Office N Illinois

Borrow from the best: workplace ideas from tech HQs

| Clay Edwards | Vice President and Partner, Skender

When Skender designed their own new offices, they included tech-infused collaboration spaces, multipurpose rooms that connect to adjacent spaces via overhead doors and other unique spaces that create a cooperative environment. When Skender designed their own new offices, they included tech-infused collaboration spaces, multipurpose rooms that connect to adjacent spaces via overhead doors and other unique spaces that create a cooperative environment.
The Glassdoor offices are defined by the vibrant conference rooms, named after Chicago neighborhoods, pop culture icons and emblazoned with the company’s mission on the walls. The Glassdoor offices are defined by the vibrant conference rooms, named after Chicago neighborhoods, pop culture icons and emblazoned with the company’s mission on the walls.
The Motorolla Mobility space in the Merchandise Mart greets visitors with a striking elevator bank while elsewhere in the office, a light display of the CTA map and displays that mimic mobile phones liven the atmosphere. The Motorolla Mobility space in the Merchandise Mart greets visitors with a striking elevator bank while elsewhere in the office, a light display of the CTA map and displays that mimic mobile phones liven the atmosphere.
The Enova offices also feature an eye-catching, branded elevator bank and the company’s corporate color accents the space throughout. The Enova offices also feature an eye-catching, branded elevator bank and the company’s corporate color accents the space throughout.

Technology companies are widely thought of as cool places to work, not just because of what they do, but because of the spaces where they work. Employees in other industries have long envied those spaces—and now, management is on board. In Chicago alone, heritage companies such as Kraft Heinz, Conagra Brands and Morton Salt are creating new headquarters that look more like startup space, rather than the offices of a well-established major corporation.

When considering using these ideas for your own company’s workplace, it’s useful to delve into what these features are—and why they work—before implementing them.

Employing open plan effectively

The most recognizable feature of tech spaces is the widespread use of open-plan layouts—including new, collaboration-focused spaces that we’ll call “Open Plan 2.0.” Open plan is here to stay, thanks to its many benefits. It democratizes workplaces—taking space away from executive offices and giving it to shared work areas. It’s flexible—allowing out-of-town employees, consultants and contractors to easily pull up a chair and plug in their laptops. It’s economical, using less square feet per employee than traditional office and cube setups. It encourages cross-team communication and collaboration.

All this comes with a few downsides though: open-plan offices can be noisy, distracting and lack privacy. The key to an effective open-plan office is balance. The floor plan must make space for conference rooms for larger meetings and smaller rooms for sensitive or confidential meetings and private phone calls. Sound dampening should be a consideration too, especially since popular design elements such as concrete floors, open ceilings and glass can echo and amplify noise.

We took all this into account when designing our own new headquarters, which features numerous collaboration spaces with the latest video conferencing technology, three large, multipurpose rooms with overhead doors that open to a central corridor and coffee bar, and a variety of unique lounge spaces that create an inviting environment for teamwork.

Bring the comforts of home to work

Full-time employees spend half their waking hours at the office and sometimes more. It’s not uncommon for tech employees to put in late nights when a new product or upgrade launches—and tech isn’t the only industry known for long hours. When employees spend so much time away from home, employers should make their workplaces appealing and comfortable.

The kitchen and pantry area is a good place to start. Well-designed kitchens should be central, bright and well-kept (and providing caffeine and snacks doesn’t hurt either). The impromptu conversations that happen between colleagues while they’re grabbing a drink or their lunch contributes to a collegial atmosphere.

Tech offices are also known for spaces to get away from your desk to recharge—think game rooms with foosball and Ping-Pong tables or recliners and video games, nap rooms and even yoga studios. Also popular are green spaces in courtyards or on rooftops so workers aren’t spending sunny days stuck indoors. Just be sure that every space, inside and out, has Wi-Fi so employees can stay connected.

One other way tech offices are bringing home to their employees is by letting them bring their dogs to work or scheduling visits from UberPuppies. Remember, though, that creating Fido-friendly workplaces means taking into account space for water and food bowls, bio breaks (and dealing with the occasional accident) and also designated pet-free areas for employees who are allergic or don’t care for dogs.

Bring your brand to life

Technology companies have some of the strongest visual brands of any businesses. Their logos and signature colors are applied through thoughtful design in their offices, using lobby installations, interactive display boards, elevator bank displays, wall decals, custom art displays and more.

As part of the design team when Motorola Mobility moved into a new space in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, we helped incorporate elements such as branded elevator banks, displays that look like giant mobile phones and a light display of the Chicago transit map.

The design for the Chicago office of Enova also greets employees and visitors with an eye-catching branded elevator bank and extends its signature bright blue with accents throughout the space.

Spotlighting your brand in your office design not only lends your space a cohesive look, but it can also help reinforce the employee culture you’re trying to create. And it’s a visual signal for clients, visitors and prospective employees that the company has a well-thought-out vision.

Go beyond the tech industry, and fully embrace diversity

One deserved criticism made of technology firms is that their employee makeup is not diverse, and often their workplaces reflect this with a young, masculine vibe. Offices can help express the inclusivity you hope to achieve in your workforce. Make space for wellness rooms for new mothers, consider gender-neutral restrooms and ensure your design is compliant with disability accommodations.

Also, think about where you locate your offices, and whether they’re convenient for employees who rely on public transportation, and if there is plentiful housing nearby. Large tech headquarters in Silicon Valley and Seattle have created housing shortages and strained public transportation systems in those cities. If you’re based in an area in which most people drive to work, such as Los Angeles, Dallas or Atlanta, think about how to best incorporate parking.

Finally, avoid a cold and overly technical look by adding some softness and warmth into your design though rich textiles, warm pops of color, curvilinear furniture, live plants and interesting art.

When Skender client Glassdoor moved into a new office in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood, they chose it for its vibrant community, which includes a mix of restaurants and shops and a nearby CTA “L” stop. For employees commuting by train from the suburbs, the building’s developer launched a new shuttle service from the train stations to the office. The design incorporates Chicago touches, such as conference rooms named after Chicago neighborhoods and pop culture icons, as well as vibrant colors, welcoming seating areas and phrases that relate to the company’s mission on its walls.

The best of tech offices, adapted for your business

Techie-like offices are trendy, but you want to make your design stand the test of time. Be sure the elements you adopt are also adapted to fit your employees, office culture and style of work. Don’t design based simply on appearance, but with a long-term goal of creating a functional and appealing place to work.