Taking in the View From Fivetran’s New HQ
Looking out from any of the four floors of Fivetran’s new office headquarters space in Oakland, the views are picturesque. The vista extends from the Berkeley Hills to the bay overlooking Alcatraz, Belvedere Island and San Francisco — and emerging somewhere in the fog between them all is the Golden Gate Bridge. “It’s quite remarkable if you stand in the right spot in that office,” CEO and co-founder, George Fraser, said.
In addition to upgrading from the previous office to accommodate for its growth in headcount, Fivetran is keeping up with the pandemic-influenced trend of transitioning to a hybrid-work model. The team is fully prepared to do whatever it takes to make the space work for everyone, and their design decisions were heavily influenced by listening to what the full team wanted through internal surveys conducted during the pandemic. “We’re trying to create a great place to work,” said global workplace operations manager Jordan Nelson. “It’s actually really what they want — they do want to come back to the office. They want to feel safe, but they also really value in-person connections.”
And it’s not just views of the outside that deserve a spotlight. IT manager Kevin Connole points out that the thoughtful details inside are just as worthy of attention: “It’s really a unified space. It’s connected in many different ways.”
Innovative From Day One
In light of Fivetran’s team continuing to grow through the pandemic, Fraser took a moment to reflect on where the company started versus where it is now. “If you’d asked me then what we would be doing today, I would have been not that far off,” he said. “What our product does, it’s not something every person on the street knows about — data integration and data movement — but it’s very important; it’s very fundamental.”
Fraser noted that operating in an industry that flies just under the radar appeals to self-starters and has made a lasting impact on the culture of Fivetran.
“We got used to working hard without a lot of validation. We had to be internally motivated, and we got accustomed to working away at the same thing, making it a little bit better every day. Eventually, the accumulation of that effort really started to drive exponential growth, and I think some of those lessons are still with us today,” he said.
Looking back at past lessons and where the company is going from here was an important part of the process for creating a physical space where the work can happen.
Defining In-Office Culture and Atmosphere
Fivetran’s eight office locations span the globe, each with their own distinct environment. While the Denver office is more boisterous, the pre-buildout Oakland office was known to be quieter.
When the pandemic began, the company’s headcount was under 300 people, which lent itself to more of a tech startup vibe. “We had regular meals together and everybody knew each other, because there were so few of us. If there was somebody new in the office, it was easy to identify them and make a new friend. It was pretty great,” Connole said of the original Oakland space.
At the same time, it was suited for a smaller tech company with a more limited budget. To match the needs of the expanding company, Nelson noted that it was necessary to grow beyond the somewhat “funky” and “imperfect” space and create a more inviting place from which to work.
In addition, the shutdowns necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic offered leadership an opportunity to create a space that would facilitate a shift in working patterns while still championing a high-quality employee experience. “Everyone went home and had to relearn the approach to working asymmetrically and remotely,” said Nelson. “Everyone is an image on Zoom or Google Hangouts, and it’s very hard to actually know people — to build company culture and feel a sense of cohesion.”
Looking at the new headquarters, with an ever-growing team, the vibe is sure to change from what it was once — both pre- and mid-pandemic.
What one word would you use to describe Fivetran’s new HQ?
- “Flexible.” — Fraser
- “Harmonious. From a technology standpoint, we’re striving for a situation where people will be able to interact with their surroundings and the technology that enables them to do their job in a comfortable way.” — Connole
- “Dynamic. When you come into the office, it’s nice to have that positive, high-energy feeling, because people feed off of that energy and then do their best work.” — Nelson
Building Out and Moving Up
Fivetran’s leadership saw an opportunity to reconsider how much space the team would need as it continued to grow. In the interim, instituting a “choose your own journey” policy gave team members autonomy to work wherever they felt most comfortable, whether that meant coming into the office or not. As for Fraser, the journey looked a little different as he began searching for a newer, larger office space.
In an effort to create a location where they could foster a cohesive culture at Fivetran, the company involved team members in the buildout experience. Between surveys, focus groups and a lingering desire for flexibility, it became clear that the office itself would need some level of adaptability too.
The company’s research clued their team in to how the space would be used in the future. Some employees were eager to work in person as soon as possible, while others loved the ability to work from home and had no intention of returning to an office setting. Fraser gleefully recounted one such person: “We had one employee whose boyfriend was a DJ and he was mixing music right next to her, but she was so happy to be working from home. It was working for her.” Landing somewhere in the middle of those two groups was another set of people who desired a reasonable balance between the flexibility of at-home work paired with the convenience of in-office accessibility on an ad hoc basis.
