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June 13, 2013

Office design goes from ‘me space’ to ‘we space’

  • The trend is moving away from traditional private offices assigned by titles to open and collaborative spaces that harvest light and encourage communication.
    JPC Architects


    Who will replace the baby boomers when they elect to leave the workforce? Although the retirement age keeps moving — 70 is the new 60 — there is a retirement wave on the horizon and companies are scrambling to find and train the innovators and leaders of the future.

    Recruiting top talent in the technology sector has been the focus for several years, but companies are not just focused on recruiting seasoned professionals. They realize the next big idea is likely to come from the generation that has grown up immersed in technology and will be the consumer of the future.

    Tech companies are changing their office environments to support the work style of the millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) while holding on to the trained and capable Generation X workforce.

    Corporate office design must support a multi-generational workforce, but the trend is clearly moving away from traditional office layouts with a high percentage of private offices assigned by titles, to open and collaborative spaces that harvest light and encourage communication.

    Photos by Benjamin Benschneider [enlarge]
    Collaboration spaces are replacing conference rooms at high-tech companies.

    The need for private offices is now based on requirements for security and confidentiality, not title or years of service. When offices are justified, they are being located interior with glass fronts to maximize access to natural light.

    The private office as a recruiting tool for young tech workers is no longer valid. The focus has moved away from the “me space” to the “we space” as companies invest in common amenities for staff and better technology for all to use.

    Amenity-rich spaces

    Companies are designing amenity-rich spaces that support collaboration, mentorship and options for where staff perform independent concentrated work. They realize that the next generation of worker is constantly online, connected, communicating and working with the tools they carry with them. For them, work is not a place and has no set hours. Flexibility to work when they feel productive in a setting that supports the task at hand is better than a set schedule and the one-size-fits-all office standard.

    Companies that can provide flexibility, are open to new styles of working, and invest in space and tools to make staff productive will attract the best young talent.

    Providing opportunities for and encouraging collaboration is key to innovation. Designers are creating spaces that encourage unscheduled interactions within the office — the “bump zone” — in a layout that encourages people to pause, interact, and is outfitted with the tools needed to continue a discussion. These include writeable wall surfaces, comfortable seating and technology to display a portable device.

    Unscheduled meeting spaces are becoming more abundant than the traditional conference room as the office landscape becomes more and more open. They are located convenient to staff, in areas where conversations will not interfere with concentrated work, and support creative thinking.

    This new open environment supports interaction and mentorship between peers. Traditional paneled furniture that was designed for privacy is being replaced with benches or tables that allow people to work in teams and make information sharing easy.

    The millennials are comfortable being seen and don’t view the desk as the limit of their workspace. They embrace social media and share information constantly.

    What millennials want

    As an architecture and interior design firm, we have a high number of millennials working with us and are in a constant recruiting mode for talented professionals. Prospective employees touring our office see people working together, sharing information, and get a sense of the firm’s culture. A workplace environment that supports mentoring and sharing ideas is important to young designers looking for a place to learn and improve their skills.

    Health and fitness are important, as well as environmental awareness. Tech companies once known for their free soft drinks and endless supply of caffeine are now providing healthy food and drink alternatives, as well as access to fitness centers. Alternative transportation is encouraged, so buildings are providing bike storage with shower and locker facilities to support bike commuters.

    The millennials want to be associated with organizations that are considered environmentally friendly and want to be proud of efforts made toward sustainability so recycling centers and composting facilities are being installed.

    Corporate real estate decisions are being influenced by this shift in the workforce. Many companies have improved their efficiency over the years through implementation of progressive workplace guidelines. Office programs have changed from an average of 200 square feet per person to 150 square feet, in some cases, with changes that are viewed as improvements for most staff.

    Open space abounds at JPC’s headquarters. Glass walls let natural light into the few enclosed offices.

    The suburban office parks have been challenged with parking the higher-density tenants and providing alternative transportation solutions. Companies are turning to urban centers to solve the transportation issues and are finding millennials prefer the location due to the options and extended hours an urban location provides.

    Microsoft, as an example, has located its Online Services Group in downtown Bellevue to provide an urban experience.

    Jim Stanton, senior community affairs manager of Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities, in a recent Bellevue Real Estate Summit commented that the group enjoys being downtown and has been told the move “raised the average salary and lowered the dress code in downtown Bellevue.”

    Companies focused on recruiting and retaining top young talent view their location, creative design and amenities offered for staff key to their success. Having the amenities of downtown to complement a productive workplace where an open communication style is encouraged will make the next generation of workers feel right at home.

    Daniel Butler has more than 30 years of experience in architecture, planning and interior design; and has been the managing principal of JPC Architects since 1997. JPC Architects specializes in corporate office interior architecture and is located in downtown Bellevue.

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