After college, I spent a few years sitting in ergonomic chairs in front of desktop screens under fluorescent lights, and I could feel my life slipping away. I mean, it’s not some uniquely sad story, right? David Foster Wallace says that this experience is one of the hallmarks of adulthood: MONOTONY! I eventually traded in the monotony of non-profit communications for the monotony of grading papers, which I then interspersed with the monotony of arranging meals, negotiating clothing choices, and entertaining a tiny yet despotic overlord. AND PEOPLE WONDER WHY I QUILT.
It’s always fun to consider what the world would be like, though, if creative people were in charge. I’d imagine the average workplace would look something like Craftsy’s offices, which are located not far from me in Denver. At the generous invitation of my section editor, Kourtney, I drove down for a tour a couple of weeks ago. I had zero idea of what to expect; in the crafting circles, Craftsy has a reputation for folks who work hard and play hard. I was not there, but apparently their stamina for beer and 80’s music at QuiltCon 2013 was epic. In the middle of the workday, would employees be hunkered down in their cubicles like me circa 2004? Or would I wander the halls and see pandemonium: the video editors doing shots, or Angela Walters arm wrestling between takes with Eleanor Burns?
What I actually saw, while not quite as revelatory as the above thought experiments, is pretty much an argument for maintaining a functional and productive workspace for creative people. Craftsy is huge; I believe Kourtney said it employed close to 250 people. The offices I visited didn’t include the studios, which are located in another building, but the labyrinthine hallways seemed to lead from one huge pool of desks to another. The Creative group, involved in the blog and coming up with lesson content, had funny slogans and all sorts of decor on the walls; the team editing the video lessons, on the other hand, gazed into their screens quietly in another darkened part of the office.
People seemed really, really focused on their work, but I loved how much opportunity there seemed to be for play. A Pac-Man console hung out in one of the massive, double-fridged kitchens (free snacks and sodas!), and above it hung a bracket for a Craftsy-wide tournament; apparently one of the analytics guys, a former math major from Harvard, had ranked and seeded all the 150+ people who wanted to get in on the game. One of the huge stainless-steel tables in the kitchen also held about 20 slow cookers: it turned out I’d showed up on “chili cookoff” day. At one point we walked into a little living room, complete with TV, game console, and sofas with handmade Grumpy Cat pillows.
Because Craftsy is an open workspace, a lot of phone calls and meetings happen in glass-walled conference rooms. Employees have the opportunity to “adopt” a room, name it, and decorate it according to a theme of their choice. Knit/Purl has a wreath of yarn on the wall, Origami is full of paper cranes and butterflies, Beer-Thirty has a wood-paneled wall with shelves of [presumably empty] bottles from local craft brews. Any wall that has a “winky” face on it can be written on with dry-erase markers, which lends a really ad-hoc, startup feel to the offices.
To me, it looked like the perfect representation of the rumors about Craftsy. There was definitely some playing, but I think it was in an effort to maintain the high level of productivity that the company expects. Kourtney told me it’s not uncommon for people to work pretty long days, and some of the “perks” of the job seem like a good trade-off. They also seem really necessary to create the creative content that we expect. If only more workplaces could follow their example; adult life might be a little less… well, monotonous.
Now off to play Q-Bert and write on my walls!
Full disclosure: I’m a freelance blogger for Craftsy, but all opinions here are my own.