations" in Parisian or Londoner.) Not to mention that a few hundred meters away from the lovely Teylers Museum too.
Go glocal, go!
The great paradox of all this is that while the pandemic hasn't had much impact on our kind of business (and really, we know how lucky we are), the post-pandemic has. While this article is fairly personal, I can't keep from trying to see if there's a big picture there. We now know that remote sticks. And Brian Chesky recently explained how Airbnb went from mainly vacationers crossing borders for a few nights to more families and professionals going up to a gas tank away from home for a week or two. There's something at play here... Traveling 12 min away from your Dutch home to run a meeting in Tokyo in the morning and in Berlin in the afternoon is a wonderful promise.
The fabled glocal market, rooted in a very local physicality and yet, globally-connected, might be shaping up more and more.
I will travel to a few capitals in January to get a drink with friends and customers.