“Sail Forth- Steer for the deep waters only. Reckless O soul, exploring. I with thee and thou with me. For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared go…”
– Walt Whitman
As of today, we at Sappington embark on a new type of vessel for the next chapter in our journey as a business.
For over a decade, our vessel was an office in a charming, historic building in Pioneer Square, Seattle called the Colman. We’ve always relished its rich history—The Colman is named after James Colman, a Scottish immigrant and successful businessman. Like him, this space was aspirational in many ways: it was an ambitious structure built from the ashes of the 1889 Great Fire, and it initially served the needs of fortune-seeking miners during the Alaska Gold Rush of 1896-99.
We’ve felt an intimate part of this building’s ongoing story. We did many things here. We grew. We created. We hunkered down in its earthquake-battered walls to weather terrible economic conditions. We even rebranded and got a new name.
So one can imagine how hard the decision was to leave. We could have stayed, but I’ll tell you why we decided to move along, and what we learned might just be something for you to ponder.
I’ll spare you the gory details of our seemingly never-ending transition, but suffice it to say, our initial process for finding a potential office space was highly stressful, and our options unbelievably expensive and even competitive. Geek Wire, the local tech news source—120 years after the Klondike Rush—called Seattle’s office market the “modern-day Gold Rush.”
As we finally settled on a more modern space and began the arduous leasing process, something just started to feel wrong. Specters of doubt set in for a long haunt. Why were we doing this? How could we justify the expense? I felt trapped, and delved into a lot of business soul-searching.
At Sappington, we think a lot about technology’s impact on business. We’ve been fortunate to be in the unique position to work with forward-looking companies of all types interested in using technology as a strategic business advantage. And an enormous aspect of the future of business and technology revolves around people: our interactions with one another, how we best collaborate, the implications of a multi-generational workforce, breaking down barriers in organizations to support more cross-functional collaboration, improving innovation through diversity and inclusivity.
Can we agree that a physical workspace has a lot to do with all of this?
Another traditional office didn’t seem to match what I’d been reading, talking about, and recommending to our own clients. Everything about the conventional workspace screams rigidity versus agility and flexibility. So much has changed in business since James Colman laid the foundations for his building in 1889, yet very little has changed when it comes to commercial real estate and work environments. In fact, there’s a fascinating video series that talks about the changing world of work and the misalignment between the needs of employees and their environments—and what is needed to address this gap.
So what was the net result of all this pondering, thinking, and doubting? We decided to walk away from the new lease we were negotiating. Honestly, I’ve never looked back, because I think what we ended up with is so much better.
On the heels of that decision, our Business Manager at Sappington asked me, “What do you think about those co-working places like WeWork? Maybe that can be our ‘plan B’ if nothing else materializes?” I thought about that for a bit. I had been to WeWork once to attend a board meeting for a software startup I was advising. I really liked it, but it never crossed my mind as an option for our own space needs. My perception of the co-working spaces was that they were for startups, sole-proprietors—certainly not for a 17-year-old agency like Sappington.
We went over to the South Lake Union WeWork to get a better feel for it. Right from the start, we found the space to be well-appointed and it visually matched our brand. A warm receptionist greeted us and walked us around. I instantly felt abuzz—there were people everywhere talking, collaborating, getting stuff done. I could feel a palpable sense of energy and community. The people there were working on the things that mattered the most, what they were most passionate about—their dreams and ideas—and taking action on those dreams and ideas.
And then we learned that several big companies have reserved space at WeWork, including Microsoft, Siemens, and Salesforce.com because they wanted to experience the benefits of a networked community of business people. More practically, all of the things we had to worry about at our old office like coffee, tea, water, keeping the kitchen clean, and so on were all covered by WeWork. This felt like the new way of work.
We came back from that visit energized. We looked into the details and loved what we saw: month-to-month payment arrangement. Options in terms of office suite sizes, including one that was appropriate for the size of Sappington. The ability to reserve additional space as we grow and scale for the future. Access to all of the amenities you’d expect, and even some you wouldn’t. Working privileges at all other WeWork locations in the world.
Sold! We agreed to move forward as a company using WeWork as our new vessel. It has caused us to question everything. How we work. What we need in order to work. What we would bring along to our new place, and just as important, what things we have to leave behind. In the end, what we really take is our ability to focus on what matters the most: our craft, each other, new relationships, and above all, our clients.
This is an exciting new chapter for the firm. As we guide our clients to do every day, we leave behind the old ways for a better place. We will now flourish in a place that encourages community, sharing, engagement, and what I hope becomes a movement not just for the startups, but for many companies, small and large. We promise to keep you apprised of our progress along the way.