The business performance of the organizations that occupy the nation’s office towers is increasingly supported by building design that creates excellent employee experiences and work environments.

Office buildings must evolve to meet the current demands of the new workplace, according to panelists discussing the future of work at the 2019 ULI Fall Meeting.

“The workplace is shifting from a tech-driven place people had to go to, to a people-centered place where really want to be,” said Janet Pogue McLaurin, principal and global workplace leader at Gensler. “How do we create workplace experiences where people are not only productive, but where you start to win over the hearts and minds of the employees?”

The interior of effective office buildings should include a variety of spaces, allowing employees to work in both open collaborative space and in more private areas, Pogue McLaurin said. Findings from Gensler’s 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey indicate that typical employees spend about half of their time working alone and about half of their time in collaborative settings.

“You really need to have a multitude of spaces to work from,” Pogue McLaurin said, noting the extensive media coverage about the introduction of more open floor plans in office spaces. “It’s time to stop the debate of open versus private.”

Gensler’s survey collected responses from some 6,000 workers, continuing a research series that started in 2005. “People want mostly open space with ample on-demand enclosed space to use when they need it,” Pogue McLaurin said.

Buildings that foster the contemporary desire for excellent workplace environments are key to winning the competition for talent, said Jeff Barber, principal and firmwide design experience leader with a deep background in Gensler’s office building practice.

“Really, the dial is moved to ‘experience’ where everybody is competing for talent. And people who are making buildings have to compete in a way to distinguish themselves in the marketplace so that those who are looking for talent can use architecture as part of the equation,” Barber said.

As the trend encouraging more employee interaction grows, new buildings with extra-large floor plates have been returning to the real estate market in some cases, Barber said. The use of large floor plates represents a flattening of the working place Barber noted “The idea is to intentionally drive interaction with people because we know that interaction drives innovation.

“There is no one size fits all,” he said. “But we are seeing some floor plates wanting to be in the 60,000-square-foot [5,600 sq m] range instead of the 25,000-square-foot [2,300 sq m] range.

“When you start to do this, you need volume. You need height. You’ve got to see the sky. You’ve got to have the presence of daylight. Interconnecting stairs are really critical to connect these workplace neighborhoods and connect the teams,” Barber said.

In some cases, design of the new large-floor-plate properties can be enhanced with the inclusion of stairwells and light shafts by taking the unusual step of moving the infrastructural core of elevators and restrooms out of the center of the buildings.

“This may require moving the core out of the middle, so people can be the center of the building, instead of the core,” Barber said.

Organizations struggle to create the proper amenity blend in office spaces. The Gensler survey indicates that collaborative spaces, innovation hubs, and quiet spots for individual work are popular and effective. Game rooms are not considered big winners. Outdoor workspaces are gaining in popularity.

Amenities are not limited to what occurs in the building. For example, Marriott’s new 22-story headquarters building in Bethesda, Maryland, will benefit from being close to public transit, said panelist Stacey Cohen, Marriott’s senior director of corporate facilities, services, and real estate.

The new Marriott building, scheduled to open in 2022, will be within walking distance of some 200 restaurants, Cohen said. A Marriott hotel will be located next to the headquarters, which is part of a deliberate strategy to always have a hotel adjacent to the hospitality firm’s headquarters, Cohen said.

Panelist Dawn Striff, head of Workplace Solutions at Nestlé, said that the amenities at the food company’s building in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington County, Virginia, include the aroma of cookies that are typically baked for afternoon breaks.

Nestlé, which recently moved its North American headquarters from Los Angeles to Northern Virginia, considers high-quality office facilities to be an essential part of recruitment, Striff said.

Although Gensler’s research indicates that there is no great distinction in office preferences among different generations, Striff said that there is one noticeable difference between older and younger employees. The younger employees, she said, “have their headphones on all the time.”