To create great online products, you must share great offline experiences

As another creative titan moves into King's Cross, Zone's CEO, Jon Davie, reflects on the importance of physical interaction in creating a culture of creativity...

Granary Square

It’s pretty much four years to the day since I first came to visit the space that is now our headquarters in King’s Cross.

We trekked across the windswept space that has become Granary Square, where builders were still installing the fountains. We walked past the building sites that are now home to Caravan, Grain Store and Dishoom – some of the hottest restaurants in London. And as we inspected a cavernous, empty office space wearing hard hats and hi-viz vests, I wondered if we were mad to sign up as the first commercial tenant in the entire King’s Cross development.
This week saw the latest big company move into the area. The media group Havas has started the process of moving 24 agencies and 1,700 people into a new 10-floor building, where their neighbours will include global brands such as Google and Louis Vuitton, as well as Zone.

Just over half of our 250-strong team call King’s Cross home, with the remainder split between our Bristol office, our German base in Cologne and a remote team that covers three continents. We’ve become pretty adept at managing projects across a distributed workforce, using communication tools such as Slack, Egnyte (our cloud-hosted network server) and StarLeaf (video conferencing) to create virtual teams across all our locations.

But we’re also acutely aware of the importance of physical interaction. The benefits of sharing the same environment are well documented. When Steve Jobs was CEO at Pixar, he famously insisted that the toilets were located at the opposite end of the building to work stations, forcing people to get up and walk around, encouraging the “serendipitous personal encounters” that he believed to be essential to their culture of creativity.

We encourage our teams to get together and share the same space, whether it’s in London, Bristol or co-located at a client’s office. We’ve tried to create offices that combine desk space, breakout areas, meeting rooms and less formal spaces.  We also encourage clients to come and work from our offices, helping break down the ‘them and us’ mentality that’s so detrimental to agency-client relationships.
All of our projects involve deploying small, agile, multi-disciplinary teams. We want to blend content with data, strategy with design, brand with data. We want teams to think together and solve problems together – eating and laughing together helps facilitate that. It’s one of the ironies of the digital world that great digital products emerge from shared physical environments.

That thinking runs through our projects, our teams and our agency. And it doesn’t stop at the front door of our building. Living next door to the students of Central Saint Martins makes us part of a wider creative community – and our new neighbours from Havas can only add to that. We’re delighted to welcome them to the neighbourhood.