A POP UP SHOP
Open a pop up shop in Montreal for a couple of months? YES!
We did it. After all the talk of trying to do a pop up office, Simple Simple finally decided to take the plunge. We opened an office in Montreal for just over two months!
We stayed in an open concept three level house on the plateau, two blocks from the Mont Royal metro station. People slept in the basement and on the top floor, while we setup the dinning area on the middle for our work area, with 4 workstations -- think of the Silicon Valley TV show work environment for a quick idea of what things were like. There was a rooftop patio for people to enjoy and a back deck where we could BBQ.
Our location couldn’t have been any better for staff to get around and enjoy the city. We were in the heart of a great walking, restaurant, and park area of the city! We were right on the metro. A Montreal’s bike share dock was 100 meters from our front door. We had the office from the end of August into November and all but one of our employees spent at least a week there, with many staying as long as three weeks.
It’s probably the most satisfying thing I’ve done in my professional career. It was a project that had nothing to do with business development -- we opened an office to increase the quality of life for our staff members. I hope that it will remain a cherished experience when everyone looks back on it years from now.
Here's a bit of a Q&A on the experience that I did with Hannah.
How was productivity from staff?
Productivity was pretty good. We’d spent quite a bit of time getting used to video chats before we left, and everyone made a conscious effort to “over communicate” while the pop up was open. Overall I would say the productivity was higher than I anticipated. On a few occasions we had 4 people all working at that kitchen table and it felt like you were in a room in the office; it was a cool feeling.
Was it weird for coworkers to share a space?
We have a pretty close staff that typically shows terrific respect for each other, so I think that most people tried really hard to make it as easy as possible. There’s no denying that it was very much a hostel atmosphere, with hanging sheets being your bedroom wall at times. Overall I think that it felt safe and respectful for everyone.
Did it create a stronger bond for coworkers?
I definitely think that it strengthened bonds. People who wouldn’t normally hang out, were travelling around a foreign city, going to galleries, for drinks, and to shows together. Every Sunday we tried to have a “family dinner” where we’d cook together and invite over our friends from Montreal -- those were really fun nights.
Was the time change a problem?
The time change wasn’t a big deal at all. I personally, liked waking up later to sync my hours with the Calgary office which is typically 10am to 6pm. Montreal is a city where things happen late. I love being able to go out until 4-5am and then sleep in and not having it disrupt my work life.
Did it interfere with client relations?
I don’t think it did. Most of our clients seemed genuinely interested in the pop up project, even envious. I had a bunch of strategy and new client meetings in Calgary that required me flying back and forth more than I’d anticipated because they weren’t such that a video chat was appropriate. I don’t think that our clients saw a disruption in their service.
How much of a burden was it set up the office, financially?
It wasn’t that big of a burden when you put it in terms of what our overall yearly burn is. That said, there were expenses around each corner and the financial cost was enough that it was a budget line at the end of the year. We’re not a big company (12 people), so this was a big idea with real financial realities for both me and Johan.
We offered everyone $500 interest free loans that we reclaimed from their pay at $50/month over 10 months. We had some employees takes us up on the offer and it worked out great. It was nice to see people not have to worry about adding a plane flight to their regular monthly expenses and pay it forward.
If anyone is interested in doing a similar project, please feel free to email me and I can answer any of your questions.
I also have to thank our friend J Shyluk who let us use his house for the pop up. He really embraced the idea and helped bring it to life in short order. It was a really cool gesture to invite so many people into his space for this experiment.
How much of a burden was it set up the office, logistically?
The first 4 people who flew all took a CPU tower, and then we bought monitors and keyboards for everyone from a computer store around the corner. The 8 monitors we ended up buying was probably the largest individual expense as far as setting up the “office” in Montreal.
Overall we took advantage of staff muling computers and hard drives as extra baggage on flights, which made everything pretty easy and secure. Otherwise, we required bedding/towels/etc for 4 people. We had to do very little to make the space usable which was nice -- having a furnished house with existing utilities was a huge advantage.
We planned this on pretty short notice, and in an ideal world I would have liked to provide everyone with more notice. We decided to make this happen in mid July, so it only gave us 6 weeks to get everything and everyone organized.
How many people invited friends/significant others? How did that go?
Two people brought others (a sister and a fiance came for visits) and I think that it was positive in both occasions. Much more might have been difficult just because of the lack of privacy and limited space. Real bedrooms instead of an open concept would have made privacy easier for everyone -- might have also made it seem like less of an adventure; I liked the “hostel” feel that we had, other’s mileage might vary.
Have you seen an influence since we’ve returned?
I think that it was a real highlight for the staff. Everyone has little Montreal nicknacks on their desk, and there’s definitely water cooler talks that digress into Montreal stories. We have matches in the office from all the clubs/restaurants that everyone went to as reminders of our time there. I hope it helped everyone think that small companies can still think big.
Would you set up another pop up office out of the country?
I think out of the country would be fun, but a lot more red tape. The original goal of having a couple different locations a year around the globe would be a large planing, time, and dollar investment. It’s probably fair to say that we’ll have fewer pop ups than originally anticipated and that most would be located domestically until we have a real feel for it. Montreal was a really easy place for us to throw a pop up because I’ve lived there before and have a great network of friends (including former employees) who were easy to lean on as we tried to arrange everything.
Would you set up another pop up office in a further time zones?
I would love to do a pop up in Europe or Asia, but it’s really easy to see how it could pose problems for a team that works so collaboratively on a daily basis with clients. Time zones are definitely a large obstacle and I can’t see us going outside 2-3 hours. Johan and I have both spent some time working remotely from Hawaii and that’s probably as extreme as is possible at this point.
Longer than two months?
I think we could do a longer period of time, but I would rather have them more frequently and in the 2 month time range. It was difficult for some people to come for more than a week because of “life in Calgary” realities (pets, expenses, extracurricular activities, etc) and the expense of multiple flight tickets in such a short period of time is financially unavailable for many. If everyone could have stayed a little longer, it would have been cool, as it seemed that many people were just getting into a Montreal routine as they were leaving after two or three weeks.