Even in the midst of a pandemic, Pinterest is thriving. The company’s shares recently jumped 13% after early reports of its first quarter earnings exceeded investor expectations.
Although its advertising revenue has taken a hit, it ended the quarter with $1.7 billion in cash, no financial debt and a $500 million cushion of untapped credit. The company has more than 365 million users globally, a number that also continues to increase month over month.
One factor contributing to Pinterest’s success has almost certainly been its ability to keep its overhead costs in check.
The company has more than 2,000 employees in 14 major cities globally, including five buildings in its San Francisco headquarters. Its mission is to help people discover the things they love and make those dreams a reality.
As a tech company that saw substantial growth in just a decade, maintaining a balance between hiring and managing real estate needs has always been a challenge.
But Pinterest seems to have figured out a winning strategy for efficiently planning, building and optimizing new offices.
That’s why we invited Matt Thorne, head of IT for Pinterest, to our WX summit.
Here’s what he shared with us about how his company manages enterprise growth while providing an exceptional employee experience everywhere.
When Pinterest first entered a new market, it would often have just a few employees. Rather than committing to a long-term lease upfront, it would lease shared spaces or short term until it established a stronghold there, Thorne said.
Then, once it had outgrown its shared space, it would opt for a longer-term direct lease.
JLL’s latest research suggests this flexible approach to space could become increasingly common as business leaders adjust their real estate strategy following the coronavirus pandemic.
While the flexible space sector has “fallen flat” in the short term, the report predicts “demand for flex space will continue to be an important feature,” and states “many corporates will be anxious not to commit to be capex projects or make any firm employee headcount forecasts, which will strengthen demand for preconfigured space on flexible terms.”
Pinterest also has built-in flexibility in its workplace design. Its offices have a lot of multipurpose rooms that can be used for larger meetings or reconfigured for smaller ones.
Thorne worked with his facilities team to build a “crow's nest” behind two rooms so the IT team can support the audiovisual needs of several meetings at the same time.
Having uniform technology and furniture that can easily be rearranged allows them to be ready for anything.
As an IT leader, Thorne’s mission is to equip Pinterest employees with the technology they need to be productive.
His approach is based on what he calls “the hierarchy of IT needs.”
At the base of the pyramid are the fundamentals—a physical workplace, a reliable IT helpdesk, good audiovisual technology and a strong network.
That’s why network engineers should be involved in early space planning discussions.
“My first hire was a network engineer,” he said. “It wasn't a help desk person, it wasn't another manager. It was a solid network engineer because everything is built on that foundation. If the network doesn't work, nothing works.”
A good network engineer will be able to do a spectrum analysis of your Wi-Fi environment and understand what the interference is going to be like depending on your location, Thorne said.
And don’t just rely on Wi-Fi for everything. Always back up your Wi-Fi with a local area network. Although space is at a premium, you’ll need to work closely with your real estate and facilities teams to ensure you allocate enough space for that back-up network.
Once you have a strong network in place, you need workplace technology that helps people share knowledge and collaborate. That includes technology to help employees reserve rooms and workspaces and get IT support, as well as file-sharing and project management software.
At the top of the pyramid is technology that helps employees navigate their workplace, including wayfinding and digital signage.
As Pinterest grew, it became even more important to have uniform technology across all its offices. That way, if employees from one office traveled to another that was unfamiliar, they could find their colleagues, reserve a room and get right to work.
“If you go into a Pinterest office anywhere in the world, you'll find familiar equipment,” he said. “This is a small office or small conference room in Detroit. This is a medium conference room in Dublin and this is a large conference room in Ogden and they all have exactly the same equipment. You'll know exactly what you need to do to start your meeting when you get there.”
Thorne added it’s not enough to “set it and forget it” when it comes to workplace technology.
You need to get employees involved in selecting the technology they’re going to be using, help them understand how to use it and continually get feedback from them to make it better.
“If your users aren't productive, IT is not doing a good job,” he said. “It's plain and simple.”
To create a strong workplace experience, it’s critical that employees have an easy way to get support. That includes requesting technical support as well as submitting maintenance requests for cleaning.
Working closely with your facilities management team is an important first step, Thorne said.
In Pinterest’s larger offices, the help desk is located in a prominent, inviting location with plenty of space for employees to get IT help in person.
These larger help desks also have a secure area to store high-value IT assets.
In smaller offices, the help desk could be a simple self-serve kiosk or a Google Meet kiosk where people can call into a help desk at a larger office and get video support.
“This has been a super scrappy way to deploy our in-person desktop support worldwide,” he said.
Employees can also use room scheduling panels or mobile apps to quickly submit IT work requests or maintenance requests.
When you’re a growing global enterprise, space planning isn’t just a corporate real estate leader’s responsibility.
IT needs to work closely with CRE leaders, facilities managers, construction managers and interior designers to make sure every space is well-designed to accommodate the needs of the workforce.
This is even more critical today as workplace leaders rethink their approach to space planning to ensure safe distancing.
IT leaders need to be familiar with floor plans for future offices to ensure they can equip those spaces with the right technology. At the same time, corporate real estate leaders and facilities managers need to understand the basics of network engineering and audiovisual technology.
They need to speak the same language and work together to manage vendors and construction teams as they build out new offices.
“Workplace (leaders) and IT need to realize that they’re on the same team and that they succeed or fail together,” he said. “And at a high-growth company like Pinterest, this is critical for being able to continue the rapid growth that we’ve experienced.”