The culture within which we work determines our professional and personal effectiveness, success, fulfilment and wellbeing. The places in which we work are woven into the fabric of our daily lives as never before. And we are immersed in the digital world as much as the physical one. So, each day is a series of experiences. Because we are freer to work wherever and whenever we choose, we are increasingly able to determine the nature of those experiences.
For those who design and occupy offices this represents a great opportunity. And a challenge. We must create a cohesive organisational culture within the context of a fractured sense of time and place. We must offer people the sorts of choices they have grown used to, including the sorts of experiences offered by technology.
Fast moving and innovative, tech startups like Cleanshelf understands its office must offer people a great user experience. The office must adapt to the needs of each user. It must offer a range of features. It must be upgradable. It must be intuitive. Perhaps most of all, it must feel personal for each person even while connecting them to others.
It must work like an app.
Cleanshelf is a young tech pioneer that offers organisations a way of managing their software as a service (SaaS) subscriptions. It uses artificial intelligence to identify unmanaged contracts, duplicate licences and wasted subscriptions to cut spending on SaaS by up to a third.
The company was founded in 2017 by Dušan Omerčević. It was acquired by German tech firm LeanIX in March 2021 and now has locations in San Francisco, Denver and Ljubljana.
Its success is down to an ability to innovate in a rapidly expanding market. Some of the most successful and best-known SaaS firms such as Zoom, Intuit and Workday are thriving in the era of hybrid working. According to tech researchers Gartner, 70 percent of companies are currently investing in SaaS solutions and other cloud services. That number is only set to increase.
Already successful, Cleanshelf is set to take off. Not last because it has strong foundational principles that appeal to both clients and employees alike.
Although home to a rapidly growing global business, the new Ljubljana offices designed by Kragelj are at the heart of the development strategies of Cleanshelf and LeanIX. It is a centre of innovation that is sending shockwaves around the world.
Because any technology is in a state of permanent development, innovation, renewal, and learning, tech firms themselves exist in a state of permanent beta.
They must offer their clients a great solution for now, while moving rapidly towards what comes next.
Dusan Omercevic wanted to apply the same thinking to the firm’s new Ljubljana offices when he commissioned them in 2020. It was to be a process, rather than a project. A superstate of settled and unsettled. Serving employees each day while learning from their ideas, experiences, and desires to renew what the office provides them with.
Cleanshelf had identified Kragelj as the right partner for its new offices. Not only because of our track record in providing excellent spaces for clients, but also because of our agility and willingness to respond to a client’s changing needs.
This is particularly the case for tech firms opening up new markets and new ways of working.
The relentless growth of Cleanshelf meant that the office project had to adapt in real time. This meant the original plan to create a 200 – 300 sq.m. space to accommodate the firm’s growth, soon expanded to 600 sq.m.
But the underlying objectives remained the same. The office has to attract young people to work for the firm, including from overseas. Only the best talent will do for a firm making its mark on a global scale.
The office also has to reflect the firm’s culture and give people a sense of belonging. It has to offer them choices about where and how to work, including how to get some acoustic privacy in a space focused on openness and collaboration.
It has to portray the right image and give people the sort of experience they are used to in other settings.
And it has to offer them the chance for personal development and learning of new skills.
The Cleanshelf office is bound up with the organisation’s broader goals to recruit and retain the best people and inspire them to do great things. It engineers serendipity with different forms of space that offer people choices and allow them to interact with people in new ways.
As a recent study in Harvard Business Review found, working around people doing different jobs may enhance workers’ professional identity. Such workplaces give employees “the opportunity to frequently describe what they do, which can make what they do seem more interesting and distinctive”, claims the report.
The benefits of successful interactions are derived not only from outcomes but also from the enjoyment of being part of an experience and a knowledge network. Knowledge workers who span boundaries tend to perform better through access to information that generates new ideas and an attitude that can spin information beyond the obvious.
That is why the Kragelj design for Cleanshelf is focused on a shared space. Not only shared but also social. That is why the diner-style café takes up a quarter of the space at the new office. And is also the first space people come to. It is the heart of the building. A statement that does not detract from the work people do in other spaces.
The Experiential Office
We have many models of office design and working culture upon which to draw. What comes next depends on what we would like to create but, in each case, it is likely to involve the creation of an office that draws on conventional workplace ideas alongside varying levels of inspiration from other sectors, including technology itself.
Cleanshelf set out to create a working culture and environment that attracts the best people to work with them and then to come into the office as much as possible out of choice. Kragelj was a natural design partner to work with them on realising this vision.
The office is designed to give people choices. To interact across disciplines. To attract people to work for the firm. And to come to the office when they have other choices.
Although the office is seemingly dominated by the cafeteria – a shared space – three quarters of the office is focussed on offering people the choice of whether to work in peace or with others.
The provision of work booths, break out spaces, partitioned rooms, and workstations emphasises just how much choice is offered to people to create their own daily experiences of work. They are used to tailoring their technology, and the office should offer them the same level of functionality.
The Art of Work - inset
One of the most striking features of the new workplace is the imposing painting in the reception area by the world-renowned Slovenian artist Miha Štrukelj. It is typical of the artist’s work in that it explores how people relate to their surroundings.
One of the characteristics of Štrukelj’s work is the way it abstracts or pixelated landscapes, objects, and individuals, transforming them into interrelated elements.
It is an appropriate theme for the office and one that inspired the designers at Kragelj to think about the space in new ways. By breaking down a vision into its elements and reconfiguring them into something new but intuitively recognisable, we were inspired to apply the same approach to our work in the office.
One of the unexpected outcomes of the project was a change in the way Kragelj works. While we have always been proud of our ability to learn about a client’s needs and adapt as a project progresses, our partnership with Cleanshelf changed our perceptions of just how agile we could be.
We had to adapt in real time to a firm that was not only growing rapidly in a new market but was also subject to acquisition.
The restlessness that will drive Cleanshelf to greater success also became a feature of the new office. Not only did we have to adapt in real time in response to the firm’s development, we also had to embed responsiveness into the design. This is not the office of a static business, but one that expresses movement.
It is a learning environment in every sense, and it provides us with a great learning experience we can carry into our other work.
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