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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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.