The fourth year of Pixelgrade was about sticking together

Oana is talking about her career at Pixelgrade

I’ve been documenting my career path at Pixelgrade since the very beginning. I genuinely believe in this kind of introspection because it allows me to reconnect with memorable events, and also be more grateful for how far I landed. Not in comparison with others, but in relation to a past version of myself. This fourth year skyjacked my evolution and unlocked new perspectives.

Looking from the outside, you can easily be misled by how’s life at Pixelgrade and what it really implies. You get only a version of the story, way too narrow. Once you enter our office courtyard, you are quite impressed with a drawing creatively put together for an event I’ve been running. You enter the house, and a lot of wow moments start to pop-up. 

The design approach breaths everywhere and takes you on a journey full of pleasant surprises. It feels like you are beginning to grasp a mesmerizing world, revealed slowly, layer by layer. You get in touch with several local designers’ products, discrete yet beautiful details, visual tweaks that makes it just right.

The homey feeling stays at the core of the general atmosphere in our office. Especially on the ground floor, where we have a living, dining, a kitchen, each inviting you to take your time to read a book, enjoy lunch on your rhythm, sign out from the mandatory for at least a few moments. 

On the upper floor, the landscape changes. Our desks are displayed in several rooms, each one with its particular personality and style. We even have a Zen room with a bed and a desk if you want to sign out entirely. I usually explore it when I write longform articles because I need a certain solitude to gather my thoughts and get in the mood of digging deeper. Nevertheless, we also use it when Alin or Alex, our remote teammates, visit us. 

Silence is our working language. Everyone tries to get its chunk of deep focus and deliver his best work. In contrast with other creative industries, in our specific league, where we sell stand-alone products on a global scale, we treasure depth: in thinking and in action.

It sounds like a promising place to work for, right? Especially if you resonate with such an attitude and way of approaching things. The truth is that yeah, it is lovely, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t downsides. On the contrary.

One of the most challenging dangers are the ones that you cannot see, but sense.

In the fourth year that I’m celebrating these days next to my squad (I wrote about the first three here) plenty of insights became clear-cut. One of them is linked to how the space we live in, even though for 8+ hours a day, impacts who we are, what we stand for, our ambitions and affective memory.

In 2019 I had my fair share of mixed feelings with this space that led me to drill in finding out more about how I feel while spending time at the office. The Evrika moment did not happen all of a sudden. Not at all. As with many other things, it’s a journey, where dozens of micro-interactions coalesce and reveal a deeper truth.

The clarity started to unravel when things got messy, both on an interpersonal and business level. I already wrote in our tenth transparency report about the ups-and-downs I’ve been facing in the fall and why I felt I was on edge. Make sure you give it a go to gain a broader context. 

I learned that such hard, exhausting moments in which I cannot see any wise solution to move further are also chances of rediscovery and reconstruction. Both have improved my resilience and helped me gain mental flexibility.

I feel the need to share with you how the lessons learned — with all the love-and-hate ripples implied, shaped me in various ways: intellectually, morally, energetically if you want.

Here I go.


The office is not your home

It’s great, even a privilege, to have an office like ours. I mean it. I am not saying it simply because I want to splatter Pixelgrade all over your mind, but because, in many ways, you are as good as the place you are working from. 

It’s hard to be truly creative when you are in a box that feels like a cage for several hours in a row. It’s draining to collaborate wisely and find the best common idea in a crowded environment. It’s damaging to not have any kind of relationship with the place from where you should deliver your best work, the kind that fills you with pride.

However, this does not mean that you need to become institutionalized at the office. That your life should be lived entirely there, nor that the space should cover your entire spectrum of needs and desires. 

It’s a thin line between creating a culture where you care about your people in alignment with the values you are endorsing and keeping them trapped inside walls. 

The office should be the playground that offers you what you need to reach your potential, both as an individual and as a team. You have the freedom to define yours. For us, it means having a wide range of places to match various actions: working per se in front of a screen without constant interruption, gathering for a quick check-up session to put things on a roll, having a long meeting or a punctual 1:1 chat, taking lunch together, or skimming through a book or a magazine. 

In the end, we’re in the knowledge economy game, and we do sell ideas turned into digital products, we don’t make nails day in, day out. 

