From kitchen table to waterside workplace: three years of Bakken & Bæck in Amsterdam

In 2014 I interned at Bakken & Bæck in Norway. As part of a tight-knit team of 12, I felt at home right from the beginning. Everyone was very welcoming and the mood in the office was easy-going. Work-wise, I split my time between a graduation project, a thesis, and client work. After six months I moved back to The Netherlands where I graduated and found a job at another, much larger agency.

However, the B&B team kept lingering in my brain. Looking back at my time in Oslo I preferred working with them, but the city itself didn’t appeal to me for a definitive move — darkness and expensive alcohol don’t go very well together. When I visited for one of the infamous B&B parties, I planted the seed for an Amsterdam office. The day after, hungover and tired, I was invited to properly pitch (wing) the idea of opening an office in Amsterdam. I mentioned that it’s an attractive city for people to move to and that its thriving tech scene is full of promising startups we could potentially collaborate with. Also, canals ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Lo and behold, three months later I was working for Bakken & Bæck again, sitting next to a buzzing fridge in the kitchen of my sublet apartment on the outskirts of Amsterdam. We had no real plan in place for what would happen next so, at first, I focused on doing design work as a remote employee. As I got lonelier and lonelier, hiring locals or people who wanted to move to Amsterdam started to make sense.

Baby steps 🐤

First, Kristian (one of our designers from Oslo) moved to Amsterdam to help. We set up shop in a co-working space on the canals, where Ezekiel was the first to join us. This time was a lot of fun and a little frightening; I’d never hired anyone before, but here I was chatting with potential new colleagues, trying to figure out if they’d be a good fit for our small team. Over a period of, say, six months, we added two more people, before moving to a proper office. We furnished the place ourselves, expanded a little more, and I tried figuring out this whole Regional Manager thing.

For me, there were a lot of firsts during this time; trying to get local businesses and startups to work with us, and presenting the company to promising iOS development students. From figuring out a pension plan for everyone to dealing with our accounting. Planning a company Christmas party in Amsterdam, hiring and guiding our first intern, all while already spending time trying to find our next office — hardly any week was the same and most of them were far out of my comfort zone.

Fast forward to 2018: as a team of twelve talented designers, developers and a writer, we share an office on the waterfront overlooking a small harbour, home to our loyal swans Hillary Swank, Ron Swanson and their kids. Our office space has been refurbished to match the aesthetics of our Oslo office — albeit sporting its own, warm colour scheme. I’m beyond proud to see that this random idea has now grown into a proper workplace.

Designing a great place to work ✨

It’s a common thing to shape your own job at Bakken & Bæck, because you’re always free to explore possibilities outside your original job description. I was originally hired as a designer and thinking back on the three years that now make up my time here, it feels like I’ve stumbled through them, adapting to whatever came my way.

Doing so taught me a lot about building an office and its culture, from big picture stuff to the nitty-gritty details. I’ve found I enjoy this kind of work a lot more than I anticipated. It’s very rewarding to be able to make sure everyone enjoys their time at work; whether that is by picking their brain in one-on-ones to find out how they’re feeling and what could be improved (per project or company-wide), or simply by introducing little things to make our workspace more enjoyable.

My main focus now is to create and sustain a great place to work for all of us. Since we collaborate with our teams in Oslo and Bonn on a variety of products — from Toshi to Virdi, and from Kron to Coinbase Custody — we don’t get to work on projects together in Amsterdam very often (this year’s An Interesting Day being an exception). We have video meetings with our colleagues abroad and share the same timezone, but we’re still together in the same office roughly forty hours a week — save from the occasional day of working from home.

As a team, we lend each other our ears and eyes regularly for feedback. We share banter face-to-face, over lunch or during a game of Mario Kart or FIFA. A lot of time is spent bonding beyond office hours, getting together for bi-monthly activities (like a boat ride, a wine-tasting course or Go-Karts session), or trips to our HQ in Oslo, where we often share an Airbnb amongst ourselves and hang out together. We sometimes meet up in our homes for dinner or simply hang out in the office after work and order take-out before moving on to a nearby bar and its cat.

I’m very proud to see that we’ve managed to build a tight-knit team in Amsterdam — not unlike the team I joined in Oslo four years ago. I wouldn’t have trusted myself with this a few years ago, so I’m humbled that B&B has given me the freedom to do so in whichever way I see fit 😌

“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”
– Michael Scott

I don’t want to look too far ahead, as I believe the serendipitous way this office has grown into being is part of its charm; however, I’m hiring an (Assistant to The) Studio Manager so I can carve out time for myself to focus on a combination of design work, our office culture, and more strategic thinking. I believe we’ve only just gotten started here, and I can’t wait to enjoy the years to come 👋