RealNetworks moved into their brand new 85,000 square foot headquarters at Seattle’s Home Plate Center in August. They teamed up with SkB Architects to design an office that is collaborative, interactive, and ripe for sparking future innovations.
In the new space, RealNetworks has reduced their square footage by more than 50 percent, and increased the number of conference room shares and conference room availability by over 200 percent. They’ll be saving over $7 million each year and are pursuing LEED Gold certification. The Class A building has dozens of open workspaces, and an open staircase to each of the three floors. Their light-filled café is equipped with a kegerator and offers employees a deck with 270 degree view of the city and nearby stadiums.
We recently spoke with David Stout, GM of facilities at RealNetworks, and Andrea Vanecko, a design principal at SkB, to find out more about the project.
What did RealNetworks set out to achieve with the new space?
David: We were looking to transform the company. We wanted to open up the workspace and create an environment where people could create and innovate. Tech companies, especially, need to foster that kind of environment. Previously, the workplace was heavily officed. It had a brilliant view, but it was reserved for a privileged few.
Andrea: The Seattle area is really competitive in terms of its talent – space and dynamic company culture has started to play a pretty important role in capturing that key talent. One of the things that we noticed in the old space was that the building was very narrow. The chance that people would cross paths and intermingle was very limited. We wanted a more efficient “universal” plan, an optimal floor plate where you could just move people.
What was the process for moving employees from such a heavily officed space into the new open plan?
David: What we found is that as long as there are plenty of quiet areas and communal areas that the change management worked really well. People who were very much against forgoing their offices are now saying, “Hey, this really isn’t bad at all!” I feel like this is a major victory. Three quarters of our executives so far have decided to forgo their offices and turn them into “focus” rooms.
In the finance group, the CFO has forgone his office, and he’s in a workstation with his colleagues. It sends a strong message to everyone that an office isn’t a form of status and sometimes it’s better not to be in there.
We just had a board meeting and interestingly enough, for the first time, we had it in the café. The view at night is spectacular. It sends a strong message that we’re a smart, efficient company, and the café is one of the best spaces where all the employees gather.
Andrea came up with this idea of “neighborhoods”. The design of the office kind of pushes people out there anyway, into the prime real estate: the best views, the most light, most compelling, most inviting. In this new space, a software developer sitting out in a workstation has a great view of the city.
Andrea: At SkB, we have processes that we use to talk to all employees. The sooner we start feeding them info, the better. We take votes about culture and transition of the culture, and that data is captured and summarized while we’re in these meetings. RealNetworks was very supportive of us doing this. They regularly rounded everyone up for brown bag lunches and posted news in their café. We hosted a “focus group forum” over course of couple days – it was a mix of HR and finance people. We asked things like, “How would you like you’re culture to be?”, “What do you think your culture is now?”, and “Do you think you’re a dynamic or lethargic organization?”. The employees voted with handheld clickers and results were presented in real time on the screen.
Individuals get into the meeting and say, “Hey, maybe everyone else does want this [new type of office]”. Voting is a great way to very quickly get everyone in the company to speak their mind safely. And while those answers don’t give us critical design information, it does give us a barometer and it’s a great way to start the communication process.
Can you describe what it’s like to work in the new office?
David: This will be my ninth year at RealNetworks, and I swear I know 50 percent more people on a first name basis than I did four months ago because you can’t walk across the office without seeing 100 people. Work is just a lot more fun.
Andrea: It’s such a dynamic space change. The old building was long, deep, and dark. The floor plate is much more shallow now. Neighborhoods open everyone up to the glass. Circulation is tight to the core – like David said, you can’t not bump in to people.