How to break the home office culture? This creative agency cracked the code

A human-shaped hole in the couch, empty cups of coffee on the table and zero daily steps – that’s the downside of the home office. With the spread of the virus, the home office has turned into the new normal, and the usual bureau is becoming an increasingly alien concept. However, the creative agency Tank moved from a large commercial building to a tiny, century-old town villa, whose elegant rooms and corridors see diligent, creative people arriving every morning.

Nine to five working hours have been exhausted with the advent of the coronavirus, but the longer the time spent in the home office, the greater the desire to getup, get ready and get out to see people face to face. Working from home tends to blur the lines between work and play, so you can’t properly do either.  

The creative agency Tank, which moved to what is effectively a small mansion in the heart of Tallinn, wants to avoid the culture of the home office, by making the work environment cozy and pleasant. The creation of the new Tank home continued throughout the most extreme phase of the COVID virus. People who were used to the classic open office weren’t sure if they’d dare to return to work so soon, but after the completion of the new office there were no “tankers” who would have wanted to continue working from home. 

Hallway to the front door

Tankers in search of a new home 

The creative agency Tank changes offices approximately once every decade. The company last moved in 2009. Before that, the move took place around the turn of the millennium. “We’d been looking for a new place for some time, going through all corners of Tallinn,” said Joel Volkov, the founder and creative director of Tank. They searched for shops and restaurants that were empty, apartment and office spaces from Telliskivi to Kopli, but couldn’t find the right feeling anywhere. There was also no desire to rush into the first place they found either, because their previous office at Baltika Kvartal was already very modern. However, there was simply too much space – almost 700 square meters, which in Volkov’s eyes was too much for their 21-man team. 

In the summer of 2020, a more detailed plan was put into place. The office needed to be in the heart of Tallinn, so it would be convenient for everyone to visit the office, and should also be a pleasant space where they could come together. “I knew that there were several hidden houses in the center of Tallinn, but I had no idea if they are available for rent or whom they belong to, ” said Volkov. Eventually they got lucky and hit the jackpot – a unique private house in Tallinn, designed by famous Baltic German architect Otto Scott, on the edge of Tuvi Park, Veetorni Street. 

The house was in a hidden area in the centre of Tallinn, where several embassies are located. The property had been added to the real estate portal just before the creative director of Tank discovered it. The team was fascinated by the house’s magnificent historitsitic façade and ideal location. “We started the repairs in December and by mid-March everything was ready. Everything seemed to miraculously fall into place, just as we imagined,” he said. 

Office workspace

A historic building given a fresh start

Over the past 26 years, Tank, which focuses on all aspects of design and traditional plus digital advertising, has placed great emphasis on a distinctive work environment. The agency’s new office is a romantic town villa with a tower built in 1903 from orange chamotte bricks. Although the building is located in the busy center of Tallinn, there is peace and quiet to be found around the new office for Tank employees. Behind the building is the multi-hectare park, and on the other side it’s concealed by the large national library, ensuring a level of privacy similar to the suburbs or cozy townhouses near Soho Square Gardens in London. 

Lounge/meeting area

The house needed major repairs before the company could move in; only the exterior facade remained intact. All systems, from electricity to the water supply, would have to be completely reinstalled, the walls were covered with Soviet-era, non-breathable paint and there was no modern IT network in the building. In addition, the old dignified parquet floors were covered with cheap laminate parquet, and the rooms were divided into small cabinets with plaster walls. The building was hard to keep warm, it was dark and falling apart. 

By creating a modern and friendly work environment, the goal was not only to restore the building, but to give it a new lease of life and a nod to this historic building’s past. “When renovating the building we added a range of 21st century solutions, so that in the next hundred years there would be no reason for anyone to knock down the walls,” said Joel. Restoring an old house is a costly undertaking, but in terms of the environment, it is more environmentally friendly than building a new one. During its service, the 120-year-old building has paid all the environmental debts that usually accompany the construction of a new building. It is also true that a building with clay brick walls, a stone foundation and wooden load-bearing structures is inherently tens times more sustainable than one built of modern steel, concrete and glass. 

Video conference/meeting room

Tank’s new office brought people together again 

A new extension was added to the new Tank office, where the staff are distributed in smaller logical groups within the building. The house has a circular layout, several cozy individual and group work zones, meeting and video conference rooms with different sizes and moods, high-tech capabilities throughout and a fully-equipped kitchen. Alltogether this created a homely environment, where you can find space to work alone if necessary or put your heads together as a team if needed. A healthy, bright, well-rounded and creative environment relieves the stress of being alone when working remotely at home. 

Second floor office space

Volkov has noticed that the cooperation of employees has also started to flow better, now that separate areas have been created for project managers, creative managers and designers. “People support, trust and teach each other new things. The interest towards each other’s work has grown, like a small anthill where information flows,” describing the office’s atmosphere. Volkov doesn’t believe that a company can only operate online, especially when it comes to creative work. “This kind of communication with customers via wires does not work. We have so much love for our work that enthusiasm tends to be overshadowed by such dull communication,” said Joel. Although everything seemed to go well, the responsibility that comes hand in hand with an old building was a little unexpected. “Everyone who has moved from an apartment to a house knows what this transition means: it means freedom, but on the other hand you are not only responsible for what happens inside, but also for everything else, for example, outdoors or on the roof.”  

Although the COVID crisis had taken its toll on people, there was a strong desire for staff to move into the new premises. “Tank is a company of people, and people want to be with each other,” said Volkov. Although they are still forced to work at home from time to time (due to the spread of the virus), healthy staff still come to the office every day. In the beginning, it took time to settle in, but according to the Joel, the employees are happier, more attentive of each other and more respectful of their surroundings. On working in a dignified environment, he ensures, “Everyone has found their inner peace today. So you won’t see any unhappy faces.”

Kitchen area

A home, not a cold and bleak office 

While many of Tank’s customers and competitors haven’t yet returned to their office buildings, Tank moved into its new office as soon as they could. In fact, it is not an office, but a home, which is why already good relations have become even better. This in turn has had a direct impact on creative thinking, and naturally on results. Volkov believes that the company’s office acts like a living business card and that the work environment is, and will remain, very important to him. Namely, Tank’s creative director Joel is also an architect and it has been that way for several generations before him. “I have studied to be an architect, my father is an architect, my grandfather was an architect and so on … That’s why the work environment is important to me,” he recoginzed. 

When building the new Tank home, they wanted to take into account the needs and wishes of all employees. “People spend most of their time in the office and when the environment is unsuitable, they tend to be stressed or are in a bad mood when they go home. As a result the harmony of life can disappear. I believe that an office should be even better than a home in some sense,” said Volkov. 

Don’t just believe the article, but come and see this miracle with your own eyes! The doors of Tank’s creative agency will also open for you online, where you can take part in a virtual tour of the building. Click here for the experience: https://www.tank.ee/tour/

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