Morning everyone. My name’s Christine, and I’m here from Breather.
Breather offers a network of beautiful, functional workspaces, all designed by our incredible team of in-house designers.
These spaces give individuals and businesses practical, distraction-free spaces to get work done.
This is our flagship location here in Toronto, at Spadina and Adelaide. Pretty sweet place for an offsite!
One of the unique qualities of our network is that it can be reserved directly on both web and mobile. You just show up at your booking time, and we’ll deliver a unique pin code right to your phone that allows you to unlock the door.
But being automated doesn’t mean there aren’t real people behind the scenes. We have an incredible on-the-ground operations team that cleans our spaces between bookings, and a customer care team that serves our members 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Our spaces are flexible, and support a number of different types of work.
So we’re growing very fast. We’ve got almost 300 spaces and we’re now in 10 cities. Here in Toronto we’ve got 16 locations.
Our vision to to build the future of office space.
But this is where we came from. A small, scrappy startup of just a handful of people in a room. These are some photos of our first office and our very first space in Montreal.
In the upper left, that’s our Android developer, graphic designer and location designer working together on the couch. That middle photo with all the boxes is the apartment of our general manager in New York City, which doubled as our storage space for the first few months. In the early months, the entire team would take turns cleaning our spaces at the end of every work day.
In service design, we often talk about the challenges of bridging silos and having true visibility into the operational, back-of-house realities that contribute to a service experience. In an early stage startup however, many of these challenges just don’t exist by virtue of being small and nimble.
Makes designing an end-to-end experience much easier!
3 years later, we are in a different situation.
So this is our main question.
I’d like to talk about what actions we’re taking at a number of different levels – at the individual level, at the team level and then finally at the organization level.
All of these actions are basically tactics to help us simulate that original small-team feeling.
First: individuals. Getting this right at the individual level is perhaps the most important, because it trickles down into how teams and the organization is structured.
We love Slack at Breather, and we have a number of bot-driven channels that give us real-time visibility on what our customers are experiencing. Everyone can have visibility into these channels, so engineers can respond in real time to bug reports, and operations staff can see how a cleaning failure might have affected someone’s experience. We also set up temporary slack channels to give us real-time visibility onto new product features when we roll them out.
Another initiative we’ve recently rolled out at our Montreal HQ is are all-hands customer care shifts for all employees, including the executive team. There is absolutely no substitute for interacting with real customers to help build empathy and a better understanding of who our users are.
That’s our iOS developer Joel, when he thought he’d accidentally confused two simultaneous support chats.
This is an initiative in-progress: we’re currently setting up our own internal conference spaces as Breather spaces that can only be accessed by reserving through our external reservation system.
We tend to get lazy and not use our spaces in Montreal as much as we should, so soon we’ll be forced to. We are big believers in “dogfooding” – ensuring we eat our own dog food – and as much as possible, we want to integrate that in our day-to-day work.
Lastly, we encourage a culture of empathy between teammates and departments that might not otherwise interact with our coffee bot. As our company grows, and individual employees have less visibility on different departments, this is extremely important.
Our bot will weekly set up a match between employees, who have a 15 minute chat over coffee. This is a conversation between the coffee bot, myself and Walter, who’s our SF Operations Coordinator.
Secondly, I’d like to talk about what we’re doing at the team level.
This is a little project we did last quarter called The Library in NYC. Based on feedback we were getting from some of our users, we wanted to experiment with a low-priced, shared co-working option, but executed with the attention to detail and design that Breather members love.
The project was truly a multi-disciplinary effort, with UX, interior design, digital ads, way finding signage and room photography being determined by a small team working quickly. That same team was involved in the analysis and research afterwards, speaking with users who used the space and actually being on-site to gather information.
Having the leeway to not only execute such a project, but also to prototype various service offerings end-to-end is something we want to ensure we keep as we grow.
Another good example was an overhaul on the way that we photograph locations. On the left, you can see the original photoshoot for a location in Montreal that’s on the dark side. The photos weren’t too bad, but we were running into issues when users arrived and found the reality didn’t align with their expectations – particularly photographers who were making bookings for the quality of natural light.
Marketing, customer care and user experience worked together to establish photography guidelines that felt on-brand but also accurately depicted the space.
Today, we aim to shoot our locations with as little artificial lighting and touchups as possible. We also shoot all angles of a room, taking care not to distort the size or the shape accidentally. And of course, we ensure that natural light is prioritized when the real estate team is evaluating locations.
Lastly, all these changes need to be supported by an organizational structure.
To move fast you need to empower teams to be autonomous, but too many small, autonomous teams with disconnected goals just fractures the overall experience. So after some trial and error, we’ve brought more teams under the umbrella of “product” to help things feel more coherent.
We’ve also integrated things like Interior Design and Real Estate into conversations about product, so we can ensure that the type of spaces we offer and what’s in them is part of the conversation about how to book them and access them.
But most importantly, we’ve learned the power of a dedicated research team as we grow, at the centre of all our teams. This ensures we’ve got a “10,000 sq.ft. lifeguard” alerting us of any serious gaps in our service offering.
Lastly, for us, making the org chart work for us has meant recognizing our important front-line staff and elevating them to deliver the service we’re aiming for.
In 2016, we converted our operations associates from independent contractors to Breather employees. This was a first step in helping us expand their role, give more complete training, and even do things like order uniforms.
So to sum up, all these changes boil down to everyone in the company being aligned around the same goals – the same north star.
That doesn’t mean your north star never changes. It often does in startups. But if everybody is somewhat exposed to that 10,000 square foot view of the user experience, navigating those changes gets easier and faster.