How BuzzFeed Designs Its Offices

Julia Goldberg, BuzzFeed’s vice president of facilities, real estate, and security, describes how she creates and manages the media company’s offices across the globe.

Julia Goldberg BuzzFeed office design

This article is part of the “tech x interiors” special section that was guest-edited by the design firm Studio O+A. The section, which appeared in the April 2018 issue of Metropolis Magazine, explores how technology is reshaping the workplace. You can find the full section online here.

Technology is core to our culture and key for our infrastructure. When it comes to the technology experience within a space, I am a true believer, but I am also a true believer that technology has a place. When it starts trying to replace empathy and human interaction, we start losing ourselves as a community. Technology can enhance the experience or shorten the trip or help with wayfinding or tell me where my meeting is and how to get a coffee delivered. It can help communicate with clients. It can help make someone’s job easier. But it shouldn’t take away the human element.

One of the aspects of my role is to come up with new, interesting, and responsible levers to protect our financial investment in real estate. I’m not the architect, and I’m not necessarily the end user. I’m the workplace advocate for my clients (all employees, our guests, our external clients), equipped with a designer’s mindset, even though I’m not a “true” designer. Early on in my career, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about general construction, workplace design, and workplace strategy. My differentiating factor from those in similar roles is my background in technology (I came up the IT track) combined with a background in finance (I worked in private equity/mergers and acquisitions), so I understand the costs of things and how to look at ROI. At the end of the day, facilities and office services are ultimately responsible to finance.

What that really means is that when I’m looking at a new location, I’m looking at multiple levers: Should we go coworking first? What’s the most basic build I can do that I can build onto later? I’m asking: Are we building modular spaces that allow for additional infrastructure, culture, and amenities, and what is the cost of those things in both tangible and cultural terms? We need to be able to build multiples of something—can we do that in this space? We need to come up with a kit of parts to streamline the process, so what is the furniture? What is the AV spec? Who gets a sit-stand desk?

BuzzFeed office design

These days, I think, we have an emotional lever to turn on our internal expectations of the use of space, which is the expectation that every meeting and conversation (outside of confidential matters) needs to be held in an enclosed space. If we don’t need something acoustically enclosed, and if we’re not showing something private on a screen, we encourage people who are in a conference room to use our canteens or other common areas, and we do this through soft messaging as well as via technology levers. Yes, there’s always been a population within the overall head count that needs quiet spaces or stimulating spaces, but it’s just that now the average age group in our environment here is more vocal about it and expects more of it. This is not “millennialism.” It is the fact that this particular segment of the population is more open to asking for what they want, which helps me curate spaces that work as best as possible for all parties.

In designing a new space, talk to your population. See what they want. Partner with HR. Our HR team has a ton of data, and we have an analytics person on staff who provides us with information on all aspects of our business in direct relation to our human capital. If you don’t partner with your HR team or the people who are going to be using the space, you’re building an environment that will require dollars and time to fix. I’m not in the business of fixing; I’m in the business of making great spaces.

No matter where I work, I apply the concept of building for the three Rs: recruiting, retention, and revenue. With recruiting, I have to build a space that is the physical embodiment of the brand. I want a potential employee, client, or partner to walk into BuzzFeed Los Angeles and think, “Oh, this is what I thought it would look like.” When they visit BuzzFeed New York or Sydney or Berlin: “Oh yeah, I get it.” They should be distinct from each other, because each location has a different culture, but have common threads throughout that connect the global story. Then retention. Retention comes in if you have an on-brand and personalized experience that leaves you wanting to work at or partner with or become a client to BuzzFeed. How did people treat you when you joined? Can you truly bring yourself to work? Do you have all the tools you need to do your best work? As a client, are you coming here and seeing that we’re investing in our people and that we care about them? Revenue comes from people who are challenged, who are happy in their environment and doing exciting and interesting work that they have a say in.

That’s the thesis. That’s the holistic life force that we build for. We want people to have a great experience here at any point in their or our life cycle.

Julia Goldberg is vice president of facilities, real estate, and security for BuzzFeed, responsible for designing, implementing, and managing the media company’s growing global footprint.

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