“We designed the new office with that in mind — with a variety of spaces in it to support different numbers of people on different days,” said Fraser, adding that the range of in-office purposes would balance out the space’s flow. “When there aren’t a lot of people there, it doesn’t feel totally empty. And when there are a lot of people, it still works.”
Factoring in Functionality and Flexibility
So what does that look like in practice? “It’s almost like the library in college,” Fraser explained.
That’s a sharp contrast to the previous office space, which could be described as a more static “sea of desks.” While desk space will still be present, it will be on a lesser scale in the new office. Nelson said the idea was to focus on a more collaborative environment than a traditional “sit at your desk every day” one.
Another key in the effort to translate a hybrid work model into office design was incorporating various locations and focus-level spaces into the space.
Fivetran’s Brag-Worthy In-Office Spaces
- A deep focus room: The ideal, no-interruptions setting for intense, heads-down work
- A library: A cool space to focus without being sequestered to an assigned desk
- Conference rooms: Designed specifically for collaboration and “replicating in-person meetings,” according to Connole
- Common areas: Complete with couches for more collaborative, social modes of work
- Specialty desk spaces: Located in the corners of each floor and more enclosed for quiet work, these refined desk spaces have slightly different themes
- Neighborhoods: Rather than being confined to a single desk, Fivetran teams are assigned to neighborhoods that allow for day-to-day changes in scenery and co-workers
Fivetran’s new office design reflects the company’s flexible work policies and collaborative working environment. Breaking with tradition is not only a welcome change, it also invites Fivetran employees to feel less limited in how — and with whom — they work. “It’s nice to have alternative locations or modes of working,” Nelson commented, specifically calling out the common areas, library and focus areas.
Similar to that of a co-working space, Nelson described the headquarters’ new seating assignments as “neighborhoods” designed to be “a little bit more transient.”
“The neighborhoods are all designed around different scenarios in which people are using the office,” said Fraser. For the product team, occasional collaborative work sessions might be the right amount of in-office presence. But Fraser also noted that there are certain teams that thrive in a pack: “Salespeople who are at the very beginning of their career really benefit from being in the office every day with the rest of their team.”
Nelson agreed, adding that even seasoned account pros can benefit: “Salespeople really need a dynamic environment. They feed off of each other’s energy.”
The focus on flexibility even extends to the technology setup. “There’s a very intentional placement of our screens, cameras, speakers and microphones so that those who come to work in person can also have really smooth and effective collaboration with everyone else in the company,” Connole said.
But the coolest thing about the new headquarters — other than the interior stairs adding to the cohesive and connected flow — is what the space means for the future of Fivetran. “I do think that the new office in Oakland will act as a template for the rest of our offices going forward,” said Fraser.
Coming from his technology-centered perspective, Connole agreed: “The dream is that we can replicate this and have just as great of an experience across all of our offices in the physical and virtual spaces as we do here in Oakland.”
Finding a Future at Fivetran
Like the view from the 24th floor, Fivetran’s future is vast — it’s something these leaders look at with wonder, something that makes them feel excited about seeing the company through its new phases and stages.
It all leads back to how Fraser sees Fivetran’s position in the tech industry overall: “It’s a kind of utility. It’s like being the power company; you’re behind the scenes doing this really important ubiquitous thing, and that has tremendous longevity. It’s not going anywhere, which is great.”
Fivetran Events On The Horizon
- Monthly happy hours
- Potlucks and summer picnics
- Cultural and secular holidays, including LGBTQ events, Halloween and Thanksgiving events
- “Surprises and delights” — random, pop-up events exclusive to the HQ office
Thinking globally, Connole is thrilled to reestablish togetherness in the new space. He’s looking forward to sharing — and showing off — the new headquarters experience with his international colleagues, whom he hopes will feel “proud and energized to work at Fivetran.”
With a stable place in the industry and a newly built out office headquarters to call home, Fivetran is sticking around. And no matter where his team works from, Fraser’s mindset is built on the foundation that allowed Fivetran to grow in the first place: “Very much like we did in the early years, we’re doing it a little bit better every day. Over time, that has incredible cumulative value.”