To the Rescue

The Transformation

"Transformation" is not too strong a word to describe the results. "We had nowhere to go but up. It didn't reflect any kind of professional office environment at all," says Filicia. When people imagine professional office environments, most see clean white walls and orderly workstations laid out in a grid fashion. The new Mad Science office blows those stereotypes right out of orbit.

The pictures tell the story well but are no substitute for seeing it in person. The walls are covered in a bamboo print wallpaper, and the front room is accented with ocean photographs that suggest Jack Hamlett's love of surfing. The industrial carpet has been replaced with a warmer khaki-and-green pattern. One room has walls finished in an enormous world map. There's a touch of the exotic with rattan-style chairs in the front room, a beta fish gracing a tabletop, and cactuses in the conference area. Says Filicia, "It was a delicate mix between making it look professional, efficient and smart. But I also wanted it to be inviting and warm at the same time." Mission accomplished.

The greatest compliment may have been the string of vowels coming from the Hamletts when they first saw their new office. "Oooh," said Kathy. "Oooh," said Jack. Liberal doses of "Wow!" and "Look!" followed. Their expressions resembled the looks on the faces of children seeing a rocket-launch demonstration for the first time. Very cool.

The clean lines of HON's Perpetual furniture line lend a sharp professionalism to the space. Light wood tones throughout help keep the small office rooms feeling airy and open. And just as Kathy wished, there are heaps of storage possibilities, from file cabinets to large storage cabinets. Their piles of registration forms, handouts, chemicals and supplies will all finally have proper homes. The HON 4313 Perpetual swivel chairs are many worlds away from the back-busting options Mad Science had before. Best of all, the combined effect is the creation of many flexible and functional work spaces throughout the office.

Filicia also created an additional work space by adding a wall near the back of the large front reception area. "I think I maximized the amount of people, storage and circulation they can have in there," he says. With so many new employees expected to come onboard, they're going to need it.

Gone are the thermal fax machine and the frustration-inducing printer. A multifunction scan/fax/print/e-mail Xerox WorkCentre Pro55 and a Phaser 8400 solid ink color printer are two new additions that will keep the Hamletts out of the local print shop and keep more of their money in their bank account. "They had extremely outdated technology, so there were immediate opportunities to make them a lot more productive," says Diane McGarry, corporate vice president and chief marketing officer with Xerox, and one of the contest judges. The new 17-inch flat-panel Xerox monitors spread throughout the office not only look sleek, but also maximize the usable work surface.

There's more to the technology part of the makeover than meets the eye. Xerox also installed an Ethernet network that will easily accommodate the Hamletts' needs as the business grows. Mad Science relies a lot on paperwork like registration forms for after-school programs. Xerox's DocuShare Software, a web-based document- and content-management system, will change the way they store and work with their data. "It allows them to organize their files, track versions of the documents, and help all of the employees collaborate on a document," explains McGarry. Kathy, for one, is glad the stacks of paper that once plagued the office will be transformed into a more efficient digital system.

The Hamletts were perfectly happy with having someone else set the course for the look and technology of their office. "It was nice not to have to make those decisions. It's better that it was taken out of our hands," says Kathy. Like many business owners, they hadn't had the time to pursue these changes on their own. Since all of Mad Science's interactions with children take place outside the office, there generally aren't a lot of clients visiting their office-but that may change as well. The Hamletts are looking forward to inviting over the teachers from the schools they're working with this fall.

Entrepreneurs, take cues from the Mad Science makeover when it comes to rethinking your own office spaces. "I take a lot of information from the client and a lot of information from what the space is about, what they use it for and the environment around it," says Filicia. The Arizona setting shows up in the earthy textures and tones: reds, khakis, blues and taupes. Small, colorful table lamps help bring warmth to the lighting scheme, and nature posters tie in to their science education mission. Large baskets hold science toys and supplies in an attractive and functional way.

You don't have to win a contest to get your office into shape. Technology like color printing and document management is surprisingly affordable. Sterile work environments can be conquered with color and imagination. "That office to me represents so many offices in this country-the Sheetrock box with the glass storefront windows," says Filicia. Box no more. Mad Science has been transformed into a colorful, sleek, exotic, homey and efficient office. Most important, the Hamletts now have a home base every bit as fun and functional as the science education they bring to so many kids around Scottsdale.

Office Space
Need help spicing up your work space? Thom Filicia offers some universal advice.

He has designed fabulous spaces on Bravo's hit show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and founded his own successful interior design business in New York City. So it's not surprising that Thom Filicia, designer and spokesperson for Xerox and Entrepreneur's Makeover Contest, has plenty of ideas for entrepreneurs looking to revitalize drab and uninspiring corporate environments:

  • Encourage natural light. If that's not possible, use dimmers, desk lamps and other lighting solutions for "creating an atmosphere where people don't mind working extra hours."
  • Incorporate elements from the home. An open and comfortable kitchen, for instance, "becomes the same thing it is in the house-a place where people gather," says Filicia. "They have coffee, they talk, you have informal meetings." And think about installing wall-to-wall carpeting: "It's acoustical, it's comfortable, it's inviting," he continues. When employees have to work late, "they kick their shoes off. The overhead lights go off, and the lamps come on."
  • Hang mirrors. "It's a little bit more exciting, it brings in light, it reflects the views," says Filicia. "If you have two windows, now you have four windows. It changes the whole environment. It makes it feel more energized."
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. "Playing with different ideas and concepts is a wonderful thing," he says. "Just because you designed it today doesn't mean you have to live with this for the rest of your life." That goes for painting the walls, too: "Color is one of the best things to explore with because it's only paint."
  • Think of design as another vehicle for expressing your personality and ideas. "If you have this beautiful environment that people walk into and are really taken by, I think that's a huge [business] advantage," Filicia says. "Someone walks in an goes 'You know what? This person is very interesting to me.'" -Charlotte Jensen

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This article was originally published in the November 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: To the Rescue.

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