At the new Square office in San Francisco, designers and engineers work side by side in collaborative spaces, such as cabanas, outdoor seating, and common areas--as well as individual spaces, such as phone rooms, standing desks, and seating areas lining the windows. This is the Square "boulevard" that leads to the in-office coffee bar.

Square's staff has doubled in the past year from 300 employees to 600. “Scaling culture” is a perennial challenge for a growing startup, but Chris Gorman, Square’s head of office experience, is dedicate to that task. The new San Francisco space (this is the reception area) has more than 150,000 square feet and is an entire city block long, from Market Street to Mission Street.

Square created a number of different working environments that encapsulate the working style for the majority of people, including seating areas that face floor-to-ceiling windows.

Square's coffee bar recreates the merchant and consumer experience internally by using Square Register and accepting Square Wallet. Almost daily, the coffee bar receives a new beta build and provides instant feedback based on more than 400 daily transactions.

Throughout Square's headquarters, photos that showcase small businesses using Square act as an inspiration to the team.

Square's picture from De Luxe in Brooklyn.

Sebastien Grey in Chicago.

Self Edge in New York.

Why Square Designed Its New Offices To Work Like A City

Maybe all our offices should have major avenues and a town square.

When Square began working with the design firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) to envision Square’s new San Francisco offices—which it moved into six weeks ago—Square included a strange delegate: someone with no design background at all. But Chris Gorman, Square’s head of office experience, nonetheless had an important role to play. “A lot of what I was there to do was to check assumptions, to make sure the designs for the space would allow actual interactions to occur,” he explained to Fast Company.

Gorman was concerned, in other words, with what you might call the “user experience” of Square’s physical office space. And it reflects in the space that resulted (pictured in the slide show above).

Chris Gorman

“We were very inspired by city design and by cities in general—by areas where people cohabitate, come together, and share things in a quick and easy manner,” Gorman says. “We wanted to bring that same sensibility to the office.” And so instead of talking about a main hallway when describing the office, Gorman explains how there’s a large “avenue” running from end to end. A coffee bar in the middle acts as a sort of “town square.” Glass paneled meeting rooms are named for San Francisco intersections, “6th and Divisidero,” “6th and Ashbury,” and so on (Square’s offices are principally on the 6th floor of its building).

The design of the office “motivates people to move around the office and interact in casual, unscheduled ways,” he explains—just like the well-planned public spaces of a great city. Early concepts for the office were motivated by old 18th-century maps of cities. “When I think about a city,” Gorman says, “I shop, I go get coffee, I go to the park, I go for walks. We wanted to create that same variety in the office.” In addition to its in-house café (and in-house debugger/barista), Square has been experimenting with pop-up stores and artisan merchants appearing within Square’s own offices.

Gorman’s job—he was hired about a year ago—will only grow more complicated and essential as Square expands. “We’re recognizing that we’re a global company,” says Gorman. Indeed, Square’s 600 employees are now spread across several cities: San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Tokyo, and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario; all those locations have a dedicated office except the last, which will get one next year.

Gorman spends a fair amount of his time traveling from office to office, making sure that while each location has its own particularities, it’s nonetheless reflective of Square and its values as a whole. For instance, in the San Francisco office, there are small, informal meeting rooms the employees call cabanas, intended for “quick off-the-cuff meetings without using a conference room.” But how to carry this tradition over in Japan?

Gorman worked to design a “tatami room” for the Japanese office. A traditional element of Japanese architecture, the tatami room is often the initial place where people meet and gather in Japanese homes, says Gorman—“generally a place where you’ll find a sense of calm.” In Tokyo—as in San Francisco, New York, and Atlanta before it—all design elements are meant to underscore Square’s key values of collaboration and transparency.

Other elements help unify the experience across Square offices. Most simple, robust teleconferencing technology helps keep communication strong. That includes telecommuting robots; six in the San Francisco headquarters, and one in each of the other offices. Gorman has also helped to assemble travel guides tailored for Square employees, so that they’re not lost when they jet from Tokyo to Atlanta, or vice versa. The ultimate goal is to create a “unified language,” a sense that when you move from one office to another, you’re still home.

“Scaling culture” is a perennial challenge for a growing startup. By hiring someone dedicated to the task, and by embedding the values of its culture in its design across multiple offices, Square seems to be pulling it off.

[Images courtesy of Square]

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5 Comments

  • Melanie

    So, what I don't get is how people get work done. My biggest frustration is working in a cube where i overhear every conversation and am constantly interrupted. Maybe it's great for collaboration, but it is not at all conducive to actually accomplishing tasks.

  • A

    But like people work or study at Starbucks. The so called distractions actually serve like white noise helping them concentrate.

  • alchemist

    No mention of Christopher Alexander's seminal principles of spatial design (and subsequently, picked up as "design patterns" by the software world)? I hope Gorman is aware of and using these, even if they weren't included here.

  • Night Owls Press

    The idea of the office as a city is compelling-- but actually not that new.

    In one of our newly released books, THE FIFTH AGE OF WORK (Night Owls Press, 2013), Austin-based professor and management consultant Andrew M. Jones treats readers to a little bit of history on the evolution of the office space.

    Jones writes: "In the late 1970s, architecture professor Christopher Alexander challenged the separation of work and home in a series of polemics about natural patterns of human interaction and behavior in 'A Pattern Language.' In his book, he argued that the separation of home and work by industrial models and structures adversely affected the way people interacted and communicated. ... In a series of recommendations he referred to as “patterns,” Alexander outlined how to not only build towns and neighborhoods but also design workplaces that are consonant with the organic flows of human nature and culture."

  • emmalynnnil321

    My Uncle Levi recently
    got a stunning blue Toyota Matrix only from working off a macbook... try this B­i­g­2­9­.­ℂ­o­m