There’s an IBM Watson commercial where an elevator technician tells a building’s lobby attendant that he’s there to repair an elevator. The attendant replies that nothing’s wrong with the elevator. The technician tells the attendant that a new guy—Watson—sent him. Then the screen shows a monitor-like device sitting on a small table in a corner. The monitor audibly announces that its data analysis indicates elevator three will malfunction in three days; hence, the need for repair.

Such intuitive technology, where equipment acts on what it perceives to be the next step before being instructed to do so, isn’t limited to elevators. It’s in our computers, smart phones, cars and any number of other personal and public devices. It’s caused a shift that’s affected how we do what we do on many different levels, and one that’s bound to continue to change the way we live as it evolves.

How, then, is intuitive technology affecting office design and the way we work? And what does that mean for the future?

Recently, the Los Angeles Times and CBS News reported instances where employees are being fitted with microchips that track their moves, along with other personal information, and replace the need for swiping cards and carrying keys and other items. Wow.

The thinking plays into what’s already happening in smart buildings, where sensors track the use of lighting, coffee machines, meeting rooms and other spaces, equipment and systems. Some smart building sensors can even connect to smartphone apps to collect data. “Chipping” employees is, perhaps, simply a next step in the technology’s advancement in streamlining efficiencies according to workplace needs, behaviors and tendencies without the hassle of haggling with a digital device. Talk about taking a company’s workplace strategy to the next level.

With employees, the idea is for the chip to act like a piece of tape on the body—a sort of Band-Aid—that’s used during the day. There’d be no need to cull heartbeat or other personal information, as the chip could be coded for activities related to workplace productivity and cost-related benefits, including updating apps as needed. Consider, for instance, the pluses of knowing how employee “Joe Smith” works during the busy season, as well as how often he uses a specific conference room, eats in the office pantry; in effect, how he spends his time here and there. Surely, there are implications for privacy, rights and intellectual property, but it’s easy to see there are clear advantages in the automated tracking of productivity to determine how it can be improved.

Like the way automobile technology has evolved to the point of the driverless car, embedding employees with a microchip provides another level of technologic efficiency in the thirst for data. After all, it’s not just about employee efficiency. Having more information at hand allows for the accommodation of things like air conditioning and other environmental comforts without the need for building sensors.

Earlier this year, Work Design Magazine looked at the implications of impending advancements in technology in the workplace, including things like smaller company offices; flexible, tech-tuned workspaces; fewer tech devices; personalized work environments; heightened cybersecurity; and highly specialized building maintenance crews.

Another consideration is the health implications that microchips could provide in terms of a person’s workday habits, such as how often an employee steps out for a stretch during the day. Or how many cups of coffee he downs.

No, we’re not embedding our employees, but with such technology at our doorstep, it’s something to think about. After all, the technology already is here and being used to some extent. Imagine eliminating the need for a cellphone and how that could affect office design. Now that’s a conversation starter.

New or not, whatever the future holds, advancing technology will be a part of it and, no doubt, an ever-bigger influence over how we live, work and play. Here’s to embracing what lies ahead and using the intelligence most intelligently.

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It’s true. Those increasing allowances for tenant improvements that you’re seeing and brokerages are reporting about are real.



This spring, Cushman & Wakefield released information about New York’s commercial real estate market, including one fact I’ve seen reflected in interactions with our firm’s clients and heard in whispers from brokers to architects: tenant improvement allowances are on the rise. In fact, the firm noted that 17 leases signed in 2017 had $100-plus per square foot in tenant improvements detailed in their work letters, putting these concessions on pace to surpass 2016’s total of 41 leases with such provisions.

RXR Realty Chief Executive Officer Scott Rechler said in Bloomberg the rise in allowances for tenant improvements is based on the market’s state of equilibrium, where strong leasing juxtaposes the new supply’s presiding cap on how much landlords can raise rents. In this state, Rechler said, landlords’ pricing power is reduced while tenant demand is increased for the kinds of concessions needed to bring spaces up to current standards.

These $100-plus concessions are nothing to brush off.

Smart tenants are on to this. It’s not unusual for would-be tenants to ask building owners where their $100-and-north allotment is for improvements, since they know other owners are being flexible. Landlords, it seems, have the wiggle room to meet the demand, sometimes with packaging deals that ensure the arrangement works on both sides. They are also investing more into making their office spaces ultra-marketable, including creating attractive prebuilt options, amping up building and office amenities and modernizing public spaces to attract tenants.

So, what does that mean for tenants deciding on their next move? Should they make a shift earlier, while concessions are still high, or look at alternatives?

Examine any cost savings. Tenants need to do the math to see if it’s financially smart to break an existing lease, move early or leave. For instance, if a lease is coming to term in three years, mulling options a year and a half before the end of term may allow a tenant to make the most of current concessions. Also, if a tenant is locked in at a higher rent, weighing the costs savings associated with ending a lease early and signing a new one is pertinent. Perhaps, for instance, a tenant would decide to vacate early and sublet his existing space or work out an arrangement with the landlord on one of his lateral properties. Exploring options with an open mind can lead to unexpected savings to use in the design of that perfect office space.

