Walking into the new Shopify office on Elgin Street, you quickly realize this is not the typical cubicle-dominated space you expect to encounter in a modern office. Instead of the familiar and harsh fluorescent lighting that most of us are accustomed to, you’re met with subtle mood lighting, the natural tones of wood and cork and an atmosphere that resembles a cosy home rather than a traditional office space.
With that initial impression in mind, I made my way through the Ottawa headquarters of Shopify accompanied by Greg Scorsone, Director of Internal Operations at Shopify, and a central figure in the design and construction of the Shopify offices across Canada.
Located in the newly-built Performance Court building at 150 Elgin Street, the new Shopify office sprawls across six floors and 100,000 square feet. Each of the floors has been designed with its own unique theme in mind, ranging from an east-coast Maritimes theme on one floor, to a rustic cabin-in-the-woods theme on another. An interesting mix of finishes and accent pieces has been incorporated into each floor to match the overall theme. On the cabin floor I stumbled upon a lounge area equipped with bear-shaped beanbag chairs. On another floor I came across a series of private meeting rooms built to resemble a row of east-coast houses, painted in bright blue, red, orange and yellow.
Connecting the various floors is a series of wide, open staircases. These staircases had to be custom-built into the new space and required the removal of a sizable amount of concrete floor slabs before they could be installed. Though somewhat tricky to build, they provide a sense of connectivity between the various floors, and encourage staff to actively explore the office. The office space seems to flow more naturally from one floor to the next, something that is difficult to re-create in offices that are served solely by elevators.
As I explored the first floor with the help of Greg, I was introduced to Shopify’s take on the workplace. At the core of the office design are common work spaces, or pods, which typically house 8-16 work stations. Instead of working in individual cubicles, separate from fellow employees, pod spaces are designed to be shared. Featuring several rows of desks, a pod is typically occupied by a single team working on a common project.
With several pods acting as the main building blocks to each floor, the idea of collaborative work is taken further with the introduction of private meeting rooms. These smaller spaces allow pairs of employees, working on a common assignment, to break away from the shared pod space and move to a more private location. For those employees looking to focus in the privacy of their own space, the office design also includes secluded work stations built into various knocks on each floor. While some employees may prefer to work in an open space with their co-workers, others may opt for a more private space. The idea is to provide employees with the option to choose a workspace to suit their needs, as well as their personalities.
Shopify has also put an interesting twist on the concept of a conference room. On my tour of the office, I only came across a single conference room with the standard large desk and office chair setup. Instead, Greg and his design team have created some pretty unique gathering places throughout the new office. There is the Sauna Room, with natural wooden benches built to resemble a traditional Scandinavian sauna. On another floor, I came across a meeting room stocked with padded wooden crates, with walls draped in black & white graffiti art. Though somewhat unusual in design these rooms are designed to be fully-functional meeting places while also providing a more natural and inviting environment for employees to gather and share their ideas.
It may not be plainly visible at first glance, but a considerable amount of meticulous attention to detail has gone into creating this office space. A strong emphasis was placed on its acoustics during the design process. In order to reduce noise and keep sound levels comfortably low, various noise absorbing elements have been integrated into the common work areas. The noise-dampening natural cork floors, the large sound-absorbing light fixtures and ceiling elements all play a part in minimizing decibel levels. As Greg pointed out, the key to the success of an open-concept work space is to allow employees the freedom to interact while at the same time keeping sound levels low enough to avoid unwanted distraction.
The attention to detail in the design also extends to the lighting of the new office space. Instead of the standard fluorescent lighting, Shopify has opted for a lower-lumen option. The combination of spotlights, lamps and ceiling fixtures has created a more dim and snug environment that is a bit softer on the human eye.
And then there are the toys. The Elgin office has been equipped with some pretty awesome amenities that are likely on the office wish list of most of us. You can find a well-stocked game room with an Xbox 360 (and a respectable game collection), a foosball table and a few retro arcade machines. If you are looking for a healthier break alternative, you can stretch out in the in-house yoga studio or play a round of ping pong. Employees can also recharge and grab a quick bite to eat at the snack bar, located on each floor. There is also the main cafeteria with cooking staff serving up freshly-made hot meals every day. No more of last-night’s left-over’s for lunch. To keep employees from dozing off while at the same time reducing the monthly coffee bill, Shopify has put in a coffee bar on one of the lower office floors. Here employees can help themselves to a variety of hot beverages without the need to venture outside of the office in search of a cup of Joe.
Fun and games aside, it seems like Shopify has been able to craft a remarkable office space for its Ottawa headquarters. By tailoring the space to the needs of the staff, Shopify has created a comfortable environment that motivates staff productivity. This type of investment in office space (and in its staff) may prove vital to a rapidly expanding company like Shopify. And there is more to come for the Ottawa office with work underway on the addition of another two floors. Once renovations are complete, and the dust settles, the Ottawa office may be home to approximately 750 employees.
In the past, this type of investment in quality office space has been mostly limited to the tech industry. It would be interesting to see if other Ottawa-based businesses will break away from the norm and experiment with a more employee-oriented office design. At the very least, those of us who spend most of our work day in a cubicle maze that is the modern office, would appreciate the effort!
See below for more photos:
Maksim Apelfeld is a contributing photographer at Ground Floor Photography, a local Ottawa blog and photography studio.