The Evolution of Our Open Office
January 24th | 2017

As we turn the page to 2017, we want to take a moment to look back at a major milestone that took place for us last year: moving into our new home on Eat Street.

Our new building at 2429 Nicollet began life as a police precinct (in fact, we saw the remnants of jail cells in the basement when we first toured the building) and eventually became an Asian grocery before it passed into our hands. When we first saw the building – a 1950s two-story with straight lines and vaguely midcentury bones – we instantly fell in love with it. And we couldn’t have been more excited about its location on Eat Street, where you can find some of the city’s best food spots. (We were so inspired, in fact, that we made a cookbook highlighting a few of the best recipes from our neighbors in the area.) On top of that, our proximity to the Minneapolis Institute of Art makes for perfect midday walks and occasional gallery breaks.

We’ve learned a lot from designing our own spaces over the years. We began as just a few people in tiny second-floor room on Lake Street, beside a Walgreens and overlooking a liquor store parking lot. Later, we moved to our Lyndale location across from Bob’s Java Hut, where we grew from 13 to 55 people. During our tenure in those two offices we learned a lot about what we value in a work environment – and what doesn’t matter to us at all. When we sat down with our friends at Tanek to plan our new home, we made it a point to incorporate the lessons we’ve learned along the way, but also to make room for the challenges of a company that’s relentlessly committed to its own evolution.

Wide open space on the main floor

Designed for how we work

For nearly 8 years, we subscribed to the idea we should all sit around one big table. To us, solving modern business problems requires multiple points of view to come together in unexpected ways, and spending our days around one big communal table was a great way to make that happen. While it had its drawbacks (it can be hard to find long periods of uninterrupted focus time for design, writing, or even just sustained thinking), the positives still far outweighed the negatives for us. For years, the Big Table served us well.

But a couple of years ago, the nature of our work began to shift again. We started doing more product innovation and service design, and it required us to break into smaller, nimbler teams that benefit from moving around a lot. We also began working on more testing and prototyping, and our last space just wasn’t built for any of that.

Semi-soundproof booths for small teams

Living rooms are intimate but never hidden

With all that in mind, we designed the Nicollet office with lots of areas for small teams to meet at the drop of a hat. We have semi-soundproof booths, work tables, café seating and an open basement where teams can spread out and make a mess. As a general rule, if a wall is painted white, you can write on it. Most people choose not to have a permanent desk and float to different spaces throughout the day. And if someone needs long stretches of uninterrupted time for concentration, we included individual booths for that, too.

We like each other here, and we love the energy that comes from a room full of people collaborating in real time. One of our worries about leaving the “Big Table” model was that we might feel a bit disconnected, so we searched for a solution that gave us the space we needed but also strengthened our sense of togetherness.

We found it in how we laid out the office: the conference rooms and seating areas sit around the perimeter of the space, all facing inward, which creates clear sight lines across the office. We also positioned “living room” areas in the middle of both floors.

Conference rooms face the center of the space

To connect the main two floors, we cut a giant hole in the first floor ceiling.

We also chose the spot for permanent desks carefully, putting them near the kitchen. That means that even though they’re the least mobile workspaces in the office, the people who use them still feel connected to the rest of the company.

The result of our layout is that people are more likely to interact with each other, even if they don’t usually work together, and that our new employees have an easier time getting to know their coworkers and how we work together. And it’s all because the space itself is designed to encourage this kind of organic connection.

Second floor counter seating overlooks the main floor

Designed for creativity

We understand the importance that a change of scenery can have on people’s thinking, so we also designed the layout to encourage movement. There are nearly 30 different seating styles in the space, each with a different view, a different level of noise, and varying amounts of light and privacy. There are places where you sink into a couch, sit at a communal table, stand at a counter, and everything in between.

We also wanted the office to feel a bit unexpected and alive. We started by maintaining the interesting quirks of the raw space, which was also a key feature of our last space. On the floor, you can still see the aisles of the old grocery store. We left the structural beams exposed and never really finished the ceiling. Maybe most importantly, the space was flooded with natural light when we found it, and we made sure to leave it that way.

A pop of color in an unexpected place

We’ve also found that color plays a role in creativity, so we took it into account in all our design decisions. In general, layered warm tones and natural wood dominate the space, especially in areas meant for high concentration. We strategically hid pops of bright color in high traffic areas to add some energy. We also added lots of big plants for a sense of organic vibrancy that keeps the space from feeling too boxy or sterile. It’s amazing what a plant can do to liven a space. Minnesota winters are cold and unforgiving, so it is nice to bring a bit of the outdoors inside.

Designed to reflect our personality

Zeus Jones has never been a culture of foosball tables and scooters. For us, a workshop vibe feels best. We like the message our environment sends to one another and to our clients – this is a place to roll up your sleeves and solve big problems together.

We also place a high value on the talents people have outside the walls of Zeus Jones. We hire people who are passionate and curious about the world around them, and one of the small ways we celebrate employee talent is through the ZJ Art Show. We periodically ask people to contribute one or more pieces to hang in our space. The result is an eclectic mix of illustration, printmaking, painting and photography. It is a great way expose clients and coworkers to new sides of the talented people they come to work with every day.

The Zeus Jones art collection

We even harnessed the woodworking talent of Braden Stadlman, one of our producers, to build 18 beautiful walnut tables that live throughout the space.

Music has always played a key role in our environment at Zeus Jones. It is a great way to add a sense of life and keep the day moving along. To celebrate our individual musical tastes, we created ZJDJ. Each week, one person is nominated to make a giant playlist for the office. The selections range from Young Thug to Patsy Cline and span everything in between. It plays in half of the space, while the other half remains relatively quiet.

Some of our favorite ZJDJs:

Kristan Nolan, Missy Reinikainen, Alex Register, Lindsay St. Clair.

Our first six months in our new home have been great.

People love the increased amount of sunlight, especially in the winter, and the layout has created far more opportunities to interact with people we don’t always see. In general, people feel like they have the space to work the way they need to work. Which is perfect—because we’re doing some of the most exciting work in our company’s history.

The only thing we know for certain is that we will always continue to push forward and evolve as a company. And as we change, we know we’ve finally created a space that can grow with us.

Special thanks to:

Jill Krueger, Our Office Manager (and person that gets shit done at Zeus Jones) for cracking the whip and orchestrating the entire buildout.

Ken Piper, Jessica Medinger and Tim VanHouten at Tanek for being amazing architects and designers.

Greg Ottum at Oz Construction for bringing it to life.

Travis Meldahl and Spencer Gerberding at Leverage Realty for helping us find the place.