Ten workplaces exemplify creative strategies for enabling collaboration and flexibility.
Technology may not have brought about the fully paperless office yet, but it has radically changed the way people work. Still, face-to-face interaction is essential for team building and fostering the informal exchange of ideas. Over the years, design teams and furniture suppliers have fine-tuned layouts and environments that support collaborative work, and employees have access to a wider variety of workspaces, from cafés and casual lounges to low-walled open-plan workstations and private “huddle” rooms. Square footage per employee may have shrunk, but that does not mean offices have to feel pinched.
All completed in the past five years, the following ten workplaces (listed alphabetically) take widely varying approaches to fostering collaboration and flexible work styles.
1. 22squared Offices
In renovating its offices in Atlanta, advertising firm 22squared wanted to enable its staff to collaborate anywhere, anytime—while consolidating from three floors to two. The local office of Gensler knocked down internal walls and erected glass panels, increasing access to natural light by more than 60 percent, and introduced a variety of gathering areas, from formal to informal. A stairway leads to a “playground” area on the upper level, with beanbag chairs, video games, and a ping-pong table, with bleacher seating for casual gatherings.
Both floors have two distinct spaces—one for work, one for client interaction and internal collaboration. Open-plan workstations are grouped into neighborhoods and linked by “streets” and “avenues,” and a few private offices are provided for executives. To enable spontaneous creativity, nearly all walls have writable/erasable surfaces. Much of the furniture from the existing office was reupholstered with contemporary fabrics and reused; reclaimed wood and exposed concrete lend an authentic feel.
The project was completed in 2011.
2. 395 Page Mill Road
Palo Alto, California
Companies are recognizing the value of stimulating interaction not only among their own employees, but also with workers at other companies. The three-story, 225,000-square-foot (20,900 sq m) building at 395 Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, subleased by web portal AOL in 2010 for its headquarters, offered more square footage than the company needed. So AOL in turn subleased portions of the ground floor to small businesses, including a coffee shop, a gym, several technology incubators, and other businesses. Common areas and circulation paths are laid out so as to keep the different tenants in contact with each other.
San Francisco–based Studio O+A, which also designed AOL’s offices, unified the ground-floor spaces with warm wood finishes that evoke a rustic, casual style that runs from the outdoor plaza with seating areas to the indoor coffee bar run by Stanford Student Enterprises. The lobby’s plywood entry portal curves like a skateboard half-pipe, referencing the youth culture of AOL’s 1980s origins—although the lobby bike rack reflects today’s alternative transportation preferences.
3. Accenture Offices
Accenture, a management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company, long ago made the transition to hoteling for consultants in its Houston office, but many of the unassigned individual offices went unused. To use space more efficiently and get people working together, the company brought in local firm Planning Design Research. The resulting design accommodates the same number of workers—about 850—with less than half the square footage.
Whereas 90 percent of the previous office consisted of individual workspace, 90 percent of the new, 22,400-square-foot (2,100 sq m) office space is shared and unassigned. Bench-style workstations support individual and collaborative work. Glass-fronted rooms with storage space and movable furniture can be reserved or used on a drop-in basis for small meetings or private calls. Lounges, booths, and a café equipped with videoconferencing technology provide additional places to share ideas. According to a study by office furniture firm Steelcase, which supplied the furniture, collaboration and communication have increased by 41 percent since the move to the new offices in 2009.
4. LEGO PMD Offices
Designing LEGO bricks and toys requires a playful mindset. The offices for LEGO PMD, the company’s development department in Billund, were designed to help workers stay creative. Two Copenhagen-based design firms, Rosan Bosch and Rune Fjord, renovated the 21,500-square-foot (2,000-sq-m) space, completing work in 2010. The heart of the main floor is open and scattered with informal meeting places. Spaces for concentrated work occupy the room’s edges; pedestals and tall display towers showcase designers’ recent work while also helping define spaces.
The mezzanine level wrapping the perimeter contains five small and three large meeting rooms, each painted a different color, with glass facades offering views to the main space. In the “fun zone,” children play with test models and products. A mezzanine-level walkway is covered with light-blue padding that expands into sofas; a curving, tubular slide gives employees quick access to the first floor.
5. LivePerson Headquarters
New York, New York
LivePerson’s focus is helping businesses manage online interactions, and the company’s culture emphasizes strong connections with customers, employees, clients, and vendors. To design its new headquarters in New York City, the company tapped local architecture firm Mapos LLC. To facilitate space planning, Mapos collaborated with the client to create a customized game, having departments negotiate the floor plan with each other using movable game pieces laid out on the floor to represent different program needs.
The result is an office oriented around a “town square” that contains flexible spaces for working, eating, and lounging. This area, with its adjacent kitchen, is visible from the entry and reception area, putting social spaces in full view to communicate openness and transparency. An adjacent structure houses two meeting rooms that can be combined or opened up to the town square to accommodate larger meetings, presentations, and after-hours events. There are no private offices, only open desks. The space is punctuated by small soundproofed rooms for meetings and phone calls. LivePerson occupied the space in 2011.
