The putting range at reception, complete with golf clubs, Adirondack chairs and bright-green synthetic grass, is the first clue that this isn’t a typical office. “We used to be in an ugly grey building, Bedford Tower, across from McDonald’s,” says Mike Johnston, president and CEO of REDspace. “We were bursting at the seams when we left.”
In business for 14 years, the digital-media company creates websites, games, apps and content-delivery technologies for large media clients such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, MTV, Fox and Mattel. “We work with sites that get 20 million to 60 million hits a month,” Johnston notes. “We build most of the technology that drives the digital side of these companies. We’re part of the digital economy and are largely export-based, with most of our clients in the U.S.”
When astronaut Chris Hadfield made history as the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station, REDspace designed the interactive space school website for the National Film Board and the Canadian Space Agency. The project was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award in the best original interactive production category. The company also builds learning and human-resources software for IBM, a long-term client.
But following rapid expansion (adding 60 staff in the last two years) it was time for bigger, more exciting digs. Six months ago, the company moved into a redesigned office in the Sunnyside Mall. “There’s a great energy in this mall; lots of great food choices and good bus routes,” Johnston says. The last tenant was a gym, so the new space boasted high ceilings and lots of open areas. “It still smelled like dirty socks when we moved in here,” Johnston jokes. “The bones of this space were really cool. We had 17,000 square feet of space, but it definitely needed some love.”
Halifax firm Design360 helped transform the office. Spread over two levels, the new space has open-concept areas for web development, art and animation, and game development, plus private meeting and workspaces. “Instead of cubicles, we have custom tables made of locally sourced hardwood by Lake City Woodworkers,” says Johnston, noting that Lake City also built the large boardroom table from a barn door.
Stocked with free beverages and snacks, the kitchen has picnic tables, writable walls for break-out meetings and light fixtures made of apple barrels from Ross Farm. The space uses 17 kilometres of wire. On the main level, thick bundles of red wires track overhead inside a metal cage. Upstairs is a fireplace lounge and play area with game consoles and couches. For Johnston, it was important to have a space that would inspire creativity and collaboration in his staff. “In our sector, the average age of employees is 30 or less,” he says. “People are constantly growing and learning here. It’s a great space for new graduates to soak up new knowledge, even if it’s not something they are directly working on.”
Staying in Bedford made sense for the company and its growing staff. “It was home for us,” Johnston says. “It’s convenient for a variety of reasons. We had better lease terms, more vacancy, free parking. All of our clients are remote, so we don’t need to be downtown for meetings.” Looking ahead, Johnston is diversifying his company’s services, including additional game development work and new projects in the health-care IT sector, where Johnston cut his programming teeth in the late 1990s.
The company is working with the Dalhousie Brain Repair Centre, designing a cognitive repair kit game for stroke rehabilitation. And to help promote programming and digital-media careers for young people, Redspace sponsors digital camps at the Discovery Centre, and also leads Techsploration digital-media workshops for teenage girls.
Working in an industry that struggles to find skilled workers, Johnston says his new Bedford office is a unique selling point for potential new hires. “It helps us attract and retain great people,” he says. “We never wanted to create a punch-the-clock culture here. We pay people to do great work in an environment where they can learn from each other and be excited to do great work for our clients. Everyone wins.”