I understood that it’s beautiful to work from a place where I can feel free to express myself, but I also got anxious when noticing that I prefered to meet with a friend at the office rather than go out in a different place. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, and I’m just highlighting that too much comfort can lead to poor consequences and do harm.

Of course, it is not just the place’s responsibility to keep things balanced. People can and should lead from the first row. That’s why, as a Chief People Officer, I put in place a schedule that gives us discipline and keeps things in flow. The echo of this decision covers multiple areas: from the fact that the office is used for its primary function — the place where we do outstanding work — to more meaningful human interactions and stronger bonds.


The office is a modular playground

We’ve been active promoters of having the freedom to work from wherever we want as long as it helps us get in the right mood to accomplish our goals. This means that you can go in the living room and write an article from there because you feel the need to disconnect from the daily routine or grab some markers and sheets of paper to start drawing marketing or development strategies. Whatever it is, Pixelgrade allows me to find the right spot for the right tempo.

One of the insights I figured out better in this fourth year of working here is that too much space can deepen the distances between people: physical and psychological. 

For almost ten months, Andrei (my marketer fellow) and I worked from a different room, just the two of us. Not only the place was huge and poorly used for our daily needs, but we also felt quite alone and separated from the rest of the team. In a way, the belongingness started to dilute.

I am not surprised that this awful feeling overlapped with the time when we faced several cracks in the relationships with our colleagues. The timing was as bad as it could get because these were the days when our cashflow went crazy too. Not sexy.

From November 2019, one month after launching Rosa 2, a product we’re super confident it will keep its traction, we moved next to Vlad, Răzvan, and Mădălin, our developer teammates. It brought us plenty of good things I did not imagine entirely. 

On the one hand, we started to have better and spicier debates that help us in finding the right solutions toward our goals (complementary skills are a gold mine). On the other one, even though George still prefers to stay alone — mostly because he needs a different pace to design and think forward about our future — we feel more like a team who fights for the same goal. It recreated the feeling of being together in this adventure, where everyone gives his best, and that’s huge.


The office is questionable

In the summer of 2019, I told George and Vlad that I’d like to paint the walls on the ground floor. It was my naivete of showing that I need a change, those rooms have been caring too much of our past and too little of our present or feature. 

We’re not the same crew we were a few years ago, we changed as leaders, the people next to us today evolved in various and surprising ways — it just doesn’t fit anymore. It’s squeezing us.

Several months later, after running the fifth edition of the Creativ înainte de cafea event with Alexandra Berdan from A+noima, a local architecture studio, I started to frame my perspective on what I truly feel and need from Pixelgrade’s studio. We became friends, talked a lot about buildings, people, dynamics, how each construction has its own face and way of living — things started to make more sense.

Therefore, from painting the walls and mixing and matching some furniture pieces — quite a superficial level, I understood that the real story lays elsewhere. It became undeniable that I needed a healing process to update the current place to what our company speaks for today. I remember telling Alexandra that if I would write a brief about the experience I am dreaming of having, this is how it would sound like:

Recreate this space to remind ourselves that we are good enough, that as long as we stick together, nothing is hard enough to overcome, and that staying a small team is an honor, not a sacrifice.”

We’re just scratching the surface about how to work together and what our dreams are around this project, but I’m beyond grateful to team-up for this particular challenge. She’s, by far, the best person to get the job done not only because she’s a great architect and thinker, but also because she’s been spending plenty of time here, looks up to us as human beings and business leaders, and she’s having a considerable appetite to work with Vlad, our Chief Technology Officer by choice and architect by passion. 

On top of that, we’re behaving, once again, in tune with our mission — to help people have an impact within the community they are part of, and that’s extremely rewarding. What else could we wish for?


You may say that all these lessons are way too focused on our physical place, making it hard to relate with. Please allow me to say that it would be such a pity to think so narrow because it means that the lens you choose to see the entire context are blurry and short.

There’s much more beyond some rooms and walls that make our office what it is today. It’s about people who can surpass themselves and lives that can be far better if we have the courage beyond to ask vulnerable questions and find answers in tune to who we are today. As Alexandra once told me, buildings have faces, so I am looking forward to discovering Pixelgrade’s new way of looking at the future: more serene, more confident, and more balanced. 

We are enough. 💜

Oana

Oana is a storyteller @Pixelgrade and community builder for creative industries. A true believer in the power of making the world a better place one step at a time.