Connect with Creatives Around the World Using Officehours

September 29, 2015



Ever have a creative problem that getting a quick second (or third, or tenth) opinion might help you solve? Sure, you can turn to your colleagues, but what if you could ask an impartial party to weigh in? Or maybe you just need some advice on career choices.


You can do it all with Officehours, a new site from the creators of Vancouver-based creative agency smashLAB, which takes the mentor relationship to a new global level. Users can request a session with any number of available advisors, and, if approved, enter a virtual meeting where they have 10 minutes to ask their questions.


Advisors including Debbie Millman and 344 Questions author Stefan G. Bucher have already held or scheduled meetings. Advisors can sign up for any number of time slots on the web-based application, which runs VoIP (voice over IP) calls that are timed to last exactly 10 minutes. If you’re in the middle of a sentence when your 10 minutes are up, oh well — the call automatically disconnects.


“It forces everyone to be succinct,” explains Eric Karjaluoto, partner and creative director at smashLAB. “We’re trying to respect everyone’s time. We don’t want advisors to feel like they are going to be burdened.”


The idea for Officehours started years ago, Karjaluoto explains, as he would attend mentor meetings that would last well over an hour. While he was interested in helping others, the schedule requirements always presented a problem. Last year, he and smashLAB partner Eric Shelkie started working on the development for Officehours in their own off-hours.


“It’s been surprisingly complex to build, with scheduling the meetings in multiple time zones, and making sure people arrive to the meetings,” says Karjaluoto.


They rolled out the site a few weeks ago. Next up is creating a basic chat application that participants can use to send links to one another, and a “karma” system based on ratings. After each call, the participants will score each other. “If someone consistently misses meetings, they get downgraded. If people come in asking great questions, they’re rewarded,” says Karjaluoto.



The concept is poised to become particularly popular with students and emerging creatives, Karjaluoto says. Already they’ve had much interest in the advisor side, and are now working to get potential mentees aware of the program. Karjaluoto says that something like Officehours would have been beneficial to him when he first started smashLAB in a small Bristish Columbia town.


“[smashLAB] started in the early days of web. There were very few people working remotely. If you wanted to learn how to build a brand identity manual, you took a book out of the library,” he explains. “If I could have talked to a designer in Toronto, New York, wherever, it would have helped so much. We flew down to Vancouver to meet with DDB, with Blast Radius. We had to hunt for this info. There are so many designers who are struggling with similar problems — if you put them together, they are quite willing to share that information.”


Karjaluoto says while most of the current advisors are working in the creative industry, the scope of Officehours will be wide and not limited to creative types. As it stands, anyone in any profession can instantly become a mentor. So far, the site has attracted business developers, marketers and the founder of a music-focused not-for-profit, in addition to designers.


“Our initial thought was to have people apply to be mentors and then we’d vet them, but then we realized that’s kind of foolish. We’re not sure we want to be the arbiters of who can and can’t help a person,” Karjaluoto says. “It would be wild to have an astronaut or marine biologist, and eventually allow school-age kids to go in and have those conversations.”


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