12 Top Chicago Creative Office Tactics
Almost 400 of you joined us last Thursday, on the 82nd floor of Willis Tower, to hear Chicago’s creative office gurus sound off at Bisnow’s Chicago Creative Office Summit. From the totally techie musings of @tullman, @condoshark, @bserot, @BradPurdy and company, we’ve assembled this list of 12 strategies to unleash your office’s creative potential.
Listen Up, Open is Over
It is complete fiction that anyone can multitask worth a (bleep), says 1871 CEO Howard Tullman. After three years co-working mecca 1871 is moving back to more enclosed offices, Howard says, after time-lapse video proved that people were always doing their work in quiet spaces anyway. Another important office consideration: How space presents itself to clients, a third-party audience, and addressing concerns around security in communication, documents and networks accordingly. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney once said the company spent $1.5M in its first two years getting out of leases because of its monstrous growth, which is why flexible landlords and co-working spaces continue to see high demand, Howard says.
How Howard made us jealous: He said Google is building 1871 a pub and MillerCoors is supplying the beer.
Undo Damage From Those Tacky ‘70s and ‘80s
South Street Capital co-founder Matt Garrison bought 900 N Franklin (home to Kiki’s Bistro) in May 2012 when it was 60% occupied. It had experienced a tragic de-lofting in the ‘80s (think drywall and drop ceilings) that scared off investors, but South Street stepped in and re-lofted, making the inside match the building’s unique shell. They never lost a tenant, completed two major expansions and filled the building in 12 months (even raising rents from $12/SF to $24/SF). By avoiding pricey trends and focusing on the property’s cool existing elements, South Street made it a blank canvas (with competitive rents) that will be equally attractive to tenants 10 years from now.
Matt’s outlook: Creative space is becoming an institutional asset class. Expect major consolidation.
Be a Storyteller
CBRE EVP Brad Serot says his job is to tell tenants’ stories to landlords. For Uber in Fulton Market, it was making an unprecedented three-year lease the beginning of a long-term, high-growth relationship with landlord Sterling Bay. Landlords need to be flexible to attract and retain top creative tenants, he says, whether that means paying a premium, taking risks or playing around with deal structure and TI allowances. That storytelling also applies to companies on a budget. Well-presented small touches like a movie room and café did wonders for Sprout Social, he says.
Brad’s favorite amenities: The chef at Raise, Sterling Bay’s three square meals a day for employees, Centro’s yoga and GoHealth’s bikes in the summer.
Maintain High Energy At All Costs
ContextMedia COO Brad Purdy says his firm has seen more than 100% growth each year for the past five years. To anticipate this growth, the company built its current space to accommodate three times the current headcount - which was a big change after moving from a tightly packed, but high-energy 5k SF office. In order to maintain that spark, ContextMedia reorganized workflow within its teams and subleased extra space to other startups and nonprofits it supports from the Chicago community. Like content, you can’t just consider what space looks like, Brad says. You have to analyze how people are interacting with it and consuming it in order to build an effective environment.
Brad’s maxim: If your company doesn't have a strong culture that enables people to be excited about their work, having a great office won't help.
Always Live in Beta
Chicago Creative Space founder Max Chopovsky believes space is never complete, and its designers should plan for this constant evolution. Take personal technology, all too often a hindrance. At Enova, they’ve tried Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), implementing infrastructure that supports everyone’s chosen phones and laptops. It’s not Google that got it wrong, Max says, it’s the companies that copied Google instead of embracing authenticity. (Example: You’d never put a slide in a law firm.) And as Harper Reed has said, “People don’t go to work for a company for the snacks.”
Max’s Henry Ford analogy: People wanted a faster horse before they understood what a car was. Designers should listen, but also teach people about that perfect office feature that doesn’t yet exist.
