Lucky or Wrong

Why Not Dodge problems early by predicting workspace performance long before construction begins?

In January 2012, Gawker Media's New York headquarters was one of The 15 Coolest Offices In Tech according to Business Insider. Everyone worked at long rows of tables like in a library, which founder Nick Denton thought would be familiar to young writers just out of college. There was a “lot of cool wood work and some strange cheerleader art,” it had phone booths, a lounge area, and “The requisite glassy conference room.”

It sounds cool, but by September 2014 it was quoted in Inside the Design of the New Gawker Media (and Gizmodo) Offices that, “considering the verbose personality of the average Gawker Media employee, it's strange that the Gawker office is perpetually cloaked in an oppressive silence.” According to architects working on the new space, a major problem with the original design was that there was no place to gather.

"We can blame our open plan office, an idea that took root in the corporate culture of the 1950s as a way to promote collaboration amongst employees and still survives today... Despite evidence that it does just the opposite."

At the time and by any measure the Gawker Media publishing empire was wildly successful.  In 2010 it was reported that Gawker Media’s blogs made the company America’s 45th most popular online property, more than which was 55th or at 59th.

But was the open plan office really to blame? Did it honestly take more than 60 years for the industry to realize its mistake? Did the architects for the original Gawker Media headquarters not get the memo or did someone just not do their homework? What exactly happened in those two years from 2012 to 2014?

On the one hand it’s quite obvious that Gawker Media was growing dramatically. Under these circumstances painful inflection points often occur late in the conventional office space life cycle whenever a business outgrows its workspace. But judging from the published accounts, Gawker Media was clearly upset more by flaws in the original design than by problems attributable to growth. This was most likely caused by something that did or did not happen early on in the office space life cycle during development.

Considering that NYC has the second highest rents for prime office space in the world, this transformation probably represented a $5M nuisance in construction costs alone for Gawker Media in one location. It’s worth taking into account what could have also been gained in productivity and saved in recruitment and retention costs if Gawker Media had been able to dodge this problem early by predicting workspace performance long before construction began.