New Office Designs Focus on Thinking Beyond Workspace

By Doug Wendt, President & CEO of Wendt Partners, a business-to-business growth strategy consulting firm serving the CEOs of growth-stage and middle-market companies including those in commercial real estate and the business center sector. The firm, with offices in New York, NY and Washington, DC, focuses on driving results in sales, marketing, strategy and leadership. Doug is an avid writer and blogger, and is the author of Brand-Driven Leadership: Ten Essential Strategies for Business Growth.

Sixth in a series by Doug Wendt

Historically, the central focus of the business center industry was on creating places for people to work. And clearly, we are in the business of establishing serviced offices — not serviced hotels, serviced apartments or serviced recreational facilities. And yet, the nature of work is changing and becoming more dynamic, leading to an interesting question: Is the workplace of the future a place that is less and less oriented toward work?

In part to explore possible answers to this question, Vornado Charles E. Smith, the Washington, D.C. division New York-based Vornado Realty Trust, took one vacant floor of an office building in Arlington, Virginia’s Crystal City neighborhood and invited six architectural firms with global reputations for innovative design to create the ‘office of the future’. The project was called Crystal City DesignLab.

One of the six firms enlisted was VOA Associates, a global architectural practice with offices in the U.S., Brazil, Colombia and China. The model developed by VOA is called Work4Tank, and focuses on creating three zones of space within the new office environment: event, meet and work.

An Approach Focused on Design for More than Work

The up-front recognition that the office of the future would have three zones, only one of which is specifically designed around traditional work activities, drives home the point that office space is not just for work anymore. VOA’s office design dedicated literally 30% of the suite to a large open space that integrates reception area, kitchen, communal tables and high-top counters with stools.

Although the space did retain a large central conference room, the design model suggested that meetings would and could happen anywhere. As part of this commitment to making every space in the suite an open and collaborative environment suitable to dialogue, creative use of interior windows and glass ensured that 100% of the suite would receive natural light.

Coupled with energy efficient lighting, low-VOC paints, a largely open and exposed ceiling and the use of motion sensors as part of the lighting and HVAC systems, a 36% increase in energy efficiency (and thus cost savings) could be achieved.

But the key to the VOA approach clearly focuses on the integration of uses in a dynamic space — the idea that an employee might be working solo at a communal table, while a small group meets and writes on a whiteboard wall adjacent to a high-top bench, while visitors to the company mingle and receive refreshment from the kitchen, all in a central location.

A Signpost Toward Future Evolution for Office Centers?

One major difference between traditional office space and business office centers is that traditional space often takes on the characteristics of the tenant’s own culture. However, in an office center both the tenants and the center operator have the opportunity to create or contribute to the culture. Some operators have taken this concept forward aggressively, such as New York-based Select Office Suites, which has focused on providing 24-hour staffed access, an intensive and tenant-engaged service culture, and dedicated living/relaxing space in all of its centers for years.

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This begs the question — if more and more work is taking place outside of regular office hours; and more and more workers are spending time at the office engaged in social, personal and recreational activities; and more and more traditional offices are being designed to accommodate these changes — then how can office center operators take advantage of these changes and incorporate them into their strategies?

Ultimately, it rests in the client service strategy of the center operator. In short, the more client-focused and relationship-driven the operator, the more opportunity arises to create added value beyond the traditional 9-to-5 lens and develop products, services and future facility designs that expand the scope of both competitive advantages and potential revenue developments.

Thanks to for the image.

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