For Custom Media, the pandemic completely shifted the way we worked. From relying on face-to-face meetings for almost all of our business, we quickly moved to doing almost everything virtually.
And within about a year of starting to work from home in April 2020, we moved from having an office that could seat about 30 people to an office and coworking space at Cambridge Innovation Center Tokyo, a thriving hub for startups and entrepreneurs.
But like many have discovered during this time, the human element can be lost when going to a hybrid work style. Even though we have regular days when teams are working together at CIC, we’ve found ourselves wanting to be able to spend more time engaging with each other face to face—whether that means tackling work projects or just relaxing after hours.
One company that is taking to heart this popular sentiment these days is Forest Corporation. The Nagano Prefecture-based company has launched a new concept called the “third office.” Like its name implies, a third office is neither a company headquarters nor a home office. It’s meant to be located away from the busyness and stress of the city, to offer an environment where staff and management can relax, bond and unlock a different kind of creativity that being surrounded by nature can inspire.
Hackathon at the Third Office
This month, members of the Custom Media team got to experience this for ourselves at Forest Corporation’s model third office in Karuizawa. Our team went there for three days, in the spirit of a hackathon. The concept is one that first sprung up within the tech community as a short stretch of time when teams focus specifically on a single project until they complete it. It was also meant to be a time when day-to-day tasks were put on hold.
The team headed up from Tokyo to Karuizawa on the first day, and on arriving at the property, we were amazed. Natural wood was used throughout the building, and it was outfitted with everything from a high-end stereo system to a full range of modern kitchen appliances. Trees surrounded the house, and an interior earthen floor area with sliding doors offered easy access to an expansive outdoor patio. A small office area was also attached to the house.
After settling into the rooms where we would be staying, we got down to work. We began by brainstorming a variety of topics that have come up as Custom Media has adapted to the changing times. After deciding on key issues to tackle in the space of the hackathon, the group broke into teams and developed a game plan for their projects. These ranged from developing an approach to streamlining human resources tasks to overall company branding and operational strategy.
With our work set out for us for the day that would follow, we ended the first day with a catered dinner hosted by Forest Corporation CEO Hitoshi Ozawa. Team members from different groups were able to sit down together and enjoy multi-course cuisine prepared by a professional chef, finishing the night off by playing through the property’s collection of classic LPs.
The second day was spent discussing and implementing strategies to address our hackathon projects. Because teams were made up of members from different parts of the company, it offered a great chance for people from the studio to hear about how creative consultants and account directors needed to tackle their duties, and what were most important to them when presenting Custom Media to potential clients. The relaxed environment at the property encouraged a free flow of ideas, many of which we wouldn’t normally have the time to discuss during our usual business day.
The building itself made the experience more conducive to creative thinking, pointed out Custom Media Design Director Michael Pfeffer: “The choice of building materials and the architecture made the home feel fully integrated with the surrounding natural environment of Karuizawa. It was a perfect escape from life and work in central Tokyo. It allowed me to focus on topics outside of my everyday tasks and see things from a broader perspective.”
After the teams presented the results of their projects at the end of the second day, our members worked together to make dinner, which ranged from firing up the barbecue and grilling steaks to preparing a luxurious salad made with local ingredients. Like the night before, the rest of the evening was filled with music and lively conversation. The team made its way back to Tokyo in the late morning of the third day.
Ready to Grow
Looking back on the experience, Nick Moulds, video producer at Custom Media, thought that the surroundings really made the difference, both for the hackathon work and the team-building: “I felt that the environment enabled engaging discussions where the team was able to share their ideas freely, and it opened up the possibility of discussing topics that otherwise we would have been unable to address. Outside of the hackathon projects, I feel like I was able to get to know my colleagues better, speak to members of the team I don’t always have a chance to speak to and generally become closer overall.”
Kunio Kikuchi, Custom Media’s advisor, was impressed by the hidden talents of his colleagues and by being able to socialize after so many months of social distancing: “By getting to know each other more, we were able to discover newfound strengths in our colleagues. We were able to enjoy quality time together after a long time of mostly working remotely. It was a unique experience that was brought to life by teamwork.” A similar feeling was echoed by Megumi Okazaki, strategic account director at Custom Media: “After working from home for over a year, it was a great opportunity to get together with the team and work towards common goals. The hackathon brought collaborative vibes and positive energy to the group discussions, which helped us to explore new ideas.”
Publisher and Co-founder Simon Farrell said: “I had forgotten what it was like to walk slowly in the woods without looking at my watch or being distracted. The whole experience of working and relaxing at once with friends and colleagues in a natural environment cleared my mind and energized my body—and just 90 minutes from Tokyo.”
CEO and Co-founder Robert Heldt summed up the experience, saying: “Our time at the third office in Karuizawa was an amazing team-building experience that generated stimulating conversations and thought-provoking ideas that will help Custom Media continue to evolve as a leading digital marketing and market entry agency in Japan.”
Shortly after returning from the hackathon, both teams presented their learnings to the entire company and we will be building on the projects that got their start in Karuizawa. While some of the changes will be inward-facing, others will be changes that our clients, partners and friends will be able to see for themselves. So stay tuned for what’s to come!