To Scott Laughlin, the environment in which you work has a significant impact on how well you work. That’s why when LMO Advertising – the largest metro Washington, D.C., advertising agency – was looking to relocate its roughly 90-person headquarters, the firm took great care in finding and crafting its new space. LMO chose 1776 Wilson Boulevard, a 140,000-square-foot building that Skanska developed, built and recently sold. Laughlin – LMO’s co-owner – spoke with us about creating environments where people want to be.
LMO’s new space has a Ping-Pong table – how is your game?
My personal Ping-Pong game is bad. That’s somewhat by design because no one likes to work for someone who beats them in Ping-Pong. But maybe I should play it more because Ping-Pong is a great way to clear your mind. One of the hardest human acts is to be creative on demand. Ask any improv actor or comedian how hard it is to respond creatively on cue. What we find is you need space, time and distractions to allow the creative process to work behind the scenes. And then these great ideas seem to pop up out of nowhere, but what’s really happened is your mind has had the ability to run free for a while – until all the gears clicked into place. There is a method to the madness of having space and an environment that allows for such distractions. That’s sometimes what is necessary to break a new idea free.
How did LMO approach creating a new headquarters?
The creative services work that we do doesn’t require being in an office. So our goal was not to build an office space – it was to build a home. We wanted to build a place where people wanted to come, not a place where they had to come. That’s a profound distinction. Doing that meant having an environment that is both comfortable and collaborative. The LEED Platinum standards to which 1776 Wilson is certified contribute to having a high-energy environment. They helped each of our employees have an exterior view and natural light at their primary workspace. Even more, the roof deck with WiFi enables our employees to work outside on nice days. Our business is based on talented, energetic people having great ideas, and these features help make that possible. To foster collaboration, about 45 percent of our office is dedicated to public space. That includes seven conference rooms and nine open collaboration areas, along with a café having comfortable couches and that Ping-Pong table, and also an Xbox room. We were very deliberate in carving out so much public space: We want people from different practice areas and disciplines – people who might not otherwise regularly interact – to be bumping into one another.
We subscribe to the architectural collision theory that you have to have people having impromptu, unexpected moments to quickly generate novel ideas. In our industry, the digital world has become the norm: We can’t sit around and wait three months to launch our next marketing campaign. Sometimes, we’re responding to things overnight. Collaboration is key to doing high quality work faster. The bones and philosophy of 1776 Wilson provided us with about 75 percent of what we wanted in a space. That’s why we were so excited and committed to making this our home.
What is required to be innovative?
Anyone can have a good idea once. To be able to routinely generate new ideas of merit is really hard work. It requires a process of taking a promising idea, quickly and inexpensively testing that hypothesis, and doing that testing in very validatable ways, so you have data to help guide your decision. Then you know what truly works best, and you can use that to help your clients stay ahead of the curve.