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You're Taking My Office Away

Chicago Office

Open office space used to be a euphemism for downsizing (so the kids wouldn't understand), we learned at Bisnow’s Chicago Creative Office Summit last week. But now that we’ve dug our way out of the downturn, successful creative offices mean employee participation.

You're Taking My Office Away

More than 450 of you joined us at GlenStar Properties’ 55 E Monroe last Thursday, where our first panel of construction and design experts discussed budgets, technology’s influence on design, and the environmental impacts. An open plan space may not necessarily be creative, they noted, especially if all the decisions are being made by those who have private offices on the side. (In that case, all an open office plan does is make it easier to throw paper airplanes.)

You're Taking My Office Away

Sonoma Construction prez Jon Runquist II (second from left, above) moderated, mentioning a timely New Yorker article, “The Open-Office Trap," which highlights recent backlash against open office floor plans and spurred some lively debate. (Even more than the Puppy Bowl’s MVP race yesterday.) Now that we have five generations of people working in a space, how does that play into design and appeasing everyone’s tastes? Speaking of creative, Sonoma recently worked on the Girl Scouts' cool crib at 20 S Clark. (Now we're jonesin' for some Thin Mints.)

You're Taking My Office Away

AECOM director of Strategy Plus Albert de Plazaola tells us you have to consider a space’s relationship to the business and organizational priorities. For example, a Detroit-based consulting firm he worked with wanted to build community. Its consultants traveled four days a week and they wanted them back in the office on Friday to do expense reports (that’s code for teambuilding). So they went with a country club model, including amenities like a pool table and bar to liven up the office. Space has to align with culture, he stressed, joking about a defense contractor that installed a game room it ended up calling the “layoff lounge.”

You're Taking My Office Away

It’s about finding the right balance of space types (open vs. heads down) to attract and retain a strong workforce, says AECOM principal and design guru Michelle Ives Ratkovich (left, above). Adaptive reuse of space can create tremendous character at a relatively reasonable cost, she adds, energizing the office in an environmentally conscious way. The best ideas often come from workplace strategy sessions with the employees. One West Coast mobile advertising client wanted an experiential video museum paying tribute to its history, as well as a pub for thinking and drinking (who wouldn’t want an alternate workspace where you can also watch soccer?).

You're Taking My Office Away

Rightsize Facility Performance CEO Mason Awtry’s firm designed the event’s creative theater-in-the-round space (which is about the only thing we have in common with Shakespeare). There’s no silver bullet of what exactly makes a creative space, Mason says, and Rightsize views it as a sum of well-designed and strategic parts. The right furniture, adaptive reuse of space, and overall brand aesthetic can tie into a company’s core objectives to help it function better and engage employees. But flexibility is key, he says, since employees in your space today likely won’t be there in five years.

You're Taking My Office Away

JC Anderson prez Mike Yazbec’s (right, above) company may be the only 135-year-old GC in the world that boasts an on-site, indoor basketball court (which it uses for parking cars, he jokes). While the hard cost of construction has come down, those dollars have shifted to other line items in the project budget such as furniture and technology, Mike says. JC’s even provided budgets by zone, evidence of the variety of space types within an office that Michelle mentioned. When LEED and other environmental benchmarks became prevalent, everyone attached a huge cost premium, he says, but these days sustainability is the cost of doing business, as building codes have evolved.

You're Taking My Office Away

Now that exposed MEP systems are part of the office aesthetic, it’s given engineers like ESD VP Andrew Lehrer a chance to be more creative and innovative, he says. ESD actively utilizes BIM to coordinate systems with the designer, to better integrate the systems into the design concept. For example, Motorola Mobility at the Mart decided to showcase its technology to lure new employees, prominently featuring its labs and testing facilities in the space. Adaptive reuse of older facilities can be an effective marketing tool, he notes, but leaky building envelopes can present a challenge, affecting the size of the systems required and the amount of energy consumption. View more photos from our event here.