DESIGNS TO MAKE YOU WORK HARDER By Sue Shellenbarger
The joy of a private office—it’s something 89% of senior managers in the U.S. have celebrated. Soon after, though, there’s the realization that the space feels cut off from the action. At times, the four walls can feel like barriers to keeping in touch with colleagues.
What does the perfect office look like? Four design firms were
given the same dimensions of a mid-executive office. Sue Shellenbarger explains what they did with the space.
Is there a way to make that same office a more inspiring, productive space that actually aids communication?
To that end, four design firms were challenged to configure a 15-foot by 15-foot space for a hypothetical midlevel executive. The office should look good, of course, but the firms were asked to envision a space that could inspire ideas and increase productivity.
Each firm came up with imaginative spaces—understandable when given a blank slate and unlimited budget. Yet the vastly different “perfect office” designs offer common themes.
All the designers created virtual fishbowls, building in two or more glass walls and even, in two cases, having one glass wall fold or slide open to create shared space. This openness allows the executive “to be seen by other people,” and to show leadership and earn trust, says Kursty Groves, a Ne
w York-based consultant to businesses on designing creative workplaces.
Each firm’s rendering highlights different work zones within the office to accommodate different tasks, from concentrating on a project to meeting with colleagues to sitting back to reflect. Also, most of the firms aimed to integrate the latest wireless technology and environmental controls into desktops or key pads, making them nearly undetectable to the eye.
What’s out, based on the firms’ concepts, are towering status-symbol executive desks and trophy-laden “ego walls.” Capacious drawers and closets for storage are mostly absent too, reflecting the paperless trend.
Of course, the definition of a perfect office depends on the occupant. With about 38% of office buildings redesigning or rebuilding office space last year, and 30% planning to expand i
n the next few years, according to the International Facility Management Association, it is something many will be attempting to create.
The Five-Star Hotel, by Gensler
HQ: San Francisco
Recent Clients: Proskauer, BASF, Ogilvy + Mather
A modern, polished metal-and-glass office plans aims for the ambience of a five-star hotel, while also sending a message that its occupant, a senior manager and working mother, wants her employees to be “more collaborative and less siloed,” says Mark Morton, a design principal.
The executive’s family photos are part of a changeable display on an interactive wall screen, and her personal items can be tucked out of sight behind blind wall panels. That permits her to erase her stamp on the office during 65% of the time she is out or on the road, opening up the space for use as a conference room. “This sets the tone that she is part of the team, and not above it. The space is both her office, and everyone’s,” says Johnathan Sandler, a workplace strategist.
•1. Ceiling light levels can be adjusted to vary intensity and conserve energy
• 2. Personal photos can be easily cleared so others can use the office when manager is away.
•3. Sliding glass door can be kept open to encourage collaboration, or closed for conference calls or meetings.
•4. Side walls are partly glass so managers can see each other.
•5. Personal items are stored behind blind panels to protect the manager’s privacy.
•6. Sound-masking system reduces noise and keeps conversations private.
•7. Underfloor air conditioning allows personal control of temperature.
•8. Interactive screen for teleconferencing and other displays.
•9. Wireless connectivity for computer, keypad and controls for custom lighting, air and music setting.
The Living Room, by PDR
Recent Clients: Exxon Mobil, Eaton, Accenture
An office envisioned for a middle manager at an energy or consulting company has a living-room feel. Personal photos and art can be displayed on paneled walls flanking a flat-screen TV monitor. The office has zones for concentration, contemplation and collaboration, the firm says. Both team meetings and solo work happen around a multipurpose “kitchen table” that adjusts to working either standing up or sitting down. In a corner reserved for “contemplation,” a lounge chair is protected by an acoustical dome that allows privacy while listening to music. To open up “the box,” an entire wall of foldable glass panels stands open most of the time, making the office “an open extension of the workplace,” says Joanne Taylor, president of PDR.
•1. ‘Kitchen table’ used for meetings and solo work, adjusting to standing or sitting height.
•2. Living-room zone with TV monitor, personal photos and storage is set apart by wood flooring.
•3. CEO Workstation
•4. Quiet area with lounge chairs for contemplation.
•5. Display screen for meetings, shared-laptop display and whiteboard.
•6. Suspended light box provides soft, adjustable light.
The Sunlit Sanctuary, by Studios Architecture
HQ: Washington, D.C.
Recent Clients: News Corp., Grey Group, U.S. General Services Administration
Design by the firm’s New York office provides flexible seating and plenty of space for teamwork. Its occupant, the CEO of an international media company who is of Indian descent, travels heavily and wants her work space to feel like a sanctuary for catching up on email, planning and collaborative work. It is organized around principles of Vastu, an Indian method believed to align design with principles of nature. “There is a spiritual side” to the setup, says Studios CEO Todd DeGarmo. Erin Ruby, an associate principal, says it aims to “create some sense of calm in an world that is so chaotic.” Reducing carbon emissions is a major goal. Fresh air can flow through operable windows accented with succulent plants. Louvered shades maximize sunlight to cut electricity use.
•1. Light shelf and exterior louvered shade admit sunlight without glare.
•2. Antique Turkish rug adds warmth and color.
•3. Collaboration table incorporates CEO workspace in one corner.
•4. Succulent plants help remove toxins from the air.
•5. Perimeter bench adds flexible seating.
•6. Glass transom opens automatically to exhaust air when needed.
•7. Glass walls to neighboring CFO’s office and hallway can be opaque or clear.
The Idea Inspirer, by VOA Associates
Recent Clients: Paul Hastings, Adams Street Partners, XL Insurance
The futuristic design was envisioned for a CEO of a 150-employee fashion design company that aims to turn out a steady stream of creative new products, says Nick Luzietti, a design principal. Because this executive must juggle executive, operating and creative duties, her office has lots of moving parts. It is equipped to morph from a conventional business office with a desk and conference table to a team workroom for design projects. Each evening, the executive can fold all the furniture and equipment back into the walls or floor, creating a “clean slate” to help spark fresh thinking when she arrives the next morning, Mr. Luzietti says. In a “tongue-in-cheek” gesture, VOA made the conference table in a heart shape to symbolize the emotional center of the business, where employees must invest both personal and professiopnal energy to maintain their creative edge, he says.
•1.Interactive screen for display and videoconferencing.
•2. Desktops can be recessed into this wall.
•3. Panels conceal storage and surfaces on which personal items and photos are displayed.
•4. Touch-screen table surface activates desktops, racks, rods, and videoconferencing gear.
•5. Worktop serves as a conference table as well as an adjustable desk for use while sitting or standing.
•6. Door to glass interior wall can be kept open to encourage co-worker communication.