Zen Master

Global tech gurus Zendesk create leading-edge customer service software for the likes of Uber, AirBnB and Rockstar Games. We spoke with the company’s Chief Creative Officer, Toke Nygaard, about the similarities between an office and a dinner party, and what to do when your favourite pub closes down.



Toke recently returned to London following a 15-year stint in New York and San Francisco. One of his first major projects with Zendesk was to create a workspace that reflects the company’s culture, at its new premises on Paddington’s Eastbourne Terrace.

“We moved in a month ago, so it’s a work in progress,” he admits. “We want to make it cosy, but we also want it to be minimal, and sometimes those two ideas clash. I’m still working on the formula.”

With an acute awareness of how environments influence us, Toke weaves cohesiveness into Zendesk’s spaces, both virtual and physical. “I try to make everything light and airy”, he explains. “People ‘sit’ in our software all day, so we want it to be free from distractions, and easy to focus. But we still have a sense of humour. It’s the same with our offices.”

From the internal acoustic to the colour palette, everything in Zendesk’s new workspace has been considered.

“As can happen when a company grows fast, our old office was really loud, with people crammed in everywhere,” says Toke. “Here, we’ve tried to make sure the space reflects what our product is like, with quiet, calm areas.”

“We’ve tried to get a few quirky things in too, to remind people of who we are. In our old office, everyone had a favourite pub called the Doggy Arms, which got shut down. So we’ve recreated it as a bar here in our new office.”

“We’re trying to preserve the idea that our office should have the same vibe as when you have friends over for dinner, and you’re standing in the kitchen cooking. It’s a bit messy, it’s friendly, it’s casual.”

Perhaps unusually for a tech sector company, Zendesk places a high value on work/life balance, and this is reflected in its workspace. “There’s a big thing in tech where companies have their own sushi chefs and restaurants, and people are always staying late and being given meals,” Toke says. “We don’t do that. We take a more lo-fi approach. We don’t want people working all hours; we’re focused on providing a realistic working environment. And our philosophy is that the entire city is our campus. We want our people to go out and support local restaurants and cafés.”

With 1,000 people across centres in San Francisco, Dublin, Melbourne, Copenhagen and London, Zendesk’s international presence results in regular influxes of international team members visiting London for the first time. “For us, this is an amazing location,” says Toke. “It’s fantastic to be able to get to and from Heathrow so easily. What do we bring to Paddington? A lot of very excited Americans!”