CRE Midwest

Column: The flexible work-live-play office is not just a tech thing

Technology firms aren’t the only combatants in the war for talent. Any CEO whose company’s success depends on the knowledge, skill and creativity of its workforce is looking for ways to attract and retain talented employees.

Column By Tony Iannessa, Vice President, Leopardo Companies, Inc.

Technology firms aren’t the only combatants in the war for talent. Any CEO whose company’s success depends on the knowledge, skill and creativity of its workforce is looking for ways to attract and retain talented employees. As a result, many firms beyond tech are creating workplaces designed to appeal to the workers they want. And leading the pack are companies in so-called creative industries.

You’ve probably heard the acronym “STEM” in reference to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—the university degrees that employers seek. But from a workplace perspective, a more applicable acronym is “TAMI”: Technology, Advertising, Media and Information. Leading-edge companies in these and other creative industries use the office environment as a differentiator to recruit the best employees, but just as important, to inspire and energize professionals to do their best work.

Chicago’s CBD absorbed more than 2 million square feet in 2015, but most companies in the FIRE (Financial, Insurance and Real Estate) and law sectors, which traditionally dominated the CBD, are decreasing their space per employee rather than taking more space.  Much of the absorption has come from TAMI companies that are focused on features and amenities to engage employees and enable their productivity.  Whether this means ping-pong tables for employees to take a break and be active, or an onsite coffee barista and open café area, amenities can increase a company’s space needs. In addition, many start-up firms have the potential for rapid growth, and may take excess space to grow into.


Creating Engaging Spaces

Although companies want their offices to stand out as unique, there are many common elements.  As Gensler points out in its 2016 Workplace Design Forecast, sustainability features are increasingly universal as a way to promote well-being and engagement, and connectivity is a constant priority. In addition, companies across all sectors are providing a greater range of options to incubate talent, share knowledge and develop solutions more effectively. The open-space plans of the past decade may energize employees but also can be distracting when they’re trying to focus; so companies have learned that they need to provide more private spaces for solo work as well as a range of collaborative spaces.  Offices increasingly offer ‘huddle rooms’ for just two or three people to breakout rooms for larger teams, but with few traditional large conference rooms.

Across all sectors, mobile workers across all sectors are increasingly using hub offices as a place to gather for collaboration rather than as a day-to-day office, Gensler reports. That’s all the more reason for people to be impressed by the main office when they are there.  But in TAMI companies, many workers live near the workplace, and offices are designed to get them to spend more time in the office, not less.  These objectives lead to two common themes in office space design: a work-live-play atmosphere, active options, and maximum flexibility in layout configurations.

  • The work-live-play office reflects the vibe of the neighborhood where it’s typically located. Millennials and others in the creative industries tend to prefer a convenient urban lifestyle with social and business amenities close to home for convenience. In response, cutting-edge workplaces are designed to be an extension of employees’ homes, with amenities such as video game-playing rooms and casual seating areas, while also providing on-site food and drink amenities as well as recreational features like ping-pong tables or rock-climbing walls. If going to work means seeing your friends and having fun, you’ll spend more hours at work and will be less likely to change companies.
  • Active design is a fast-growing trend in TAMI offices as companies realize that creative professionals need to move around rather than sitting in front of a computer screen all day. An example of a common active design concept is to place staircases in sunlit lobbies instead of hiding them in windowless stairwells to increase their usage.  Standing and walking workstations are increasingly popular, and some companies purposely design traffic patterns that steer employees down indirect or varying paths as they move through offices.
  • Flexibility is vital to start-up companies, whose leaders often can’t project what their revenue will be in six months or how many employees they’ll need by the end of the year. At a recent Illinois Real Estate Journal sponsored panel on space trends at technology firms, flexibility emerged as the number-one issue in lease negotiations, which some companies resolve by taking excess space for potential growth.  Since these companies know their needs will change over time, they design space so that conference areas can be converted to breakout rooms and partition walls can be easily moved to accommodate additional headcount.
All of these trends are in flux, as companies recognize that the way people use office space—indeed, the ways that creative work is accomplished—is rapidly evolving.  The emergence of the Internet of Things is expected to raise the bar on efficiency and convenience in the coming years, but that future is not yet fully visible.  Economic cycles, demographic and cultural trends, and technological breakthroughs continually alter the landscape in ways that are difficult to pin down.

Due to the rapidly evolving office interior needs of corporations, there is a greater demand for sophisticated construction. Working with a sustainability-minded builder that understands the latest trends and technology will be a critical success factor in all modern office interior construction projects. Involving the contractor early in the design process enhances the collaborative environment, often resulting in more accurate cost estimates and schedules far sooner than traditionally possible. Plus, the total project duration is frequently reduced, resulting in earlier utilization.

By maintaining flexibility in work environments and continually striving to maximize the job satisfaction and effectiveness of talented employees, companies in technology and other creative industries can do their best to stay one step ahead of change and win the war for talent.

Tony Iannessa is vice president at Leopardo Companies, Inc. As expert in construction for technology and creative firms, Tony collaborates with his corporate clients to effectively and efficiently build modern work spaces.