What does it take to be an Employer of the Year?
We spoke to to Xledger’s CEO, Mark Pullen, shortly after completing their office fit-out in 2020, exploring how Xledger build a sense of family through place, process… and putting.
Xledger’s journey to success
“The business in total is about 20 years old. I took over the UK business in September 2019 (I was employee number nine or ten), and I started to operationalize the business from there. So I brought in a new Sales Director and started recruiting some of the key individuals that we needed from our own internal investment.
We defined a five-year plan, which we called the road to a billion. So our business objective is to get a billion turnover in five years (that’s Norwegian kroner – very important to define that!), which is about £120,000,000.
We actually put a target in of 12 direct deals for 2020, but we did about 13 or 14 in Q1 alone. We obviously knew we were on a good trajectory, so we needed new space – we were in Hartwell house and we had about just under two thousand square foot. It was fine with ten people, but soon started to get cramped. We worked out that we wanted about 11,000 square foot.
Now, for us being in of Norwegian heritage, there are different cultural styles to office space: it’s far more spaced out. I think that the normal guideline in the UK is about 100 square foot per person. It’s double that in Norway. We tend to go for bigger spaces with fewer people. I think there were 150 people in this space that we moved in to before us. We’ll max capacity at 70 or 80 before we’re looking at satellite offices or keep this as our main hub expansion will grow from beyond there.
We are a work in the office culture, highly collaborative. If you’re on that sort of growth trajectory (we’ve grown 170% this year), you need momentum, you need strong collaboration, you need good people.
But the idea of people being in and on client sites all the time was obviously changing, so we put our heads together as to what’s the future going to look like on a lot of assumptions.
One of those was that clearly the working behaviours are going to be different.
Therefore we don’t want an office. We want a hub. And it needs to be a destination choice working environment. Within that, we defined different categories of space that would be required for the different working styles and job functions within our business.”
Designing for flexibility
“We have consultants whose role is to implement our software into a customer’s business – they have a lot of configuration work, data migration work, accounting work. They have to educate the users on how to use the tools that all of those require slightly different work environment.
They needed a place to sit in the office that was their home, that was theirs, that needed to be relatively quiet. They’re less gregarious as individuals. They’re on the phone a lot with customers. So they needed space to be able to lock themselves away in a focused room, plug and zone in, do complex data mapping and data migration without any interruptions, or interact with a customer in a quiet, controlled professional environment.
We also made the assumption that at some point we will all return to office.
So we wanted a dedicated training facility to give customers the option of doing it remotely, which we now got pretty good at through necessity.
I then looked at collaboration. We’ve got the working areas, then collaboration spaces, different styles in the formal meeting rooms, relaxed booths, sofas, a wellness room where you can just chill out, all those different styles to keep it interesting – but also just to give some variety to their working day and not that formal structure all the time.
Our pre-sales who are previously consultants but interact very heavily with the sales team and the press, needed to be the middle of those so they can easily interact.”
Breaking down “transactional interactions”
“If we’re going to make this a destination place, it’s got to be a welcoming, kind, friendly environment with a bit of fun – half the meetings here are just conversations.
So I kind of figured what better to why not do that over a game of shuffleboard? I wanted to create the break-out, the kitchen, an Xbox arena.
Working remotely, all virtual interactions require something. Every time you talk to one of your colleagues, it’s because you want something. There’s no over the water cooler conversation or by the coffee machine conversation. Small talk doesn’t happen because everything’s structured – I’ve got a call in because I need something from you.
I wanted to break that cycle and get people back to just talk. Remember that as human beings, someone’s got their own struggles and get back to a bit more of sense of family. So that area, used to facilitate a bit of fun, is important.”
“We’ve facilitated everything you need to do for the different styles of work – but you’re in a really comfortable working environment. You’re back with your chums, with your family. Your job becomes more effective because you’re able to do things quickly.
The point is, we don’t have to actually demand anything – you just provide the facility that makes the choice a no-brainer: I want to be with my buddies in the office.
And that’s why we went quite bold with what we’ve got. Not many offices have a rooftop putting green with a bar and a barbecue, an outdoor TV.
A lot of our day is spent with the necessity of conversing with other colleagues. You don’t sit in a meeting room and do that. Go and sit out and grab a putter and walk around. Have inspired ideas, more creative ideas, away from the mundanity of sitting there in the same four walls.
The flip side is our solo working spaces. There’s a professional microphone, professional camera, big screen. You just plug your laptop in and go.
The issue that’s come out of remote work is remoteness and disconnect.
That’s the opposite of what you get being in an office. You know what everyone’s up to, even whether it’s none of your business. People need healthy conversation, healthy debate, validation. It’s a lonely place when you’re just becoming accountable entirely for your own work. If I’ve done a bad job, I find out after. If I’ve done a bad job in an office, you’re constantly getting “am I on the right track?” feedback.
We have a big sign at the front that says this space is a hub: this is where you come to facilitate anything that you might need to facilitate.
It’s fun. It’s pleasant to be in. It’s healthy, safe. We prioritise wellness. We have Peloton bikes. But if this had been banks and banks are desks, nobody would be coming back. Why would you? This is now not a functional workspace. It’s a hub to collaborate.”
“We’ve hired thirty people recently, and a few of them had their interviews in the office and were saying, holy cow, this place is brilliant. It’s better than my home.
That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?”