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Visiting iPolitics’ new location feels much like a celebration as sunlight shines into the freshly renovated space. Ambient noise channels from the brick walls and wooden floors at 17 York Street, a Recognized Federal Heritage Building.
“The acoustics are very different,” explains Sally Douglas, Deputy Publisher at iPolitics and our guide on this particular Friday morning. “The buzz you’re hearing is a healthy noise for us,” she adds with enthusiasm. Her Scottish accent carries through the newsroom as we proceed to a smaller briefing room, situated as an alcove.
Holding a white mug, Douglas explains how the staff at iPolitics is embracing more than just a change of location since their move from World Exchange Plaza last November:
“There’s a parallel between what we’ve done with the building and our own profession,” she begins. “Journalism is as old as time. This is a very old building but we wanted to breathe something very new in the way of space management into a very traditional building. So we’ve worked hard throughout the space to highlight the features that are original in the building.” In what was formerly a worn-down space occupied by three different companies, Douglas takes us back in time in an effort to catch us up.
Apt613: So why the move from World Exchange Plaza?
“We needed more space and I think we needed a different type of space,” Douglas explains. “[World Exchange Plaza was] classically executive. Really very silence-based. Everything [was] so padded. And while it was really quite opulent, it was a little characterless. You know…beige walls. Beige floors. Cubical-clustered furniture. And we just wanted to try and pull right away from that.”
“The thing that began to get us very excited was the potential to bring the walls down and bringing all the light into the space because we have five windows that are facing south. That’s really what got our attention aside from the location.”
Apt613: Tell us about the renovations. Why were they necessary and what was the outcome?
“This office and the other office spaces had been used for storage space,” recalls Douglas. “There was no light at all,” she says, pointing to the newsroom where walls once stood. “It was a very lifeless space in here. It felt cold and dark.”
As we walk around for a tour of the kitchen and newsroom, Douglas directs my attention to the wooden floor. “The floors were black,” she emphasizes. “There was a big debate on what we should do with them,” she then confesses, describing how the carpet in some areas may have been over 40 years old. Once the carpet, flooring and significant amounts of glue were removed, Douglas says the original floor revealed significant character.
“There was a fire here in the 40s and so there is a forest on our floor,” she explains. “We have pine, we have oak, we have cedar. This lovely combination of woods that almost in itself tells a story about what happened in the hundred years that this building has been standing. We’ve stained them with a transparent varnish so we’ve just brought the colour out in the timber,” she adds.
Apt613: If the office space had a bucket list, what would make the top of that list?
“We did that!” says Douglas. “When we decided on the space, we sent out an e-mail to everybody, saying:
‘what would your ideal be? What do you want?’ It was really eye-opening what people asked for because they were not complicated things. They wanted a coffee machine, so we have a coffee machine. They wanted the space to feel playful and not too intense – not too serious.”
“I hope we’ve managed to do that with some of the colours we’ve used. The colours are representative of our brand but also with mixing it up with accent walls just kinda changes the tempo of the space.”
“The other thing that we wanted to do is we wanted it to be a space that we could change and move around and that would be versatile. So all the desks have wheels on them. Nothing in this space is difficult to move. We’ve put the power and the data in all of the locations so that we can move and then move again,” she explains. “We’ve already had several parties in here where we pushed the furniture off to the side,” she laughs.
Apt613: Our living and work areas tend to take on a character of their own. What characteristics does this space personify?
Douglas takes a moment to consider the question. “I think iPolitics thrives on the fact that we are edgy, honest, and non-partisan. We have to debate every side of the argument,” she begins. “This space is representative of a kind of openness, a collaboration, an honesty. We try and shine light on what we are doing and we are the best of what is old and new in journalism,” she continues.
“The whole journalism world is challenged by how fast things are changing and I think iPolitics is so good at sort of embracing the change and being at the cutting edge. I think our workspace is very representative of that. It’s not a typical journalists’ workspace,” she says. “We’re very proud of what we’ve done here and we want to tell that story that we’re carrying with us the values and integrity of good journalism but we’re moving technically into a different era and I hope that this space represents that.”
Apt613: When we move on to something new there is always something that must be left behind. For iPolitics, what else changed?
“There’s exactly [an extra] 45 seconds difference between walking from here [to Parliament] and walking from where we were,” Douglas laughs. “We timed it about five times because we knew it would be an argument for that really awful cold day.”
What becomes clear during our tour is that Douglas and her colleagues have a symbiotic relationship with their new office space: occupants are redefining their workplace environment and in turn, their surroundings are changing the office experience to one that is more playful in the midst of a professional tempo.
“I think an office is a living space,” Douglas says. “If you work from home, you can settle down on your bed, go to an office desk, your kitchen table, or sit down on your sofa,” she continues. “You can sit on the floor if you want to and no one would question your work ethic. We’re trying to breath that philosophy into our workspace,” she adds.
“Our team is a combination of young and old. We want people to come in and if they want to sit on the floor because that’s where they feel inspired that day to write something brilliant than we want them to do that.” “We’re still coming through a learning process,” Douglas confesses. “People are still inclined to go to their desk space.”
“The most fun moment has been watching people begin to be brave enough to embrace [the new space]. They are not sewn into a specific desk. They don’t belong to a specific space. This is their home and they can use it like that.”
Ken Ingram is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Ottawa. His blog can be viewed at: foundinottawa.ca