How to build an office bar to create more sales and culture-building opportunities in your company
Do you ever stand around with your friends or colleagues and say, “Let’s build a bar?”. On one Friday afternoon in late 2015 at Pixel Fusion you might have overheard this muttered in conversation with a joking tone. But, for good reason as we had a prime piece of drywall separating the kitchen and games area (see a sophisticated reference diagram below).
This delightful piece of drywall can be found nestled in our Parnell studio, located on the third floor of the iconic Textile Centre building (constructed sometime between 1908 and 1922) in Auckland. This office houses our entrepreneurial team of researchers, engineers, designers, and product people.
For two of the team (Tia Aoake and I) the idea of converting this area into a bar was very compelling for more reasons than the obvious. The thought that we could design a versatile space that would become the epicentre of our studio, a central spot for our team and clients to connect, was very appealing. This idea had us googling terms like: ‘how to build a bar’, ‘buy sledgehammer Auckland’, ‘Hardware stores Auckland’,’liquor license rules’, ‘bar DIY’, and eventually the sane search ‘Builders Auckland’.
Continue reading to learn more about why we built our bar, how we got executive sign off, how we went about building the bar, what we named it, and what the results have been.
Firstly, let’s look at why we found the idea of building a bar so compelling. Our goal was simple:
“Create a versatile breakout space that invited everyone and encouraged collaboration.”
We felt that being thoughtful about the design of this space would strengthen the culture at Pixel Fusion, giving us a space to meet informally over coffee or beer with our team or clients. But not only that, there was plenty of upsides:
• Would provide an event space for up to 100 people
• Creates cohesion with all the other interior decorations around the office
• New breakout space with projector
• Larger space for company stand-ups
• A ‘go to’ place on Friday afternoons to debrief about the week
• A space for celebrations (after large product releases or birthdays)
The list goes on...
With this in mind, you can probably imagine we decided to pursue this further. There were two schools of thought:
Order that sledgehammer and come in during the weekend to work some magic then, “Tadaa! You’ve got yourself a bar.”
Spend some more time ideating, get some quotes from professionals, put together a clear pitch to get the CEO onboard and ask for budget.
Although tempting to take option one, we chose the sensible approach of following procedure. Our keynote pitch was titled 404 (Get it?). This became our project name.
Now that we had pitched to our CEO and Studio Manager, we had agreement that it would be suitable for Tia and I to spend more time on “Project 404” with specific budget caps. We started dropping hints into various conversations with the wider team and it seemed the general consensus was, “Let’s build it”. At the time our current situation looked like this:
At surface value this looks like a next level setup which most offices filled with heavy beer drinks would strive for. Although, what you can’t see is behind those wood panels is a complicated water based cooling system which would cool the beer from two seperate 50L kegs. We encountered several issues with overflow which may or may not have dripped between floor boards onto the desks of Xero engineers below us. (Oops, sorry Xero!)
As a first step we (and by we, I mean Tia) used sketches and Photoshop mockups to get the idea out of our heads onto paper.
You’d think the first thing we’d do was to go straight to the Building Manager to get consent, but instead we went and sourced quotes from builders. We showed them a rudimentary picture like the one below and asked for a detailed quote to make this happen. How hard could it be? 1. Smash a hole 2. Put in the concrete bar 3. Pour beer..
Well, that’s what we thought.
We’re not totally crazy, we also provided some clear direction from a measurement point of view:
Our trusty builder Eddie took the brief like a champ and returned a quote which fit our budget expectations so we pulled the trigger. Not before reaching out to the Building Manager for building consent of course (pro tip: if you decide to convince your boss to build a bar I’d highly recommend getting building consent as the first step).
Feb 13th 2017 marks the date our private slack channel called 404 was created. After blowing through our waterfall go-live timelines twice, things were getting serious. We ran into our first major snag:
Now, I know what you’re thinking but the truth is we relied on an expert who when asked, “Can we build a bar here?” replied, “Nah, there are no wires behind this wall” ...famous last words. As you can imagine this had a few knock-on effects which resulted in a verbal change request, increasing the cost.
Fast forward a month or so and we had completed some minor electrical work and successfully created a large hole. While this was all going on a large concrete slab which hopefully matched the width of the large hole was being poured and drying in a garage somewhere in Auckland.
At this stage the project had been ongoing for half a year or so – project moral was at an all time low. To lift team spirit and justify our giant hole we decided to run an ideation session for naming the wall which was an absolute hit with the whole Pixel Fusion team. This was conducted in a rapid fashion on a Friday afternoon. After quick pitch sessions and a fair dot voting system we had our winner, our bar would be called ‘Spacebar’. The wider team now had a sense of ownership, so the pressure was on Tia and I to deliver this project under budget.
While waiting a few months for the concrete to dry (“It shouldn’t take that long”) we pulled together some branding ideas.
On November 16th at 11pm after some reinforcing alterations were made we officially had installed an extremely heavy piece of polished concrete, Spacebar was starting to take shape, albeit there were a few little nicks to tidy up.
At this point we’re closing in on Christmas with an exhausted project budget. The final deliverables were to install the beer tap and slap on a coat of paint (both of which the builder conveniently excluded). Neither Tia or myself have plumbing or painting experience so we roped in our Studio Manager to help us research and order all the painting supplies. We rocked up to Bunnings, and using nothing but our intuition, purchased various tapes, clips, and insulation. We used Christmas wrapping paper to protect the precious concrete from paint splatters and got to work.
After what we’ll call a highly professional paint job, we cut some pipes we shouldn’t have and wired up the keg. After some trusty Kiwi DIY this was the finished product:
At this point we considered the project delivered. As a result of this the following has happened:
• Every Friday our team flocks to the bar for a debrief
• We’ve held countless internal client and potential client meetings here
• Spacebar has become the central point in our office for lunches, coffee in the morning, and cheese boards/drinks on Friday afternoon
• Spacebar has enabled our versatile breakout space
• We’ve hosted more than 15 meet-ups and have run our own events – we’ve had 100s if not 1000s of people through our studio
• We have hosted external guests in our Lunch and Learn series
This was not an easy project, from start to finish we’re talking 1.5 years, but it’s a true reflection of what can be achieved given the level of autonomy and support Pixel Fusion provides it’s team. While there are many other internal initiatives underway at Pixel Fusion this is one worth highlighting as we’ve achieved what we set out to and created space that enables a relaxed place of honesty and integrity.
Where to next with the bar? We’re currently adding internet of things to our beer tap and considering adding a second tap. There are plenty of events happening on a monthly basis which you can find more about by subscribing to the Pixel Fusion Newsletter – see below:
If you’d like to book Shane and Tia to build you a bar, good luck – we’re booked out for the next year. Instead, organise a time to visit Spacebar – call Shane O’Connell on 021 130 6907 – we have the following items on the menu (which is not actually a menu because we’re not licensed to sell):
• Syphon Brew Coffee
• Red Rabbit Espresso Coffee
• Garage Project Beer (Rotating tap)
• Orange Juice
• Red & White wine
See you soon,