Weigh fresh options. Comparing neighborhoods can help a prospective tenant determine if moving provides an advantage to his business or organization. Will going from Midtown South to Downtown, for instance, offer a better position? Is a brand-new gorgeous building right for the business’ needs or would a vintage space afford cost savings and allow a budget for customization? It’s important to look at the level of modernization, views and location.

Check out marketing suites. Investigating these corporate spaces, which are the commercial equivalent of model apartments, permits tenants to visualize how a new or forthcoming office would look and feel, allowing them to open and close pantry doors or sit in furniture and see the scale of the space. Often, these office suites feature a cozier, home-like environment with high-end fixtures and a sophisticated décor, helping landlords get leases signed and tenants feel more secure in their decisions. Examples include RFR’s 285 Madison Avenue or 920 Broadway, the latter of which uses a prebuilt space as a marketing center for the building. Tenants can even lease the marketing center and get a beautiful, ready-to-occupy space.

Compare against prebuilts. Prebuilt offices may be a smart option, depending on a tenant’s style and budget. By taking a closer look at what’s on the market now, prospective tenants can make an educated decision.

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WME NYC (45)


Designing office spaces to accommodate different departments within a company isn’t unusual. Nor is meeting a business’ various space-planning and design needs while maintaining a cohesive look and brand sensibility that allows for appropriate future expansions. But what about designing an office that’s home to two or more distinct companies, each with its own identity and needs?

My firm was recently awarded two projects where three separate companies are moving into a shared office. In both scenarios, the companies—all in different sectors—are sub-firms under an umbrella organization. Each individual company came equipped with its own needs and requirements. The directive wasn’t for an incubator set up but a program built with mutual flexibility and growth in mind. Each is a mature business where, together, they determined that sharing a space would create a beneficial synergy, while reducing each business’ overhead costs.

Sure, it’s not unusual for companies to consolidate their locations around town, going, say, from three or four sites to one or two, the way Pernod Ricard USA did a couple of years ago. But what is new is a rise in how sub-companies are being nurtured to a more mature level by taking on larger blocks of space.

Whatever the intention, the concept of shared offices requires a true pliancy built into the program to work. With that, there are several ways to maximize the setup, including the following best practices.

Flexibility is key and, while it’s easy to say, can be more involved to fully implement.Looking at, for instance, how private offices can transition into meeting rooms and vice versa, or incorporating multifunctional rooms that can be reorganized and accommodate more than one use throughout the day.

Furnishings should be consistent, yet provide for different needs. Choosing one furniture system that can accommodate the needs of all of the companies in a space, allows for future moves within it. For example, if one business grows and another scales back, the former business could more seamlessly expand into the available space, without having to create makeshift workstations. Moreover, investing in durable, quality systems with high design ensures a pleasing, long-lasting aesthetic throughout the office, along with the ability to share elements, as needed or is prudent. In addition, using flexible screens and wall options can provide a sense of division while opening the way for future rearrangements without having to deconstruct existing structural walls or build new ones.

Free address workstations provide, perhaps, the ultimate in workplace flexibility.The free address workstation—this is where unassigned workspaces and breakout areas are available to team members as needed—are a very good thing. Because the setup bypasses the traditional sectioning off of dedicated desks, people can park in a spot that best serves their needs of the moment. In a multi-company environment, that means those from different teams could end up working alongside each other, opening the way for mutual inspiration and camaraderie.

Keep in mind the office acoustics. Using furnishings and finish treatments that minimize sound travel in the layout prevents unwanted noise from conversations and equipment use from distracting people from their work. That can be especially important if one of the businesses that shares the space involves noisy applications.

Access to daylight and views is a given and a promise that needs to be delivered.Sharing a space means finding ways to share available daylight, too, especially if all the coveted views are on one side of the building.

Understand the needs of each firm, upfront.Gathering as much information as possible about each business’ needs can go a long way in defining workplace strategy. Look for overlaps in needs, such as meeting rooms, telephone rooms, breakout spaces, fitness and wellness areas and cafés.

Consider the office’s social synergy.Incorporating terraces and outdoor environments, cafés or meetup spots can heighten interaction and connections across companies. Encourage the “mingle” part of the design. One of the companies we’re designing a space for has centralized its café and amenities to create a heart within the office. Everyone goes to the location for brainstorming sessions, spontaneous interaction and to otherwise socialize and share good ideas.

Celebrate each company as the individual entity that it is. Featuring each firm’s brand in a flexible but prominent way showcases their distinct values and identities, without the structural limitations of built-in designs. For instance, an impressive screen that displays companies’ products and services can provide a semi-permanent way to tout each firm’s business. And a wall that displays each company’s logo can highlight the office’s distinct yet unified approach. Signage that features pops of brand colors also can help identify the space.

As businesses consolidate their physical presence, spaces that meet the needs of individual enterprises as well as the brand of their umbrella firms, are sure to lead the way in cutting-edge design.

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Death to paper-01-01


A short while ago, the chief executive officer of one of our clients gave my firm the mandate to eliminate 100 percent of paper usage from the company’s office environment. It was the second such directive my firm received from a client within the expanse of a few days.

