Why We Finally Simplified Our Office Space

No matter how long you’ve been in business, no matter how comfortable you think you are, there are always new things to learn, ways to evolve, and ideas to adopt—if you’re open to it. But when it comes to the day-to-day stuff, sometimes you’re so focused on what’s in front of you that you forget to ask yourself if the way you’re working is, well, working. At least that was the case with us over the last few years, specifically when it came to our office spaces.

Last year we decided to simplify our office spaces in CA and NY, and we think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. Here’s why it worked for us, and why it might be something that could work for you, too.

How Our Office Journey Began

We founded Column Five in 2009. As we’ve detailed in our origin story, it was a happy accident. Our first C5 office was a coffee shop, but we were lucky enough to find some success fairly quickly, which meant we needed a real office to fit our crew. Thus, we went legit and got our real first office—a rented attic space that was maybe (OK, definitely) illegally zoned.

The Attic (Costa Mesa)

For a year or two,The Attic (as we called it) worked for our crew of less than 20. Yes, we battled noise from the Subway sandwich shop below. And maybe there were some rats in the wall. And, no, there was no A/C, but what are you going to do?

Most importantly, there were many fond memories—even if the spotty Internet did make each of us throw something at some point.

 

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Soon, however, we got tired of someone’s ping pong game interrupting someone else’s conference call for the 200th time, and we knew it was time to say goodbye.

Enter The Warehouse (Costa Mesa)

The next C5 spot was a great warehouse. It fit our team and our surfboards. We got real conference rooms, real internet, and a working fridge. Hell, there was even a shower in there.

 

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We also got even more clients and started to get real about treating C5 like a real business. With so much growth, we realized our team needed to expand beyond California. Thus, we made the huge decision: to open a second C5 branch in NYC.

Home Sweet Second Home (NYC)

While our CA team kept things going over at the warehouse, our brave new NYC explorers found a spot in DUMBO and launched C5NY.

 

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Managing two offices was definitely a learning experience, but after about 4 years of trial and error, we found our balance and were able to keep the ball rolling on both coasts. And then, we decided to go outside our comfort zone and experiment with an entirely new venture: launching our sister software company Visage.

When we moved into our CA warehouse, we thought we’d be staying put for a while, but this new venture added even more people to our team. We were also facing a few problems with the warehouse, specifically a lack of AC and ongoing Internet troubles. We’d created a crazy fan system to foster a bearable office environment and jimmy rigged a solution to maintain high-speed internet connection, which at one point included five routers and half of the team on aircards.

But with the warehouse starting to feel as cramped as The Attic and these ongoing troubles, we knew it was time to take the inevitable step and upgrade to a more sophisticated space.

The Baller Suite (Irvine)

Back in The Attic days, we never foresaw that our team or client list would grow to such a level that we’d need a huge office. But that’s where we found ourselves when we moved into our fancy HQ in Irvine in 2016.

We wanted something that could fit our teams comfortably with good parking, bathrooms, enough conference space, high-speed Internet, etc. And that’s what we got. We had floorplan for days, enough space to separate Visage and Column Five’s workspaces, an actual ping pong room (a C5 first), a photo studio, 8 conference rooms, and a few other bells and whistles that we definitely didn’t need.

 

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#C5CA planets, now in color 👌

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Meanwhile in NYC, the crew had also taken over 2X more space, giving us plenty of room to grow. And so, we were functioning at full capacity and in the groove up until 2018. We thought we were satisfied space-wise, but then things started to change.

Taking a Second Look at Our Space

We try to take regular stock of all aspects of our business, but if something isn’t an immediate issue, we don’t always prioritize it. Thus, it took us a while to realize that our office space wasn’t totally serving us because the nature of our business (and the way we work) has changed significantly over the years.

What exactly changed?

  1. We had more remote workers than ever. Our vision is to build a world where people can live happy, healthy, and fulfilled lives. This goal extends to our clients, naturally, but we also take steps to cultivate this vision for our employees. Thus, from the beginning, we’ve always allowed people to work remotely, whether it’s a new parent transitioning back to work or a C5er moving to a new city or country. From LA to Portland, Idaho to New York, our team has spread their wings all over the country. Of course, that means we don’t have them in office. With fewer bodies in the office, our HQ was feeling larger (and a bit lonelier) than ever.
  2. We absorbed Visage. Back in 2011 we created our sister software company Visage—an app that C5 owned. In 2014 it became apparent we needed to raise venture capital and spin Visage off into its own company to give it the best chance of succeeding. This served both Visage and C5 well at the time. But after about four years of operating two businesses, we made the decision to buy Visage back from our investors. The headcount projections we’d made for both companies ultimately proved a bit unrealistic, and with a skeleton crew running Visage, it didn’t make sense to pay for extra space we didn’t need.
  3. We’ve been streamlining our business. In the last few years we’ve been assessing how we do everything. We try our best to not be afraid of change, and we believe that if something works better, we should make every effort to adopt it. So we’ve been reevaluating our business structure, our processes, and just about everything, aiming for simplicity and efficacy. With this in mind, maintaining such a large office space didn’t gel with our plans.

When we took a step back and thought about these major shifts, we realized it was time to move again, to take a step back and pare down. But that wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

The Right Size (Costa Mesa)

It took us about three months to find the right office space, but the bigger challenge was finding someone to sublet our Irvine office. Luckily, we did—after about nine months of conversations with potential candidates (several of which fizzled).  

Ultimately, however, this move has been a significant shift to realign with our core values, beyond just paying less rent. And it’s benefitted us in several ways.

  • We’re wasting less, well, everything. Be Good to Each Other is one of our core tenets, and we think that applies to everything from our people to the planet. More space means we use more everything: electricity, water, supplies, etc. Whether it was keeping an extra fridge running or buying in bulk to stock a larger kitchen, we were filling our space just because we could. But that isn’t the most conscientious thing to do. If we can be more intentional about the things we consume and the way we use space, it’s a win for everyone.
  • Moving made us declutter. Moving to a smaller space is a move we think Marie Kondo would be proud of. It made us think more critically about the things we need, the way we make use of space, and what we really require from our environment. Light and social spaces? Yes. A storage room packed with books, gear, and tchotchkes we never use? No.
  • It makes us prioritize what matters. Not that we were out of control egomaniacs, but taking a step down can feel like a step back for some brands. Be Humble is another one of our values, and it’s good for us to remind ourselves that we’re defined by the work we do—not the glitzy office space we do it in. (That said, the new space is real pretty, too.)

 

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Not everyone needs to change their workspace, but we think it’s worthwhile to step back and think about how you work, where you work, and whether or not it serves you. For us, it was a big decision to change things up (and shoutout to our opps team for arranging yet another move), but it was the right thing for us. We’re happy we found the right home for us—and we plan to stay put for a long time.