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Building the Server Density London office – 1 year later

Originally published on the Server Density blog.

In February 2012 we moved into our custom built Server Density office in London, UK. Having started construction in November 2011, we designed and fitted out a 3 story office for our London based design and marketing team, with our engineers remaining remote around Europe. Now we’ve been there for a year, I thought I’d provide some more photos and a writeup of some of the changes we’ve made based around what we’ve learnt.

More internet #

With initially just 4 people working in the office full time, an 8MB ADSL connection from BT was sufficient. However, as we’ve added more office based employees and especially when we have our regular days with the whole team in the office, there was a noticeable slowdown.

I specifically chose a Draytek Vigor2830 ADSL2/2+ Firewall Router to allow us to add additional connectivity and we did this with a 50MB fibre connection from Eclipse Internet. The router balances traffic across the connections automatically and applies QoS to prioritise important traffic e.g. VoIP and web traffic vs large downloads (such as the iOS SDK!).

This also gives us some redundancy as the ADSL and fibre networks are separate (at certain points, they still share exchange and curb to building infrastructure). The next step would be to upgrade the BT connection for additional speed and a leased line for redundancy. Unfortunately leased line pricing is expensive – from £300/m for 1MB.

The Sun is annoying #

The Sun causes problems with glare, particularly for designers. We spent a lot of time thinking through the lighting in the office but even with that, having windows complicates things! We had to replace blinds a couple of times so we could balance blocking out all light with allowing some natural light in to provide a nice working environment. The blinds we chose have opacity options so we were able to buy matching blinds but adjust the opacity on a per window basis.

Cover the walls #

The first 6 months we had nothing on the walls which was very modern and minimalist but not very interesting. So asked for suggestions on Google+ and the team all posted ideas for different pictures and things to go on the walls.

We now have a giant death stara map of Japan, limited edition cycling printsXKCD and Portal posters lining the walls. These have come from the whole team so help expressing the company culture and interests.

Some of these switch stickers also appeared around the place.

Eating lunch together #

Being a design and engineering company, the office is very quiet during the day – people are in the zone and listening to music on headphones. We’re all constantly in chat and using Google+ but it’s easy not to talk to anyone in real life during the day. As such, every day everyone in the office has lunch between 1.30pm – 2.30pm where we sit at our conference table away from computers and talk. Sometimes this is about work, discussing ideas and thinking through problems but often it’s unstructured – cool things on Hacker News, science or other random topics!

Recycling #

Although we spent a lot of time thinking about the most energy efficient way to build the office in terms of heating, lighting and building materials, for some reason the London Borough Council don’t provide recycling to business premises. We have had to pay a commercial company to provide bags and collect our recycling, which is quite a large volume given that modern packaging is quite good at being easily recyclable.

Things get messy, quickly #

Even though we’re essentially paperless, there are still things that need to be out on desks and/or stored. Glasses, mugs, notepads, mobile test devices (iPhones, iPads, Android phones), keys, medication, food, etc. We purchased a few under desk cabinets and coat hangers to keep things tidy.

We have a cleaner come once a week to do normal things like vacuum, tidy up, dust things, etc. Now we have quite a few people, once a week is not quite often enough but twice a week is too much. Cleaning is also disruptive and we experimented with early morning and late night schedules (weekend didn’t fit in with the cleaner’s schedule). Most of us arrive in the office around 10.30 – 11am and leave by 8pm so the cleaner comes around 9pm.

Power usage #

We were able to optimise the office power consumption by switching off hidden equipment on timers – network routers/switches aren’t used for most of the day so they get turned off on timers.

Batteries are also a surprising requirement. Wireless mice and keyboards run out of power very quickly and at inconvenient times!

Overall #

Adding an office to an initially remote company has worked very well. All our infrastructure is already in place to work anywhere so there’s no feeling of those working from home being isolated from those in the office. We use Google+ and HipChat extensively and so get the benefits of being able to hire the best engineers anywhere in the world at the same time as having all designers in the same location, where they work together best.

Server Density office door

Office entrance, conference table

Upstairs floor with stairs barrier wall

Upstairs design team area with map of Japan and Death Star

Upstairs area with sun blinds

Pair deploying new services for testing

Portal posters into kitchen area

Unused downstairs area ready for expansion