Inside the open offices of 4 Chicago companies — and why it's key for collaboration

by James Risley
January 5, 2017

While the offices on Mad Men may look cool, breaking people up into offices and putting them on separate floors no longer works in a world where collaboration is the norm. Luckily, today’s best offices have moved far beyond stuffy corner rooms — and the petty fights over who gets to sit in them — toward a model that focuses on getting great work done.

We spoke to four Chicago tech companies about how their office is structured and how it contributes to building the best products possible.

 

Guaranteed Rate’s corporate office is far from traditional. The company took an old Chicago-style warehouse and turned it into a truly modern workspace, complete with a rooftop deck for both work and play.

“The rooftop is complete with Wi-Fi, two bars, music, grills, umbrellas, fire pits, a foosball table, cornhole and bean bag toss boards, darts and a ping pong table,” said executive vice president Lizzie Garner. “It’s a great place to work from your laptop, hold team meetings, or attend company events such as happy hours in the evening.”

Below the roof, Guaranteed Rate's open office structure not only helps the company be flexible as it quickly grows, but also promotes accessibility and collaboration.

“We stuck with an open floor plan because it fosters collaboration between teams and makes it easy to interact with people on a regular basis,” Garner said. “The majority of managers don’t have their own offices and sit in the open space. This way, managers are always accessible and approachable to their team.”

 

DevMynd's open office is all about teamwork and supporting how the company gets work done. While there are a few partitioned rooms for conference calls, the company's workflow makes offices obsolete.

“Since we focus so much on pair programming and collaboration, we feel the open environment helps forge strong team bonds with great collaborative results,” said Kelsey Pierson, market analyst at DevMynd. “Our software consultants and design consultants are also often working on a variety of projects, so since no one really has an assigned area, it makes it easier to pair program and work together if everyone is relatively mobile.”

The few office-like spaces that DevMynd does have are reserved for brainstorming and whiteboarding.

“Both ... are part of our collaborative nature amongst our team and our clients,” Pierson said. “Most of the team picks a place to work and may stay there for the duration of a project, depending on who they might be paired with.”

 

 

At LiveWatch, everyone from the CEO down has a desk in the open office space. And while teams sit together, the open office means they aren’t cut off from other groups around them.

“Our marketing team sits next to our dev team, so discussing website changes or throwing out new ideas can be done in real-time,” said brand and product manager Kimberly Elmore. “Everyone is within close proximity of one another and all of our conference rooms have large glass windows, so it’s never hard to find the person you need to speak with.”

The open office space is surrounded by plenty of places for group huddles, quiet working or brainstorming, too.

“We spend a lot of time on Google hangouts with our teammates from other offices, so every meeting room has a TV for video conferencing,” Elmore said. “The ‘bean bag room’ is by far the favorite for meetings — a conference room consisting of oversized bean bags and a coffee table.”

 

Open offices are great for work, but they can be great for fun too. Smokeball’s office has space for amenities that let employees de-stress, but there was some strategic placement to ensure that work still goes smoothly.

“Our office has a lounge area to play pool, kick back and listen to music as well as a large kitchen amped with a ping pong table and an area to play hoops,” said digital marketing manager Lynn Luong. “It was decided to place the loudest team nearest the large kitchen with all the toys. The team members whose work requires more quiet space were placed further away from the play area.”

The company’s open office space is set up for collaboration, with meeting rooms named after Australian beaches and larger conference rooms named after Chicago landmarks.

“Smokeball strongly believes in collaboration, and this set up is ideal for team members to easily communicate and work together as a team,” Luong said. “We keep things interesting by having team members switch desks to continue collaborating with others.”

 

Images via featured companies

What’s your favorite office feature? Tweet us @BuiltInChicago

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