How Zoro Is Fostering Community in its New Chicago Office

The e-commerce company had the opportunity to build a new office from scratch, and is using that opportunity to make collaboration easier than ever.

Written by Avery Komlofske
Published on Mar. 06, 2023
How Zoro Is Fostering Community in its New Chicago Office
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You wouldn’t expect an office to have neighborhoods. But e-commerce company Zoro’s new Chicago office is designed to reflect the many rich communities of Chicago.

“Right now, it’s just studs: bare walls, bare ceilings, bare floors,” said Chief Technology Officer Andrew Goodfellow. “We get the opportunity to make it our own; we’re taking about a year to reimagine that space and bring it all together.”

The design process of Ogilvie Transportation Center’s 40th floor began with what Goodfellow called a “mood board” — a document that holds the values and feelings that the office should reflect. The mood board revolves around one operative word: community.

“Zoro’s strength is in the community that it has built in the last 12 years,” Goodfellow said, citing a quote from the designer. “Connecting in one building will help unite the Zoro community through collaboration and shared experience.”

To create a community, the office is being designed to look like one. A “main street” style hallway encircles the space, giving everyone easy access to department “neighborhoods.”

“When I saw this, I was like, ‘these designers get it.’” he said. “They’re tracking with the community focus, and that focus will drive collaboration.”

 

The outside of Zoro's new office in downtown Chicago.
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No-Door Policy

Before 2023, Zoro’s main office was in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, though they had a satellite office on a lower floor of the Ogilvie building. Consolidating their offices into one location will dramatically improve the ability to collaborate between teams.

“It’s bringing people together in a new way,” said Head of HR Janai Howard. “Leaders have talked about having quarterly meetings that bring us all together, and people that are local to the area having a one-stop shop.”

The new space’s convenient location not only makes commuting easy — it’s situated directly inside of the Metra train station — but will also entice more talent from the rich pool of Chicago. Meanwhile, the interior structural decisions will preserve the sense of one team.

The former central office in Buffalo Grove was designed with collaboration in mind, but the Chicago office intends to go further.

“We already have an open vibe — the cubicles are open, and we have an open-door policy with leadership,” said Senior Talent Acquisition Partner Sabrina DeLuca. “But this is going to be an even more open space, where our teams can truly collaborate.”

One way they’re embracing that philosophy is by turning the open-door leadership policy into a no-door policy.

“We decided that private offices for leaders don’t help our community, so the new space won’t have any,” said Goodfellow. “They close off, they isolate, and that’s the opposite of what we’re going for. This came directly from leadership, and there hasn’t been any pushback about it.”

 

“Zoro’s strength is in the community that it has built in the last 12 years.”

 

Not everyone will be in the office, since the team is distributed. However, the space has been specifically designed to include hybrid and remote workers in the community atmosphere.

“They’ve done a really good job with the desk layouts: There’s three chairs, and then there’s a screen, so you can have that fourth or fifth person feel like they’re part of the huddle too,” said Howard. “If we’re really saying this is a space where we want everyone to come together, we have to make it work in a hybrid environment.”

 

 

One Zoro

Zoro’s new office is designed to build upon a culture of connection that already exists. Employees at Zoro are given opportunities to take the lead, knowledge-share and give back to the greater community.

 

Zoro Gives Back

  • Partners often with YouthBuild to help provide education and job training to people with low incomes.
  • Packed lunches in January 2023 to donate and distribute.
  • Adopted a family to aid in November and December 2022.

 

“Our company meetings aren’t run by our leadership team. We pick a name out of a hat — usually an individual contributor — and they do it,” said DeLuca. “It really gives a sense of community. I’m not a people leader, but I’ve run one of these meetings.”

Zoro’s focus on community doesn’t end there. It extends to the technical teams in the form of “communities of practice.”

“It’s a group of people who, even if they’re on different teams or projects, form around a special interest. They get together every other week to present on something of interest in that focus area, then they talk about it and bounce ideas off each other,” Goodfellow said. “They all drive it themselves; people are really interested in creating influence, learning more and helping Zoro be more impactful cross-functionally, instead of being on siloed teams.”

 

Zoro's company website logo.
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A Better Customer Experience

“When we live our core values we tend to come up with better ideas,” said Goodfellow. “So the more we can remove friction from building community, the more we can collaborate and arrive at something that has value for our customers.”

By building the new office space with teamwork in mind, the company is taking significant steps to remove that friction. 

“The more ease we bring to our team members, the better outcomes we’ll get for our customers,” Howard added. “The more we’re able to have an environment where our marketing team, our merchandising team, and our tech team can get together, the better we’re going to show up outwardly.”

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos via Zoro and Shutterstock.

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