May 28, 2014

BC Electric building offers new office environment that boosts morale and attracts hires for Vancouver based PNI

Local tech companies switch to character workspaces with heritage style, modern amenities

As recently as two years ago, very few of PNI Digital Media’s 150 Vancouver-based staff were likely to encourage any of their tech-savvy friends to join the company.

One of the problems the technology company faced was that they were working in a pretty desolate office, said PNI’s CFO Cameron Lawrence.

“Financially, we were in declining revenues and the office space was really poor,” Lawrence said. “The office space almost looked like the offices from the TV show The Office — pretty humdrum, pretty depressing.”

Their staff — who are mostly in their mid-20s to mid-30s and spend their time servicing and operating the websites of large retailers — were scattered across several offices on two floors of the old B.C. Electric Building at 425 Carrall St. They decided to make a change, and consolidated the entire company onto the first floor of the building.

One of the keys to keeping employee morale high while also encouraging staff to spread the good word to potential hires is having a comfortable and exciting workspace in a downtown location, say local tech company executives like Lawrence.

“We’re very lean and didn’t have a ton of resources like a company like Global Relay would have, so the approach we took was completely different,” he said. “Because this is a hundred-year-old building, it was almost like an archeological dig. We started peeling back layers of the floor and what we found was actually quite cool.”

They found old sections of fir timber flooring and original concrete that had “aged in a cool way”, he said. “We kept it true to the roots of the building itself.”

He said they wanted to keep the area as open and collaborative as possible while allowing the old-fashioned interior of the building to set the tone for the company. While they don’t have many bells and whistles, the showpiece of the office seems to be the “chill-out area” and staff lounge, he said. “We have a huge oversized kitchen and a games room for people to take their half-hour break playing XBOX or whatever.”

Staff retention is up since the move and the company is now growing in market share and in staff size, he said, noting that the company was recently purchased by Staples and plans to hire about 20 to 30 more staff — he hopes with more additions made through references from current workers.

Mobify, another local tech company that helps large online retailers optimize their websites for tablet use, also moved into new downtown digs recently. The company’s 85 Vancouver-based staff relocated three months ago from offices in Gastown to a single space at 948 Homer St. in Yaletown.

“One of our goals was to bring all of our company onto a single floor,” said Mobify CEO Igor Faletski. He said they took over one floor of the century-old building, knocked out the walls and set up a colourful, open space with massive murals by local artists.

He said particular attention was paid to creating an office that promoted staff health and fitness, including their latest perk: a cold-pressed organic juice station set up by a former employee.

“We engineered part of our office to be kind of a mixed-use space that can double as a gym, with special gym floors and gym equipment,” Faletski said.

He said they use that space for yoga or kettle ball exercise classes. “We also built it to allow hundreds of people to come in and listen to speakers, grab a drink.”

A problem that Mobify had before the move was that staff from different departments were working on the same projects in different spaces. “For us, we’re definitely a company that’s built on face-to-face interaction because a lot of the work requires large teams to collaborate,” he said.

There are no offices at the new space in Yaletown. “There are a lot of team rooms, but there are no offices,” he said, adding that private meetings can be held in a meeting room, if needed.

And while one might think that Mobify’s arcade machine, rooftop patio and freshly pressed fruit juice might distract employees from their work, Faletski believes otherwise. “If people feel comfortable and safe, they’re more likely to focus on their work instead of office politics or something like that,” he said.


Read more: