Office Space Redux: Finding the Right Mix

LIFE AT WORK

In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, recruiting the best talent available doesn’t just boil down to what a company can offer in compensation and benefits.

The workplace also counts, and how that workspace is designed can either attract — or repel — the right employee.

Which begs the question: What is the right kind of commercial design that appeals to the best and brightest? Is it a cubicle farm or an open space design? Is it an abandoned warehouse? Perhaps a space that integrates elements of all three? Such has been the dilemma for companies and office architects alike.

“Commercial design has been like a pendulum,” says Noa Santos, the co-founder and CEO of Homepolish, a design company that offers decorating services to both residential and commercial clients.

Commercial design has been like a pendulum.

“It started where everyone had their own cubicle, and then it swung to another extreme of no walls and an all-open floor plan,” he adds.

Indeed, once heralded as the office design of the future, the open-space floor plan has fallen into disfavor with the press — which has called it “miserable,” among other jabs — and has left companies and designers in a period of self-reflection.

But has the office debate become so binary that it’s either the open-space way or the highway? The short answer, say experts, is ‘no.’

“Now it’s coming back to a better place where it’s ‘what is the right mix for each company?’” says Santos.

During last month’s Internet Week New York, a crew of panelists participating in “The Workplace Experience: Inspiring Talent Today and Tomorrow” forum, discussed how the right office design can attract the right kind of talent. (Disclosure: CBRE is a sponsor of Internet Week New York.)

So what is that “right design”?

“It’s not just an all-open plan, because I think those are actually terrible,” says Lenny Beaudoin, senior managing director, workplace strategy at CBRE, who was also a panelist for the discussion.

“Rather, it’s a balance of spaces that are tailored to what people need them to be,” he adds.

Designing for optimal balance

Finding that balance can be a challenge, especially when factoring in the varying needs of a company’s staff. Engineers may want private space where they can work in relative solitude. A sales team will need a space where they can be on the phone for the entirety of their workday. One employee may want an assigned desk while another may want to have the ability to work at different workstation configurations throughout the office.

“Having the flexibility to work in different places without having to sit at the same desk every day is a trend that we’re seeing in our workforce,” says Jeff Fernandez, the co-founder and CEO of Grovo.

“Having the flexibility to work in different places without having to sit at the same desk every day is a trend that we’re seeing in our workforce.”

What matters to a company like Grovo, a learner-first training company that was dubbed by IWNY as “The Best Place to Work in New York City Tech” in 2014, isn’t where a worker sits or how she works. Rather it’s the worker’s output that matters more, says Fernandez.

“It starts and ends with performance,” says Fernandez. “Are you a productive team member? If that’s the case and you prefer to come in a little bit late to work one day and have a little bit more flexibility and not have a dedicated workspace, then that’s fine.”

Building owners are beginning to see the value of keeping these spaces flexible to attract tenants who wish to blur the line between individual and shared space.

“Companies are going to pay a premium for that flexibility to be able to adapt and grow as needed,” says Beaudoin.

For Homepolish, that flexibility means designing “transient” spaces for tenants who may sublet their office space two years into a 10-year lease, which Santos said was “a huge challenge.”

In Homepolish’s office in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, Santos opted to use three portable pre-fabricated greenhouses for conference meetings in place of building a permanent conference room.

“We didn’t want to build a conference room because we may not be in our offices for very long,” Santos added.

Bells and whistles (and gymnastic rings, too)

Today, incorporating features like gymnastic rings, ping pong tables and game rooms can seem, well, juvenile. But ultimately these amenities can prove crucial in helping employees decompress from a strenuous workday.

These features help keep people in the office, especially as they spend nearly all day in it.

“These features help keep people in the office, especially as they spend nearly all day in it,” says Beaudoin.

For instance, Grovo has its own gym in the office, complete with a director of fitness and health, to help its staff live and work in a healthier way. There’s also an event space that is intentionally made available to staffers for any occasion.

Ultimately these innovations in office space design are working to create spaces that appeal to a more optimistic and discerning workforce.

“People make better decisions for themselves when they are put into a context that is more thoughtfully constructed than what we generally provide today,” says Beaudoin.

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