Companies’ move toward a paperless office isn’t new. Three years ago I wrote a piece on the shrinking need for file cabinets, and in 2015, I revisited the issue with a piece on upcoming trends. What is new, however, is that it’s no longer enough to reduce paper usage. Now the ideal is to eliminate it all together.

Consider the biggest influences of modern office design: mobile technology and high connectivity, especially as they relate to the newest workforce, Generation Z, whose digital savvy and hyper-connectivity rival even that of their tech-smart predecessor, the millennial crowd (a.k.a., Generation Y). As Martin Harrison wrote for Huge, Gen Zers are known to juggle up to five screens at a time, assessing the worthiness of what they read in eight short seconds. And, with companies focused on productivity, including shortened turnaround times and the employee experience—such as flexible work hours and sustainability—it’s no wonder that workplaces centered on a digital work ethic are on the rise.

Indeed, perks like an in-office café and fitness center still are appreciated, even expected in some cases, but they’re only part of the modern business culture. Policy changes aimed at supporting virtual productivity and connectivity aren’t only management-backed; they’re appreciated by employees. Even some traditionally conservative companies, such as law firms, are taking steps, slow that they may be, toward the advantages of digital record-keeping.

As for the office environment, paperless practices mean file cabinets and copy rooms are no longer necessary and that storage areas can be reduced in size. Instead, companies might look at having a central Information Technology desk with dedicated personnel that goes beyond their conventional role of fixing tech-related issues to helping people solve their computer and connectivity problems, themselves.

As Dan Schawbel’s recent article in Forbes noted, tech use outside the office is making its way into it, with investments in virtual reality hardware and those that use it on the rise.

Beyond that, office designs that support digital business practices dictate how a company operates, including floor plans, furnishings and equipment that align with mobile practices, such as shared workstations, digital file storage, document scanning and Smartboard presentations that are automatically saved—marked up, notations and all—and sent to key personnel. In the paperless office, documents are shared digitally with a zip or USB drive.

Everyone knows offices are headed for fully paperless operations, even as they continue to reduce their use of physical documents. Yet maximizing virtual benefits requires compliance and perspective. By educating employees with IT practices staff members become empowered to use the initiatives to their full advantage while increasing productivity. Providing a design that highlights this and supports the use of new technology will drive engagement and promote mobility. However, it is important to continue educating employees throughout the process to ensure best practices. A walk through of the new spaces to show how they can be used on a daily basis can help with the success of these initiatives.

After all, even those who prefer paper will acquiesce in time. Paper train tickets, even passports, aren’t needed anymore. There are apps for both, and a whole lot more.


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More than ever, proactive strategies are taking the lead in how design projects are handled.

With the fast pace of many of today’s projects brokers, architects, contractors and others in the design business have found that boldly and, energetically managing their project is the key to meeting schedules that look unattainable at first glance. It’s also why my firm is constantly pushing to be more proactive and less reactive.

One of the best ways to actively manage jobs is to prepare for them before the work has been secured. That means looking closely at established standards and tools today, as well as your firm’s ability to get the required work done efficiently. There’s no need to pull plans from a drawer, but it’s a good idea to create a checklist that establishes a baseline or proven starting point.

Once hired, executives should have a workplace strategy to streamline the process and manage expectations. It’s important to clarify what clients will receive and why certain information will be needed in specified time frames. Also, the smart architect, broker or other design professional encourages transparency about his projects early on. Clients can later make needed decisions and provide essential feedback to keep jobs moving along.

In 2013, I wrote a piece on ways to manage fast-track jobs, a phenomenon that our firm was encountering with increasing regularity. The stragegies remain the same: assemble your team as soon as an agreement has been reached with your client, determine a budget before signing a lease and make timely decisions.

Another time-saving tactic involves creating a 3-D schematic of a project before actual design work is done. Showing a client preliminary 3-D designs of her project can make it easier for her to make key decisions about the job and speed its progress along. While such due diligence can take a couple of days to complete, creating preliminary visuals is a faster, smarter way to get a job going, especially when junior staff members are recruited for the work.

One project my firm recently undertook followed a client mandate specifying that all of the construction documents for the job needed to be done in four weeks, a month short of the norm. We established a clear plan to meet the harrowing schedule so we would not be forced to react to fast-approaching deadlines with on-the-fly overtime and added staff positions.

Sure, it can be stressful to work on a tight timetable, but instead of becoming overwhelmed by the process, we got a buy-in from our staff and stuck to our fast-track vanilla plan, successfully meeting our scheduled dates and client expectations.

Design projects are rife with options, which allow for plenty of client-specific solutions. Too many options can slow a project’s time frame to a crawl, so it’s important to provide clients with proactive recommendations. Of course, the aim isn’t for design professionals to force decisions or throw alternatives on the table with disregard for their clients. It’s the job of designers, architects and contractors to gently guide their clients when it comes to priorities, including budgetary, aesthetic and timeline considerations, using their expertise and specialties to decrease the likelihood of having to react to any unanticipated issues.