6. Livestrong Foundation Headquarters
Founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong to provide support for people affected by cancer, the nonprofit Livestrong Foundation chose to renovate a former paper company warehouse in east Austin for its headquarters. Each department had specific spatial needs, but the organization also wanted a highly interactive space. Lake|Flato Architects of San Antonio and the Bommarito Group, a local interiors firm, laid out the space as a village made up of interconnected neighborhoods of open-plan workstations along a “main street” circulation path.
To bring daylight to the nearly windowless interior, the team added saw-toothed north-facing clerestory windows to the roof. The old roof decking was remilled and repurposed to create freestanding “crate” structures housing multiuse meeting spaces. Independent of the building’s structure and mechanical systems, these structures can be repositioned as needs change. The entire staff can gather in the multiuse space and kitchen. An entry garden offers separate access to the largest meeting room, which is available to community groups for events and meetings. The project was completed in 2009.
7. Macquarie Group Offices at One Shelley Street
The Sydney offices of the global financial services firm Macquarie Group embody a strategy called “activity-based working.” Workspaces are grouped into 100-person neighborhoods. Employees choose where to work at different times, whether at bench workstations for collaboration, in group lounges, or at individual stations for private work. Seven themed communal work plazas offer additional options, such as the “garden,” a landscaped interior space; the “tree house,” for reflection and retreat; and the “coffee house,” for exchanging and displaying information.
Design architect Clive Wilkinson Architects of West Hollywood, California, and the local office of Woods Bagot as executive architect worked with the base building architect, local firm Fitzpatrick + Partners, to transform the ten-story atrium into a transparent hive of activity. Twenty-six glazed pods of various sizes cantilever into the atrium at different levels, linked by an open staircase. Some house formal conference rooms, others more informal meeting spaces. The project was completed in 2009.
8. Mapquest Headquarters
After 15 years in business, Mapquest wanted to recapture its startup roots with its new headquarters, located in the SugarCube building in Denver’s Lower Downtown area. The local office of IA Interior Architects left the ceilings and concrete walls and floors exposed, grouping conference rooms and smaller huddle rooms along the sole windowless wall. There are no private offices. Full-height windows on three sides bring natural light to the open-plan workstations, which are low-walled to facilitate collaboration. The huddle rooms are named for destinations across the globe, such as Machu Picchu and the Eiffel Tower, and large wall graphics depict stylized maps of geographic locations.
To accommodate large presentations, the main gathering space incorporates a café/break area and open seating areas; sliding glass doors allow the space to open up to the adjacent boardroom. This open area has enabled Mapquest to hold local technology events, encouraging interaction with the tech community outside the firm. A patio overlooks the downtown pedestrian mall. Mapquest moved in during 2011.
9. SunPower Corporation Headquarters
San Jose, California
To house its growing staff, solar technology manufacturer and provider SunPower Corporation renovated a three-building campus in San Jose last year to create an office headquarters and a research and development laboratory. The ratio of open workstations to private offices is 80:20, and 30-inch-tall (76 cm) cubicle walls allow workers to see each other and converse easily. Architecture firm Valerio Dewalt Train Associates of Palo Alto grouped the generously sized workstations into neighborhoods defined by “cork clouds”—subceilings that create a sense of intimacy within the otherwise high-ceilinged space and provide acoustic control.
The designers scattered circular collaboration areas throughout, equipping them with stools and tables and ringing them with gently slanting wooden posts that demarcate space while allowing employees to see and hear each other. More traditional glass-walled conference rooms and private offices line one wall. Oversized coffee-break areas and a full-service cafeteria provide informal places to eat, chat, and work. Punching new skylights in the ceiling increased the penetration of natural light. Structural upgrades allowed one building to support rooftop photovoltaic panels, which also top the new carports.
10. Telus House
To consolidate employees from 15 offices in the Toronto area, telecommunications provider Telus leased 450,000 square feet (41,800 sq m) of space in a new 30-story downtown office tower designed by local firms Adamson Associates Architects and Sweeny Sterling Finlayson &Co Architects for local developer Menkes Developments. Flexible, wireless work settings for mobile workers, telecommuters, and in-house workers allowed Telus to achieve a
25 percent savings in real estate costs.
The local offices of Kasian Architecture and Figure3 designed the workspace interiors, placing meeting rooms, lounges, cafés, and business centers in the same spots on each floor to ease wayfinding and facilitate shifting of groups as needs change. Work settings include open-plan 120-degree workstations and bench workstations as well as private offices. Storage systems are set within an architectural framework that leaves openings in order to preserve sight lines across the workspace while defining team meeting spaces. Amenities include a kitchen, a fitness studio, massage therapy rooms, a large outdoor patio, and a rooftop garden. The project was completed in 2009.