HR & Management

Moving out and growing up: Company culture in a new office

6 min read

24 March 2017

Ed Cooke and his business Memrise have a new office, and important decisions like the right coffee machine got him thinking about company culture.

There’s a lot to be said for a change of scenery in the form of a new office. It’s a chance to celebrate as you drink to a new era of growth, to collaborate as you discuss where the bikes are going to go, a last-minute excuse to fill a space with helium balloons (yes, I got excited) and name all of our meeting rooms after sci-fi films and turn one of them into a music room.

A new office is a milestone that offers the chance to reflect on where you’ve come from, and where it is your company is headed to next.

But any big change comes with a good deal of pressure, and so we endured our fair share of “necessary headaches” to ensure that the relocation worked for the whole team – not least of all the need for a new coffee machine. We were leaving behind our beloved converted chapel and luxurious AGA in Shoreditch (it’s hard to top that for personality) and moving further south to Aldgate East, so there were some interesting logistics to consider.

Importance of well thought-through seating plan in new office

I’d like to think we’re a friendly bunch at Memrise, but that didn’t stop the seating plan being one of the trickiest elements of the move, requiring many a negotiation session.

The trick was assigning spaces to teams based on the necessary day-to-day collaboration, while respecting requests and making sure that each individual still had some aspect of what they wanted from the move – whether that was access to a window, a standing desk, being next to a corner, facing the wall or any other manner of little things.

We’re now a team of close to fifty people so I daresay we’ll have some more shuffles yet – I’m still playing around in my mind with arrangements that could spark wondrous creativity from pairing, say, an Android developer next to our localisation expert, or a member from our language research lab with someone from our marketing team.

For now, we’ve agreed to keep the product, localisation, data and marketing teams together in one group, while the language research, developers (Android, iOS, platform), QA and support teams have formed another cluster. Let’s see how we get on.

A coffee machine that brews company culture

How does one infuse a new office space with the very soul of a company’s culture? We’ve been working on our company values recently, trying to pin down precisely what it means to have a Memrisey nature. What is it that we live and breathe? Doing that while moving into a new office is providing great insight into the relationship between space and culture.

I’m not talking about having inspirational quotes about our values up on a wall. That’s pretty much the opposite of Memriseyness.

Let’s take our new high-end coffee machine, for instance. An enigma to operate, this thing brought about a chain of events that exemplified our values as a company. First off, the ambition to have a good cup of coffee in the morning led to its acquisition and then each of us had the gumption to try to figure out how to make it work, but some irreverence had to be applied in trying unorthodox ways of getting the beans to be ground or the grounds to be filtered.

After that, each person in turn had to candidly admit having no clue as to how to work it and at last everyone showed the generosity to teach each other the series of buttons that have to be pressed to achieve the right brew. One could think, of course, that this might be a better example of wasting valuable time but I will argue that any productive day at the Memrise office starts with good coffee, and so this is indeed the best way to illustrate how this move has brought our company values to life.

There are of course many more changes in store as the horizon unveils new opportunities for growth. But for now, we’re relishing life in our new office space and we’re all looking forward to the challenges and opportunities this chapter will present us. Feel free to pop by to Starship Memterprise 2.0 for the grand tour.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.