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Open for Business: How office design mirrors a company’s culture

The much-coveted corner office isn’t the status symbol it used to be. As companies evolve to attract and retain a young workforce, business leaders are discovering that traditional perks just won’t do it.

Instead of expecting employees to adjust to a company’s culture, the culture now revolves around what keeps workers productive and creative. For millennials, being shut away in an office can smother inspiration, so open environment working spaces are cropping up all over.

“Younger workers aren’t loyal. They jump from job to job until they find a place that’s comfortable. For the older generation, status was who got the corner office. That’s how you knew you had made it. The younger generation doesn’t care about that corner office,” says Tami Shulsen, design director for Midwest Commercial Interiors.

In a traditional office layout, younger employees often feel disconnected. They want to feel like they’re part of a vibrant community. Plus, they want transparency. They don’t like the idea their boss is hiding away in a closed-door office.

Shulsen says Midwest Commercial Interiors can evaluate a company’s office space to help it create a place to foster a high-performance workforce. “We take 100 steps back and get to know the company. Then we use furniture and space as tools to help them reach their goals. You want to create a space where people have a connection to each other.”

Shulsen takes everything into account when working to design an effective workspace. What’s blocking natural light? How dark is the office furniture? How tall are cubicle walls? Are comfortable seating areas available to employees? Are there beautiful plants and art pieces?

“It’s easy to put offices around the perimeter and work spaces in the middle. Maybe ask if you should rethink that a little,” she says.

Energetic team spaces that encourage brainstorming and creativity can be placed next to rooms intended for private conversations. V.I.A. (vertical intelligent architecture) glass walls are designed to generate soundproof spaces for confidential meetings and discussions, but still keep the open workspace flow without the “closed-door meeting” atmosphere.

For employees who work well alone, single phone-booth-style or pod spaces are perfect for lounging, focusing or taking a time-out from noise and distractions. Because of technology, work stations are shrinking, with companies adding café or living room-style spaces to accommodate mobile workers.

Employers coming to Utah are competing for talent like never before and must provide amenities to entice workers away from the competition. Perks like 24-hour workout rooms, gaming areas and kitchens stocked with snack items are popular, but when it comes to their actual workplace, atmosphere makes all the difference.

From theory to practice

Experticity has put that concept into practice.

The marketing company that uses real-life influencers to create informed online shoppers has to accommodate 250 employees. Heather Mercier, senior vice president of finance and talent acquisition, says there are no individual offices. Instead, the company’s four floors are all open, mobile and collaborative.

“Everyone from the top down works in the open space. We move desks around a lot; there no fixed filing cabinets. Phones and computers are plug-and-play, making it easy for employees to be mobile and move around to get to know their colleagues.”

Conference rooms have glass walls to encourage (literal) transparency, and the open design makes people feel like they’re part of the decisions being made, creating a unique collaboration.

You’d think having no walls would create chaos, but Mercier says employees are polite to their co-workers, using headphones to listen to music and respecting each other’s boundaries. People know their job and what they need to get it done.

Although the space is rearranged often, Experticity has organized its groups to find the most effective mix. Engineers, who tend to be quieter and work solo, have their own floor, but still have a sense of teamwork and cooperation. The sales team has the noisiest floor, followed by the marketing group in a close second.

“We create functional areas and try it for a few weeks or a month. It’s easy to change back if it isn’t working,” Mercier says. “This allows natural excitement and enthusiasm. It makes it super fun because the environment breeds that.

“[Traditional] offices would completely change the culture here. People tell me that when they walk into our office they can feel the energy. People are excited to be here.”

Shulsen says these open work communities allow people to interact and relax. Once they let their guard down, co-workers start contributing to the conversation and sharing ideas. “At the end of the day, companies just want to be more productive,” she says. “With connection comes trust, with trust comes productivity.”