Build Around Productivity and Efficiency
JC Anderson VP Bill Burfeind says creative space needs to be a highly productive working environment, with opportunities for people to have spontaneous interactions. While certain job functions need their privacy, floor plans should feature robust common areas where C-level folks can mingle and cement corporate culture with entry-level employees. For example, JC Anderson just finished a national HQ with retractable bleachers where the CEO can address the company (and teleconference to satellite offices). Though function is key, using materials in a nontraditional way helps add character and creativity. His recent installations include interior steel shapes, raw 2x12 stained lumber, and backwards ceramic tile, he says.
Bill’s favorite Chicago restaurants: Piccolo Sogno, The Gage, Momotaro.
Remember, It’s a Lifestyle
It’s not just offices that have changed, it’s how people live, says Harley Ellis Devereaux managing principal Enrique Suarez (who always joked he’d use his spacial talents to bag groceries if architecture fell through). We’ve become a culture of linking and sharing, whether that’s socially, digitally or in community spaces. When that comes to life within a space, it enables employees to have big ideas and make things, the definition of creativity. A successful creative space also uses technology to promote interaction between disciplines, he says.
Enrique’s surprise creative office building: Willis Tower, where our event was held. It has “great bones,” and he just finished up a space inside for ShopperTrak.
It’s Never One Size Fits All
Fitzgerald Architecture Planning Design principal Daniela Fitzgerald (a Star Trek geek who once ran into Julia Child at Le Bouchon) says creative space should help everyone in every task be productive and comfortable. There’s evidence that the open spaces popularized by tech companies don’t work for everyone (almost all companies have accounting departments that need to focus), and the pendulum is swinging back, she says. A big misconception: Open office means more people in less SF. In order to accommodate everyone, you need to also provide quiet areas and conference rooms, along with places that spur synergy, she says.
Daniela’s advice: You can’t forget that various generations react to space differently, so it has to suit everyone from Millennials to Boomers.
Prepare For Hidden Costs
Open office space budgets vary greatly, according to ESD VP Nathan Snydacker, and you have to be ready for surprises. Creating the loft ceiling look could expose hidden conditions around the perimeter (like subpar insulation), and in turn hidden costs. When building space for 15 years into the future, you need flexibility for the firm to grow and to accommodate changes in technology and mobility (along with subsequent security concerns). That mobility means people can work from home or their local coffee shop, Nathan says, so an office needs to become a place where people want to go and can get their work done.
Nathan’s favorite amenity: The bike track through SRAM’s office at 1K Fulton. Kegerators are a close second.
For Loud Talkers, Forget the Open Ceiling
Skender Construction VP and partner Andy MacGregor (who’d be a short order cook in another life) says creative office begins with a collaborative design and construction process. He’s seen space range from $70/SF for adaptive reuse to up around $200/SF, depending on user needs, and prices are continuing to escalate given growing demand. Open ceilings have their own upcharges, whether it’s ductwork or acoustical finishes. Companies have already gotten burned by their decisions to go open (especially with acoustics), and are reconsidering the value of privacy, Andy says.
Andy’s top office perks: Not gimmicky stuff like swings and slides, rather cafes with good coffee, free ice cream and the occasional Pop-A-Shot.
Creativity Also Applies to the Budget
Sonoma Construction president Jon Runquist has noticed companies are often surprised that creative space doesn’t mean savings over traditional space, which means thinking outside of the box with existing conditions to stretch the budget as much as possible. It’s also about thinking long and hard if your company really needs an open office, along with all the specialized, quieter technology and flexible systems that come with it, Jon says.
Jon’s tale of open office failure: One firm he worked with built an area with beanbag chairs, an Xbox and PlayStation. It came to be known as the layoff corner, since anyone hanging out there would probably need to pack their stuff by the end of the week.
It’s Healthy and Everyone’s Catching On
Gensler principal Todd Heiser has noticed creative office updates catching on with not just tech firms, but everyone from professional services to finance. Though tech is certainly what’s driving growth in new, emerging office markets around the city (like Fulton Market).
What Todd's watching: How this trend will affect spaces around health and wellness. (We're requesting natural light for our treadmill desk.)