By Carrie Rossenfeld
SAN DIEGO-Technology companies that have redefined the office sector with the introduction of creative office space are continuing to break new ground within the sector, say speakers on the panel “How Technology is Changing the Workplace and Cities,” which took place during the ULI Spring Meeting here last week. Innovators of open floor plans and collaborative space to facilitate productivity are taking it further with work rooms that hold 3,000 employees; campuses that supply employees with everything from free meals to on-site health centers and transportation services to dry cleaning; and wellness programs that address workers’ physical and emotional health.
“If you’re keeping people on campus, you have to provide these amenities,” reasoned Chris Lunny, portfolio manager for Facebook. His firm offers a van pool and shuttle bus with WiFi and, on Friday afternoons, cocktails.
Todd Pierce, EVP of operations and mobility for Salesforce.com, said that his firm addresses both the physical and emotional health of employees because “both are important, although management has not developed that language. The Facebook generation is more comfortable talking about emotional health.”
Lunny said the issue of employees bringing their dogs on campus is a big one right now, and the company is still trying to accommodate employees’ on-site daycare needs.
Sustainability, food service, the size of the building and transportation/mobility are the common things that users want in office space, said Steve Hargis, EVP for Jones Lang LaSalle. “These are the takeaways that other users besides Facebook and Salesforce.com will want.”
Migration back to the urban core is making it possible for firms to provide access to these amenities even if they aren’t located on a huge campus, said Andrew Cohen, CEO of Gensler. Cohen maintained that technology has created a culture in which the traditional office is used only 45% of the day—the rest of the time, employees are either traveling or working remotely.
Cohen added that there are four types of work environments that modern office users need and will continue to need: focus work, for which the employee needs an isolated space away from noise and interruptions; collaboration, where people are spending a lot more time; learning spaces, which provide a location for educational programs; and socialization, “creating a heart to the space, where people drink coffee, eat and conferencing takes place.”
Recognizing that there is more to life than just work is key, said Pierce. “Energy comes from your extended social network. We try to create compelling spaces, but are committed to the idea that you need to interact with friends and family and play—it can’t all be done at work.” At Salesforce.com, he added, “No one comes into the office on Thursdays. You not allowed to have meetings then.”
Pierce allowed that workplaces are very competitive and creating an environment that will nurture the right culture is not a simple task. “They want to win. But social systems are very complex, and you can’t just throw up a space and expect that the magic will happen.”
Lunny agreed. “You can’t force collaboration or innovation, but you can increase the likelihood of it occurring.” And Hargis added, “It’s about supporting a work culture. There is no one solution for every type of worker, but you have to give people control so they can self-select, and you have to build a culture that brings them in.”
Picking and choosing what works for a company’s particular culture is necessary, rather than whole-cloth borrowing of another firm’s culture, said Pierce. Cohen said, “Culture and brand are extremely important. The top-performing organizations value the workplace because people perform better in a better work environment.”
Allowing employees to take part in the design of a workspace is gaining in popularity, and the speakers agreed that it’s necessary to do this. Of course, doing so may invite “first-world problems” like complaints about how the coffee is brewed or the fact that the towels in the restroom aren’t warm enough. But “if we care for our employees, it will show up in how we treat them,” said Pierce. “You can’t fool people with words. Be clear about your intentions and talk about tradeoffs. A lot of the disillusionment about the workplace” is related to this lack of clear communication.
In addition, Pierce said that environments like the 3,000-employee room shouldn’t be merely money-saving ventures. “When we save money on real estate, we invest it into other amenities for our employees.”
Posted on Mon, May 20, 2013
by Sarah Austin