Many of us have been contemplating why people want to or would want to go to an office. In complete transparency, I’ve worked remotely for many years now, yet I am convinced there is no better office than what I had years ago back for a tech startup. The space was beyond cool, with gigantic windows that lit the open office area with bright natural light. There were a handful of small offices but, rather than separate them completely, the offices were partitioned with glass walls. A welcoming, centralized, and heavily-used kitchen stood next to a big, orange couch that matched the bright kitchen fixtures. Obviously, the people who designed the space spent a lot of time picking out inspiring colors and designed a comfortable space that made you want to stay awhile. It worked, and the energy that the space gave off was so palpable that no person who walked through the door didn’t comment on how great it was.
What worked even more was who was there. It was a small, tight-knit group. We all had designated spaces, but it was common to be seated cross-legged on the couch between an engineer and a sales guy. They’d jump in on marketing plans I had, and I’d ask them how our product actually worked. We became more aware of what was happening across departments, making us more competent in our own roles. A keg offered a local beer, the fridge was stocked, and lunches were communal because that’s how we wanted to do it. We had a gym in the building that we worked out in together or, we went on runs around the neighborhood to break things up.
I remember thinking, often, that work was more fun than I had been raised to believe it was supposed to be. It seeped into every part of our company’s culture: we played hard, but we worked harder. Eventually, the company was acquired, and the people who shared that orange couch are still close friends. When we gather now, we mourn the end of that era, of that office. What I didn’t know at the time was that our office was an early example of what kids these days are now calling a ‘collab house.’
Hype house, the queen of content
TikTok is one of the largest and arguably most addictive social media platforms. With almost 670 million active users worldwide, TikTok is more popular than Twitter, Snapchat, and Pinterest and is watched more than YouTube. Spending an average of 52 minutes on it daily, users scroll through content related to what they previously engaged with. The algorithm is precise enough that telling someone “what side of TikTok they’re on” can be quite revealing.
While the majority of users create on their own time and on their own turf, the app’s best creators have benefitted from being in the same location. The convenience of recording a new video at home comes with suboptimal lighting and sound quality, not to mention fewer hands to help with recording and a lack of creative energy. For these reasons, ‘collab houses’ began to appear, and the content they generated started making them enough money to draw attention.
Creators started renting luxurious homes crammed with amenities and stimulating decor to inspire each other, accelerate their creativity, and cross-pollinate each other’s followers. The trade-off? Inhabitants need to produce. Most collab houses have a required number of social media posts per day to remain a resident.
One of the top collab houses is Hype House, a $5 million home in Moorpark, California. A couple of content creators started the home with large followings who wanted to make more money producing social media content. The unofficial rules require that the group of influencers sign deals and then share profits from sponsored videos, sales of merchandise, and other ventures. For a single TikTok video, sponsors like Chipotle, Bang Energy, Amazon, Louis Vuitton, and McDonald’s pay an average of $100,000 to $250,000. Top TikToker and entrepreneur Charli D’Amelio brought in $17.5 million last year, more than the average S&P 500 CEO.
The Hype House, which has 10 people living in it, give or take, has its own TikTok account with almost 20 million followers and has racked up 659 million views. The total sum of its influencers’ accounts is much higher, like six times or more, although this varies based on who actually lives there.
There are plenty of different houses, all with their own niche. The Retirement House, for example, is a TikTok collective of “grandfluencers,” or adults over 70 with digital followings. It started just a few months ago, and now the account has over 2 million followers and some very proud grandkids.
Time to hype up the office
The beautiful thing about social media content is that it provides near-instantaneous feedback. It has become clear that collab houses do their job of increasing productivity and sparking creativity. In many cases, their “workers” become quite wealthy and, at least it seems, they have a great time while doing it.
While most of us would never dream of living in an office, these collaborative living spaces have a few important takeaways. The first thing hype houses have done well is creating an environment where people want to be. It isn’t enough to just create offices that people like. Offices now need to make people happy. I talked with Rodney Moreh, Founder at SourceM, about this. His office once operated in a garden-themed space. Now he and his team work out of an actual garden at an inventive co-working location called Second Home in Hollywood. “As we went into this whole weird transition from everyone working in the office, to everyone working at home employees and workers are looking for a place that if they do have to go in, makes them happy,” he told me about his decision.
Collab houses are also very good at promoting togetherness, not just on-screen but in person. The houses are often expansive, but most of the action and filming happen in the common areas. This reinforces a theory posed by Thomas J. Allen, Professor of Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1974. He did an experiment that showed that their communication decreased as people moved further from each other in an office. It makes sense that people seated further apart would talk to each other less, but this observation took into account all communication so people would talk less on the phone as well (remember, this was 1974). He created what is known as the ‘Allen Curve’ and calculated that “a mere 50 meters’ separation between people essentially results in the end of regular communication.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that all offices look like collab houses, which is ridiculously reductive and incredibly expensive. But what I am saying is that offices shouldn’t look like they did before because we’re not using them in the same way. Today, more companies are less concerned about the time someone spends at a desk and more interested in their output. It’s hard to calculate the time it takes to create a TikTok video when someone lives where they work, but it’s even more difficult to pinpoint the moment of inspiration.
The question at the top of anyone’s mind who is associated with the office industry should be: how can offices support collaboration? We don’t need offices just to provide a place to work, because we already have that at home. We need offices to provide a place to work with other people. This might involve fewer individual workspaces, more lounge space, centralized and accessible food and drinks to allow for collisions, and even inspirational decor and access to outdoor space. “We are better together, and organizations really need to understand that the best approach is finding the right balance between the cold predictable logic of the algorithm, with the warm, sometimes chaotic, intuition of humans,” said Dave Coplin, CEO, and founder of the Envisioners, a business consultancy.
As much as I think that offices should cram people together to help them and their ideas collide, I also believe they should have options for those who want to get away for a minute. Things like quiet rooms and nap pods should also be available for those that don’t want to always be in the company of others. It’s important to have a space for people to just be and be as individualistic as they want to be. It’s important to remember that employees are people, and we are unpredictable. Flexibility is key because we now have so many options to choose from, and we are so likely to change our preferences over time.
TikTok dances may not catch on in the corporate environment. Still, the app’s algorithm for creation through authentic collaboration and continual proximity can give office designers and goers a few tips. There are many perspectives about what offices should be used for, but vacancies support none; offices need people to have a purpose. There is no substitute for the camaraderie and energy that a healthy office has. Bringing people together to experience a collab office may be just the pull employees need to get them off screens and back into real life.