The transformation of office space continues, with collaborative, shared spaces replacing traditional private offices and cubicles.
Space planners and designers can now use a growing body of data to make creative workplaces that help businesses gain and maintain a competitive edge. Employees increasingly have a multitude of options for working and conferring with colleagues; if you work at Microsoft, your next meeting might be in a treehouse.
“It’s no longer just about solving for space,” said Liz Burow of WeWork, who moderated a session titled “What’s Working in the Workplace Revolution?” at the ULI 2017 Fall Meeting. “It’s about attracting and retaining talent among an increasingly liquid and digital workforce. We want people to make a life, not just a living.” WeWork not only operates coworking facilities, but also brings its expertise to organizations that want to renew their own spaces.
Another organization helping clients reinvent their offices is CBRE’s Workplace Strategy Group.
“Strategy should start with information, and we have a staggering amount of data to work with,” noted CBRE’s Kasey Garcia. “People think that tenants’ main concern regarding real estate is to keep costs low, but our research shows that the top priority is employee satisfaction.”
And it’s not just about millennials, she added. “Workplace preferences do not differ much across generations. All employees care about workplace culture, flexibility, well-being, and ease of doing their jobs.”
Practicing what it preaches, CBRE has created its own Workplace360 environment, where employees have no assigned places and are encouraged to use the multifunctional open “heart” of the workspace. Using a custom app, CBRE’s workers can access trained concierge services for almost any time-consuming chore.
Even Microsoft, the pioneer in technology disruption, has seen its offices become dated over the years. So the company has launched a modernization of its Redmond, Washington, headquarters.
“We put as much energy into designing the space outside the walls as inside,” said Microsoft’s Jeff Rovegno. This focus led to creation of three outdoor meeting spaces suspended in trees. Yes, they work in treehouses!
“At first, our leadership didn’t think much of the idea and asked us what we were smoking,” he recalled. But these unique wooden structures, designed by Pete Nelson of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters TV series, have become wildly popular with employees, visitors, and viewers of a YouTube video that went viral.
Although he dislikes the word trend, James Woolum of ZGF Architects has his finger on the pulse of the evolving workplace. He pointed out that the “office of the future” was proposed by Herman Miller in the 1960s, but that Miller’s iconic furniture landed up in closed-door offices and cubicles.
“The future is here—it’s just not evenly distributed,” he said. “Everyone is competing for the same talent, and if you wait for the future to come to you, you’re already too late.”
Does this mean every company must chuck cubicles and tear down the walls of its private offices? How well are companies adapting to “free address”? (Free address is the term for a workspace with no assigned spaces and no desktop computers.) Garcia’s group applies its expertise in change management to help clients adapt to new workspaces and work styles.
“Collaboration is not 100 percent of the day,” she said. “There is still a need for privacy. You have to use the data to discover the right balance. Not every company is ready to make the change, which can cost millions of dollars.”
“Change management” is a process that can take 12 to 18 months, Garcia noted. “There is often a ‘grief curve,’ with people going through anger and denial before getting to acceptance. Leadership must step in and say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’”
While this might sound like a top-down approach, bold organizational leadership facilitates the ongoing reinvention of offices and workplaces for an ever-changing business environment.