Connecting the Drops
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Creating a working space that amplifies the mission

August 30 2009 | Culture Shifting, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

Everything either adds to an organization's mission or subtracts from it. A working environment is no exception... it's just another piece of the equation.

The first time I came to the Surfrider Foundation office, years ago, I was horribly let down. I had built a certain vision of what Surfrider was in my mind. I had a specific image of the brand, what it stood for, and how it would look. The space didn't look anything like what I had imagined. To be frank, it was a dump... it had mold in the corner, the space was an unending series of mazes so you never knew who was in the office, etc. It was clear that they didn't spend any money on the space, but I wondered how much the poor layout and shoddy conditions challenged the employees. Oddly enough, just as the economic downturn was taking hold we were forced out of those offices (rent was raised at a time when it should have been discounted). So we left.

I'll never forget the dialog we had as a team during that time period. Some portion of our staff wanted to move into any space and get on with things and another portion wanted to create something special, something that reflected our brand, and something to inspire us. That second group wanted to be reminded that we were working to change the world and that part of changing the world was changing ourselves and our lives to better align with our mission.

Money wasn't a major issue in this case as we didn't have much to spend. When you can't buy much, resourcefulness and creativity kick in.

It's always easier in one sense when you don't have much money as that creates fewer choices. The challenge is how to stretch a dollar. Which materials are inexpensive AND add to our goals of creating a work environment? We wanted our space to feel like people had entered Surfrider Foundation the second they walked through the door.



For me this story points back to the phrase I've used many times before, onramps.

Organizations, like people that live near the coast, want to contribute to Surfrider's mission. In this case LPA, a local design and architecture firm, more than rose to the occasion. They created the space using old doors for the reception desk, hardiplank for walls and $10 tileboard for oversized whiteboards from HomeDepot, $7 lightbulbs from Ikea hung en masse from the ceiling. They took a dollar and stretched it to act like $10. "More with less" was their unspoken mantra. Specifically Rick D'Amato and Denise Mendelsshon were the two mavens from LPA that created and built our space. One could suggest that LPA, Denise and Rick, were just doing their jobs. I don't think so. It was more than that. I think they saw this project as a way to offer their expertise and devote their time to our mission.

This is the metaphor for our mission as a whole, we all have individual strengths and abilities... companies included. The question isn't "can you contribute to Surfrider's mission?" it's "how can you contribute to Surfrider's mission?"

We saw a similar thing with Oceanside Tile. My friend Sean Gildea, one of the founders there, saw this office as his way to offer something unique to our mission. They not only gave us free tile for our bathrooms they came up at exactly the right moment and installed it.

We now allow multiple non-profits to use our space for meetings and gatherings as we know that the mission "...protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches for all people..." reflects other organizational missions. Enabling them to use this space helps them focus on their programs and initiatives.



We've been in the space for about a year now and it feels like home. Matt McClain, our Director of Marketing, has a drum kit and a few guitars in his office (they wind it up after hours). Michelle Kremer, our COO, uses her grandmother's dining room table for her desk.

We were just awarded Gold LEED certification, but that's not close to the best thing about this space. The best thing about this space is the fact that the design promotes collaboration like we've never, ever seen.

In the end that higher level of collaboration will increase our impact on our mission.

And that's all that matters.



photos: LPA
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