Office Design: Renovations for Collaboration

05/01/2014 | By Christopher Curtland

Model your next remodel after these success stories

Office design Open floor plan Conference room

Collaboration. Spontaneity. Impromptu. These are the buzz-worthy terms in office design. But if you have an existing space, it can be difficult to capture the right vibe. Learn from these retrofits, remodels, and renovations to revolutionize your work environment.

Cooperation through Participation
W.L. Gore – Elkton, MD

W.L. Gore is a manufacturer of electronics, fabrics, and industrial and medical products. The Elkton office occupies 20,000 square feet on the mezzanine level of a single-story manufacturing facility. Throughout the company, everyone is considered an associate. In keeping with its egalitarian philosophy, the firm sought to spur innovation and teamwork with this redesign.

In conjunction with architect Francis Cauffman and manufacturer Steelcase, W.L. Gore surveyed employees on what was most important to them for the new space. Voting influenced all design considerations – from colors to materials – and found that employees wanted an open floor plan with access to natural light.

A unique element of these workshops included letting employees construct tiny models of their desired spaces with pipe cleaners, Lincoln Logs, and “tiny plastic people,” explains John Campbell, principal at Francis Cauffman.

“We went into the project with a participatory approach. If employees understand and provide input into how the design is arrived, they inform the intellect of the project and it’s received well,” adds Jay Steimer, director of facilities and real estate at W.L. Gore. “Fundamentally, we were trying to incorporate new work environment initiatives to ratchet up creativity.”

To accommodate employee desires, the remodeled space features smaller meeting areas that are separated by divider planes on movable tracks, providing flexibility for employees to work privately or collaboratively depending on what the tasks require. Employees expressed a need to move seamlessly between different spaces as their work activities changed throughout the day.

“Traditionally, everyone had an assigned seat, but the IT director said he didn’t need one. He just needed an enclave for when he’s actually in the office and needs to meet with his team,” says Campbell. “They also have clients and business partners come to the office often, and they needed a special place to conduct those meetings.”

The answer: a multipurpose space in the middle of the floor referred to as the “town center.” What Steimer calls “the heart of the project,” it is used for socializing, working, eating, and entertaining clients. It includes a café, seating, and technology compatibility.

“It’s just an area for people to gather and decompress,” Steimer says. “Surrounding it are collaborative and conference areas, which are divided by these hanging screens. The idea is that you can section it off or open everything up to flow into the town center for company-wide meetings.”

Many projects attempt to correct or improve, but Steimer says that W.L. Gore already had a lively, effective workspace. His primary concern was not to deter the existing company culture, but cultivate it.

“I asked a team leader what she liked about actually being in the new space, and she valued the energy of it,” adds Steimer. “If we have engaged associates in an active office, that’s terrific from a business value standpoint.”

Teamwork through Transparency
Zipcar – Boston, MA

Zipcar is a car sharing and reservation service that recently moved its headquarters from Cambridge, MA, to Boston. Having outgrown its previous space, Zipcar wanted to foster a collaborative community environment for its workers. The company now occupies all six floors of a 43,000-square-foot building, housing 230 employees with the ability to expand to 340.

“At a company like ours, we really need to spread a lot of stuff out to review it,” says Brendan Stephens, creative director at Zipcar. “We get a lot of different people cooperating, especially on creative and marketing.”

Designed as an open and flexible workspace, the project features conference and training rooms, individual and collaborative work areas, space for dining and breaks, and a new lobby with views directly into the company gathering area.

“The reason for the lobby layout is because Zipcar never had brand identity in its previous location. The firm wants to control your experience when you get in, so they have Zipcar images in the lobby and into the gathering spaces,” explains Janet Morra, principal at Margulies Perruzzi Architects. “It also spreads some natural light into the lobby and allows visitors to see how cool the company is with people hanging out, LED TV screens, and a café.”

One end of each floor was kept free of obstructions to provide daylight and allow views into Boston Harbor. The areas include flexible work desks with benching systems and moveable storage underneath.

Individual offices are kept to the other side of the floor and utilize full glass fronts, in keeping with the goal of openness. At the center of each floor near the elevator and stairs, an exposed kitchen and technology-compatible collaboration area facilitate spontaneous meetings. The ground floor café and gathering area are used for company-wide events.

“Fewer than 10% of people are in a private office,” says Morra. “To counteract acoustics issues, we included telephone rooms and nooks so you can break away and have some privacy.”

Several walls throughout the space have been customized with flat screen TVs and dry erase marker and chalkboards. “In every conference or meeting space you walk into, the boards are being used,” Stephens explains. “It’s become so commonplace.”

Another unique aspect of the project involves interior storage for 50 bikes, along with lockers and showers.

“About 20% of our employees bike to work. Getting into and out of the building is very easy on the ground level. It’s brightly lit and painted,” says Stephens. “There is no concern about weather or security. It’s a big draw and success for us.”

In transitioning to a new space across several floors, one challenge was keeping the corporate community intact and engaged. Stephens worried that staff could get closed off and disjointed.

“We encourage people to go to other floors and use other conference rooms or open area spaces. We want them to go down to the first floor and work for an hour or hold a meeting,” Stephens explains. “Collaboration can just be getting up from a desk and going to an area you’re not used to or a more common area. It gets the mind going.”

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